Baltimore community groups sue owner of blighted properties

Six Baltimore community groups filed an $8 million lawsuit Tuesday against a Texas man whose companies own dozens of properties in the city, alleging that he failed to improve rundown homes after purchasing them at tax sales and allowed them to become a danger.

"The lawsuit challenges the practice of purchasing vacant properties at tax sale and leaving them for dead with unaddressed city code violations," said Kristine Dunkerton, executive director of the Community Law Center Inc., a nonprofit based in Baltimore that represents the community associations.

The lawsuit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court alleges that Scott Wizig and nine corporations he manages have let 57 properties become a menace. The city has sent Wizig at least one code violation notice for each of the properties, according to the complaint, and the community groups have sent abatement requests.

The properties "attract vagrants and criminal activity, function as trash receptacles, emit odors, diminish the value of neighboring properties, and put adjacent neighbors and passers-by in imminent danger, especially as the structures collapse as a result of ... neglect," the lawsuit alleges.

Wizig, who has been sued for similar issues in Buffalo, N.Y., declined to comment on the lawsuit. It is his practice, he said, not to discuss pending litigation.

The community groups that filed the lawsuit represent neighborhoods that include Coldstream Homestead Montebello, Rosemont, Mount Clare, Carrollton Ridge and Greater Greenmount.

"Our communities are plagued by the drug use, trash, rats and other daily dangers that vacant properties present," said Constance Fowler, president of the Carrollton Ridge group.

The community groups have suffered financial losses in protecting themselves from the threats caused by Wizig's blighted properties, according to the complaint. Their claims against Wizig and his companies include nuisance and negligence. In addition to monetary damages, the community groups are asking that an order be issued demanding the properties' cleanup.

The Community Law Center is working with the law firm Venable LLP and the University of Maryland School of Law's Community Justice Clinic on the case.

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