DUNDALK, Md — "There's a huge rat hole going into the basement of the house ... just an overgrowth of thorny weeds and grass," said a Dundalk neighbor.
He's been living next to a run down vacant home for the last year and he's fed up. He wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation from the landlord, but he wanted his complaints to be heard.
"It brings down property values. It brings down morale of the community," he said.
He said 300 Wise Avenue has sat vacant for at least a year, and in that time, he and his neighbors have submitted 7 complaints to Baltimore County Code Enforcement.
"We understand their frustration. We take these properties seriously," said Adam Whitlock, the county's code enforcement supervisor. "We are trying to work to make sure that these properties are brought into compliance. In a perfect world, the owners of the properties would do so, but in situations where they won't, the county does have ways to step in."
He said they are in a tough spot, playing the middle man between concerned neighbors and an unresponsive landlord. Between contractor fees and fines, the county has put a tax lien on the property of over $9,700.
"Our way of hopefully bringing the property into compliance is to send a contractor out there to do it but there's certain codes and laws that we have to follow in order to do so and those unfortunately take time to do," said Whitlock.
Whitlock said county employees have followed up on every complaint. Back in February, they issued a correction notice for the landlord to board and secure the building and remove trash. The notice gives the landlord time to fix the violations but when they didn't, the county followed up with a citation that carried a $6,000 fine. Whitlock said there was a hearing in March and the landlord didn't show up so the administrative judge issued a written order so the county could send a contractor to the property.
"They boarded and secured any openings that were on the property and they did a lot of junk removal. There was a large shed that was taken down that had been falling over," said Whitlock.
A few months later, more complaints were filed about overgrowth.
"The house next to me has been abandoned. The weeds are 6 feet high. A tree fell on my fence and damaged it. The rats have migrated from there to my house. And homeless people constantly stay in the house," the complaint reads.
Whitlock said the county had contractors go out to take care of the overgrowth in August but neighbors claim it still wasn't up to code, filing another complaint in September. A neighbor said they couldn't even get a privacy fence built to separate the properties because of the weeds.
Again in October, the county sent out a contractor and filed another notice. With no response, they filed another citation on October 30 for trash, tall grass and overgrowth, a broken fence and an untagged truck parked in the backyard. A hearing for that citation has been set for November 14.
Then, the morning of October 31, Whitlock got a call from the landlord, whose mailing address is a PO box in Gaithersburg.
"The landlord has acknowledged that the county has an open citation against them and wants to meet just to go over what needs to be done. Other than that, he didn't say what his intentions were with the property; what he was planning on doing; but I told him I'd be happy to meet him there because ultimately we want resolution to this. The community wants resolution and we the property to be brought into compliance. The more we can get the landlord to take responsibility for it, the better off everyone will be," said Whitlock.
After the last county contractor visit, neighbors were able to put up a privacy fence and said things are better but not great. They still see squatters inside and the trash isn't gone. They hope this time, the landlord takes action.
"I would love to see it brought back to its original life. It was two businesses, two storefronts, two houses. It used to be a fruit stand back in the day, which was great. I just want to see it taken care of," said a neighbor.