For years, West Towson residents have lobbied county government to do something — anything — to mitigate the unsightly derelict home at 506 Locksley Road. .
But despite over $92,000 in unpaid liens owed to Baltimore County, county officials said they are limited in what they can do — no matter how bad the property might be.
"The county does in fact have liens placed on the property, and the property will go to tax sale this summer," Arnold Jablon, the county's director of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, said in a statement.
Until the tax sale, which county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said is a measure provided by state and county law that allows the county to sell properties on which taxes have not been paid, residents must endure for several more months what they describe as a smelly, hazardous eyesore on what is otherwise a quaint block.
"It wasn't like we're complaining about somebody with some flaking paint saying, 'That really looks bad and we don't like that in Towson because we're all rich snobs,' " Mike Ertel, a West Towson resident and vice president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said. "It's a safety issue."
Ertel, who ran for County Council in 2010, and community leader Dick Parsons said neighbors have had issues with the property for at least a decade. County tax records list the owner as Price C. Meade.
Ertel said residents took issue with the property's lack of maintenance, including a tarped-over hole in the roof, garbage strewn about and vines growing all over the property.
"If you live on that street, you can't get away from it," he said. "It's not like it's back down a road or something."
A September electrical fire burned out the inside of the property and made it uninhabitable. Since then, the county has not been able to find Meade despite "numerous efforts to locate the owner," Jablon said.
The community would like to see the charred house leveled.
But Jablon said that because the county has deemed the house salvageable, the owner must be served with a summons and legal notice before the county has the authority to take any other action beyond the tax sale.
"We cannot just enter a property and raze a building without first providing the property owner with appropriate due process," Jablon said. "The latter includes providing the property owner the absolute right to defend against a proposed county taking. ... [this affords] the owner the right to protest in court."
in light of unpaid tax bills — which total $92,251; and could include any combination of unpaid property taxes, sewer and water charges, unpaid civil citations and code enforcement liens — Kobler said, the property could be sold at the county tax sale this summer.
Community leaders are frustrated that the derelict property hasn't been sold at tax sale already.
"I asked that this property be put on the tax sale two or three times before (last) June, and it was left off the tax sale by a clerk who has since retired from Baltimore County," Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District including Towson, said. "The fact that this was left off the tax sale in June, then the fire and resulting eyesore to the community, has been one of the most frustrating experiences of my tenure as a county councilman."
Ertel said that residents have frequently lobbied Marks' office and did the same with Marks' predecessor, Councilman Vince Gardina. Ertel said community leaders have also frequently contacted Code Enforcement officials.
Ertel is concerned that the property, in its current state, is a deterrent to area housing sales because the house is run down and a danger to children at play.
"What we're becoming is more like the city, where we have these older properties that are in disrepair or are older and just need work," Ertel said.
"The county doesn't seem to have any mechanism to deal with particularly egregious properties. This is happening all over the county. It just seems like when they get to a point, you've got to take some more drastic action."