A rental property owned by Mayor Sheila Dixon failed a federally required housing inspection at least six times in the past three years, and a city agency has repeatedly threatened to suspend her from a subsidized rental program because of those inspections, documents obtained by The Sun show.
Handwritten inspection reports for the single-family rowhouse in the 2200 block of Ruskin Ave. indicate that many of the problems are relatively minor, from a leaky ceiling and flaking paint to worn caulk around a tub, records show. The most recent failed inspection took place May 18.
Dixon purchased the two-story house in 1986 - it was the first home she owned - and lived there as she represented the City Council's old 4th District. In 1996, the West Baltimore property was rented to a tenant who took part in the federal Section 8 housing voucher program, which means the federal government subsidizes the lease, paying a portion of the monthly rent to Dixon.
The Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which administers the federal program, performs annual inspections of most voucher-based Section 8 properties in the city, including Dixon's. Records show Dixon's property failed annual and follow-up inspections in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Housing officials said they do not retain inspection records before March 2004. The property passed subsequent inspections in 2005 and 2006 after the city threatened to withhold the government's portion of the rent.
Dixon said the home was managed by her then-husband, Thomas Hampton, in 2005 and 2006 - an arrangement that the tenant of the property confirmed in an interview this year. Dixon said many of the violations that have been noted in 2007 were for minor problems, and she said that she personally visited the property and that she had most of the issues fixed.
"I owned the property, [but] he had total responsibly over that. ... When I got it, I took care of what had to be done," Dixon said in an interview this week. "The [inspector] had some minor issues. I tried to get right on top of it. ... It's not in any dilapidated shape or anything like that. It's in very good shape."
Hampton, who was divorced from Dixon in July, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The house is rented by Patricia Taylor, who did not return a call seeking comment this week. Taylor, who lives in the home with her daughter, told The Sun in April that there were no major problems with the house.
"I have her cell phone. We talk and I tell her about things that need to be fixed up here, and she gets right on it," Taylor said. "She's good. She's really good."
City housing officials played down the severity of the problems with the house, noting that many landlords fail initial inspections and also that the problems with Dixon's house appeared to be relatively minor. Officials said about 50 percent of landlords fail either their annual inspection or an inspection that takes place when the house first goes up for rent as a Section 8 property.
"My understanding is there was some situations where they failed and then there were corrections made and they were reinstated," said city Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano, who was appointed by Dixon's predecessor, Martin O'Malley. "It's not atypical to have situations when our guys go out and there are issues and then put the owner on notice, and they make the repairs."
The housing documents obtained by The Sun indicate the dates on which inspections were scheduled, handwritten notes from the inspectors and notices that were mailed to the landlord - presumably Dixon or Hampton - about the failed inspections. Some of the problems, such as stained kitchen ceiling tiles, defective kitchen floor tiles, and exterior and interior paint flaking, were noted by inspectors over more than one year.
Dixon said the home has been inspected for lead paint, and a spokesman with the state Department of the Environment confirmed that the agency has a record of the house passing a lead inspection in 2001.
During an April 20 inspection, officials noted paint flaking in the kitchen, a cracked bedroom door, worn caulk around a tub and about a dozen other problems. In one instance, the inspector wrote, "small area near tub - defective repair" and in another case, for a second-floor bedroom, "1 floorboard near bed is defective - repair." On a May 18 follow-up, the official indicates that about a third of the problems remained.
In April 2005, the house was cited for stained kitchen ceiling tiles and defective floor tiles. A note on the inspection report suggests that the property passed a third inspection in June. But in a May 2006 inspection, the property was again cited for defective kitchen ceiling tiles and floor tiles. The property passed a second follow-up that June.
Dixon, who became mayor in January, was president of the City Council in 2005 and 2006.
According to a lease provided by the housing authority, Dixon charged $550 a month in rent for the three-bedroom house in 1996. In 2006, a letter from the housing authority stated that Dixon would receive $625 a month - about a third of which came from the government subsidy program.
Generally, after a landlord fails an annual inspection and a follow-up inspection a month later, the housing authority sends a notice advising that the city intends to withhold the government's portion of the rent. The housing authority sent that notice in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but it is unclear whether the city ever withheld payment or if the problems were addressed before payment was due.
Dixon said this week that the house passed its most recent 2007 inspection after the two failed ones in April and May, but housing officials said the property has not yet passed an inspection this year.
The Sun first wrote about Dixon's rental property in April. At the time, the newspaper requested inspection and other documents from the housing authority but was told by a spokeswoman that, "unfortunately, due to confidentiality issues, records relating to a particular Section 8 address cannot be disclosed."
On April 23, the newspaper filed a formal request for the records under the Maryland Public Information Act, which requires agencies to segregate portions of public records that are confidential and disclose those that are not. After redacting personal information, the agency ultimately released 74 pages of documents.
In interviews this week and in April, the mayor said that she has considered selling the house or turning it over to a management firm because of her busy schedule but that she is reluctant because of the memories the house holds.
A home owned by Mayor Sheila Dixon has repeatedly failed city housing inspections required by the federal government.
April 8, 2005: The house fails inspection.
May 5, 2005: It fails a follow-up.
May 6, 2005: The city sends notice it will begin withholding subsidy payments.
June 22, 2005: House passes a third inspection.
May 16, 2006: House fails inspection.
June 12, 2006: It fails the follow-up. The city again threatens to withhold payments.
June 25, 2006: The house passes a third inspection.
April 20, 2007: The house fails inspection.
May 18, 2007: It fails the follow-up. The city warns it will withhold payments.
[City housing inspection records]