BALTIMORE (WJZ) – The Baltimore City finance department says the Stricker Street property involved in Monday’s fire that killed three firefighters has $50,000 in liens, interest and taxes.

The vacant property was included in the 2010, 2013, 2016, and 2019 tax sales, but nobody bid on it.

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“To me, that says a lot about what’s happening there that nobody was bidding on that property,” City Councilwoman Odette Ramos, District 14, said. “To have this happen where it was a vacant property is, for me, even more heart-wrenching.”

As WJZ reported on Monday, the Stricker Street property has been vacant for at least 11 years. It received a citation in 2020 for failure to register a Vacant Building Notice. In October 2015, it caught fire, resulting in injuries to three firefighters.

City housing officials confirmed at its last inspection on Jan. 4, 2022, that an inspector “found front and rear boarded and clean” from its last boarding in February 2020.

“We know that property owner was not taking care of the facility and to get that down could have saved lives,” Councilman John Bullock, District 9, said.

Bullock represents the district where Monday’s deadly fire occurred and says 5,000 of the city’s 15,000 vacant buildings are located within his district.

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“So many more of them are privately owned, so that makes it even more difficult for the city to deal with it,” Bullock said.

Council members stress that tax sale foreclosures and receivership are bogged down in the courts right now, saying there is a need for more city attorneys to take property owners to court.

“We need more tools. We need the courts to help us out…Not every answer to the vacant housing problem is demolition,” Ramos said. “It’s almost a ‘Where do you start?’ kind of thing, because it’s so multi-layered.”

Ramos took WJZ to a field along Tivoly Avenue in the Coldstream Homestead Montebello neighborhood, where blocks of vacant homes were demolished years ago. She said it is an example of the many types of funding needed to tackle the issue of vacant homes, from demolition in some cases to affordable housing.

Brian Geraci with the Office of the Maryland State Fire Marshal told WJZ tragedies like Monday’s can be prevented.

“There has to be some type of system put in place to either mark these buildings or secure them more or tear them down really,” Geraci said. “That’s what’s going to solve the problem. There has to be a way that the fire services know these are unsafe structures, not to go inside and fight the fire from the exterior of the building. I’m sure that’s going to come about as part of the investigation.”

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Newly sworn-in Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy said Tuesday her commitment is to “do everything we can, to utilize every tool in our toolbox, to combat the vacancy that we have in the city of Baltimore and take properties and turn them back into productive use, putting people back into those homes, reducing blight, eliminating blight as needed, so we can not experience the tragedy we experienced yesterday in the future.”

Paul Gessler