Baltimore demolished her family’s home. Then it sent her a bill for nearly $27,000.

Audrey Wesson's home was demolished by the city and then she received a $26,965 bill in the mail.

After her father died in 1977, Audrey Wesson assumed ownership of his rowhouse in East Baltimore, paying the mortgage and taxes and renting it out to friends, family and others when they needed help.

Sandwiched between a city-owned property and one owned by an out-of-state limited liability company, the two-story brick house at 1028 N. Patterson Park Ave. represented a piece of generational wealth for the Wesson family — one Audrey Wesson eventually hoped to sell. But after the second story of an adjacent property collapsed, city officials condemned her house and tore it down in 2018 along with four others on the block, leaving her with just the lot.


While she fought the demolition, Wesson said she’d come to accept it as a loss. Then the city sent her a bill in January for $26,965 — perhaps more than the home was worth. Many nearby rowhouses are valued at about $19,000 for tax purposes by the state. The bill Wesson received is in the form of a lien on the property meant to recuperate the money for razing it.

The city has sweeping authority to take swift corrective action over buildings and residences it deems unsafe, but the loss has left Wesson upset and angry.

“I worked 50 years. I’ve never been on social service. I never ask nobody for anything," said Wesson, a mother and grandmother. "I just want justice for this.”

Wesson said her troubles with the Baltimore Department of Housing and Community Development began sometime in 2015, when the adjoining property at 1026 N. Patterson Park Ave. — owned by a limited liability company with an Illinois address, property records show — partially collapsed in the back. That August, the department issued a code violation notice and order on Wesson’s house, claiming it was “unfit for human habitation” and demanding she secure the required permits and correct the problems within 30 days.

An inspector wrote in a 2015 memo that the house appeared vacant, citing closed doors, two partially boarded-up windows, high grass and weeds. According to an August 2016 inspection memo provided by the housing department, the city determined the house had some structural and mechanical problems, but that they could be resolved.

In 2018, after Wesson unsuccessfully appealed the notice and was prevented from making some repairs, the city razed the entire block of homes, with her appliances and other belongings still inside, she said. The city had recommended she pay $600 to “donate” her property before the house came down; otherwise, she said, she was warned she’d have to pay for the demolition.

Tammy Hawley, a spokeswoman for the housing department, said in an email that the agency “is willing to work things out with the property owner” and let her donate the property now.

But Wesson feels she shouldn’t have to pay a cent to give up the title to her father’s property, now a vacant lot. In fact, she said, she believes the city should compensate her for tearing down the home because it was in repairable condition.

The collections bill showing the City of Baltimore charging $26,965.42 for the property it demolished.
The collections bill showing the City of Baltimore charging $26,965.42 for the property it demolished. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

The housing department’s 2016 inspection memo reinforced her belief that the home was relatively stable.

“My overall view of the property is it’s more than a shell but it will require cosmetic work, new windows, possibly a new roof, plumbing work etc.,” the inspector wrote.

The city, Wesson added, failed to attract or retain residents who might have maintained the neighboring houses.

Jordan Brookmyer, who assisted the family as the former senior legal services staff attorney for the Bar Association of Baltimore, said he attended Wesson’s administrative hearing with the department in September 2016. Officials had told Wesson she could make a case to rehabilitate the property if she could provide a quote from a contractor and proof of funding to pay for the work, he said.

But when she presented both items at the hearing, Brookmyer said, the city “found the amount of the contract wasn’t believable and ignored it.”

“She was paying taxes each year and doing her best to get it up to code, but I think they recognized if she did bring it up to code, it would throw a wrench in their plans to demolish the whole block,” he said.


“I worked 50 years. I’ve never been on social service. I never ask nobody for anything. I just want justice for this.”

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The city also prevented Wesson from getting permits to start the rehabilitation work before the hearing, he said, adding to the family’s frustrations.

Brookmyer said he advised the family to donate the house, but “there was so much resentment about the city getting the property and then having to pay the city to take it that they weren’t willing to go ahead and do it.”

Wesson’s son, Stephen Wesson, said the city should work with its seniors, not intimidate them with expenses and bill them until they give their homes away.

“She’s a model citizen, with deep roots in the city, and they threw her away like a piece of trash,” he said.

The decision to keep the property has created mounting financial woes for Audrey Wesson who, in retirement, lives on a fixed income.

“This is the first time I’ve been made aware of something like this,” said Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, a Democrat who represents Baltimore’s 13th District in East Baltimore.

“We feel confident the proper process was followed, leading to that outcome.”

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Sneed said the housing department should learn to better balance the concerns of aging property owners with its efforts to curb vacancy and blight. “It’s tough, but I don’t want anybody to lose their property.”

The nearly $27,000 bill comes on the heels of a similar demolition that occurred in West Baltimore’s Boyd-Booth neighborhood in September, in which the city razed a woman’s home with only a few days’ notice. As in Wesson’s case, Frances Chase’s home came crashing down along with her belongings. Chase said officials initially did not offer to compensate her. The city later relocated Chase to a mortgage-free home.

After The Baltimore Sun published the details of Chase’s demolition, City Council President Brandon Scott publicly admonished the housing department, seeking more information about demolition protocol in a strongly worded letter.

“In Baltimore, a city that has a severe housing stability problem, we must make every effort to help citizens stay in their homes,” Scott wrote.

In response, Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman cited the city’s authority to take corrective action in dire situations as well as each resident’s right to appeal.

“Fortunately, as widespread as vacancy and abandonment are in parts of the city, it is rare that the threat to an occupied property is so immediate that both a vacate order and an emergency demolition is required,” Braverman said in the letter. “In fact, no similar situation has occurred in recent years.”

In instances in which the city determines an imminent threat to life or property exists, it can move to raze homes without notice and without specifying a demolition date. Both Chase and Wesson said they did not have a clear understanding of when the demolitions would occur, though the city did post notices of its intent on the buildings in both cases.


While Wesson did not use the home as her primary residence — a tenant lived there as recently as 2014 — she said it is unacceptable that the city has continued to demand payment for a home that, to her dismay, no longer exists.

Hawley said the city treated the family with fairness. “We feel confident the proper process was followed, leading to that outcome,” the spokeswoman said.

That doesn’t make Wesson feel any better about the situation.

“I don’t want no fortune. All I want is a little bit of help,” said Wesson, adding that with two of her children and her husband dead, she has experienced enough pain and tragedy in her life. “Tell me how I’m going to pay. I’m barely making it.”

Wesson has 30 days from Jan. 27 to pay the bill. Property records estimate the lot’s total taxable value at $4,000.