Illegal street art calls out owners of Baltimore's vacant properties

BALTIMORE - Artists and a city activist are taking on the people they consider slumlords.  They're illegally painting on property to make sure you know who owns the buildings that are bringing down your neighborhood.

They are as much a part of Baltimore as crab cakes and bee-hived Hons, but the vacant homes that fill entire blocks of the city are not a bastion of pride.  Carol Ott, who writes the Baltimore Slumlord Watch blog, considers them a black eye, saying, "I think it's shameful."

The vacants you'll find around the city have crumbling facades, peeling paint and trash.  They're signs of trouble at the property and an indicator of a large city problem.  Records show more than 16,000 vacant buildings dot Baltimore's landscape.  Ott says, "They send a message to the community that you don't matter."

PHOTOS | Vacants battled with art and QR codes

It's a message that rings out when vacant buildings sit, age and slowly become another downward drag on already struggling neighborhoods.  It happens while the property owners hide in anonymity.

Recently a group of renegade artists began shouting the names of landlords who've let their properties fall apart.  One of them, Nether, tells ABC2, "There's really nobody who is willing to call these people out."

This group is doing just that.  They're putting identifying information about the landlords out in public like a Wild West wanted poster.  Nether says, "I don't really care if they like me."

Instead, Nether and the other street artists he's drafted for the project would like to see these property owners clean up their mess.  For now they're doing it for them, turning these forgotten homes into a source of pride through Wall Hunters: The Slumlord Project.  It's an effort that brings the artists together with Ott, who also handles the Housing Policy Watch.

The people involved consider the neglect they've seen criminal, but they're the ones breaking the law to send a message, painting murals to get people talking about a widespread problem.  Nether says, "What we're really trying to do is promote a larger conversation on Baltimore's vacancy issue."

The conversation starts by making vacants something to look at, according to the artists, and ends with calling out the person who made them something to ignore.  And each mural tells a story.  One on the 900 block of Arlington Avenue depicts a man looking toward a hammer as a landlord looks at a circle of black.  Street artist Nanook, who created the piece, says it's a depiction of the struggle for people in the neighborhood to rehab these vacant properties as the landlord turns his back.  He says, "I would say it's a black hole of investment."

Now those investors are listed in black and white next to the vibrant murals, their names now public, and their past histories available by scanning QR codes that accompany every painting in the project.  Ott says she's not intimidated by putting the information out there, telling us, "There's nothing to fear.  They can't even clean up their own property."

It is the artists who provide the beauty for this project.  But Ott is the backbone.  She digs up the details about who owns the property.  And she's willing to take on any lawyer, LLC or even city leaders. 

One of the vacants that's been painted for the project is a home that tax records show is owned by Baltimore's Mayor and City Council.  It's a house that's been closed up because of lead paint.  Artists painted the building with a picture of a little boy whose life was impacted by that situation.  It's a statement Ott thinks has to be made if the city wants to correct the vacant building epidemic in Baltimore, "If you're not going to take care of your own business, you can't expect anybody else to take care of theirs."

So far five murals have been painted around Baltimore.  The group hopes to put up a total of 15.  They're taking suggestions for new vacants to profile and paint. 

We contacted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's office for a comment on the city-owned vacants and the city's stance on this project.  We did not get a response. The other LLC's whose vacants are featured in the project do not list phone numbers in the state's online tax database.

Print this article Back to Top

Comments

More Investigations

Former Oriole sued by woman who claims he sexually assaulted her Former Oriole sued by woman who claims he sexually assaulted her

A multi-million dollar civil lawsuit has been filed against a former Baltimore Oriole by a woman who claims she was sexually assaulted.

City leaders: Baltimore needs more officers to work security at events without breaking the bank City leaders: Baltimore needs more officers to work security at events without breaking the bank

For every Ravens touchdown and every Orioles inning, there are men and women in blue there to pay witness.  They're not watching the game.  They're watching you.  And no matter who wins, we found the money spent comes at a loss to the department.

Baltimore fighting back against illegal dumpers; harsher penalties to come this fall Baltimore fighting back against illegal dumpers; harsher penalties to come this fall

It's an eyesore, it's unsanitary, and it's a huge problem in Baltimore. The city spends about $17 million cleaning up illegal dumps each year, but the current penalties aren't deterring some people.

Baltimore officer gets 45 days in jail for assault of suspect in break-in of girlfriend Baltimore officer gets 45 days in jail for assault of suspect in break-in of girlfriend's home

A Baltimore City police officer was sentenced to 45 days in jail followed by 18 months of probation and 200 hours of community service for assaulting a man in police custody and then hindering the internal affairs investigation into the incident.

Daycare provider to get new trial after conviction in death of Eastern Shore baby Daycare provider to get new trial after conviction in death of Eastern Shore baby

An Eastern Shore woman convicted in the death of a child in her care will get a new trial thanks to a judge's decision.

Feds say search warrants turned up new evidence in Shawna Gunter case Feds say search warrants turned up new evidence in Shawna Gunter case

In a detention hearing in federal court, prosecutors detailed new evidence in their case against a Severna Park woman accused of posing as a physician's assistant.

Feds: Shawna Gunter, who posed as a physician Feds: Shawna Gunter, who posed as a physician's assistant and treated about 200 patients, indicted

An Anne Arundel County woman is indicted by the feds for posing as a physician's assistant and treating patients.

Many pot tests, but no certainty how much is too much Many pot tests, but no certainty how much is too much

Zero tolerance for pot has been the norm for decades for workplace drug testing, and, in most states, for policing drugged driving. But with millions of Americans now legally able to use pot for either medical purposes or outright, there’s growing demand to know how much is too much to safely drive or perform on the job.

 

 

 

Law enforcement agencies working to find balance in Law enforcement agencies working to find balance in 'thin blue line'

Across the region, police agencies say they don’t tolerate harassment among officers, though there’s no cut and dried solution.

GAO report, victim advocates raise concerns over underreporting of cruise ship crime GAO report, victim advocates raise concerns over underreporting of cruise ship crime

When it comes to cruising, people put a lot of time and energy into researching the prices, amenities and destinations. But according to a recent government report, consumers may not be as informed as they should be about the safety and security on these vessels.