Neighbor of blighted Baltimore home outraged by lawsuit over mural

BALTIMORE - They painted murals to shine a light on blighted Baltimore buildings and the people who own them. Now a woman involved with the project is being sued for it.

ABC2 News Investigators told you about the lawsuit before Christmas. This week a woman who lives near one of the homes involved in the lawsuit reacts.

Liquor bottles litter the lawn of 539 North Longwood St. Crumbling bricks tumble out the side of the home and the front porch roof sags. It's a place neighbors won't hesitate to call an eyesore. 

"It's been like a nightmare," Shawniece Smith, who lives in the house next door, said.

Smith has lived next door for more than six years. In that time, she says she's felt the impact of neglect.

"That's got me fearful because it's connected to me. I feel like it's a domino effect. If one thing falls it's going to trickle down the line."

Smith has watched the property next door fall to pieces, telling ABC2 little has been done to stop its demise. But as this property rots, action is finally being taken -- not to fix it but to cover up a mural, placed here to shine a light on the blight.

In December, the business trust that owns the home filed a lawsuit, claiming the property was damaged by the art, calling it vandalism done with malice.

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Baltimore resident and founder of Baltimore Slumlord Watch Carol Ott is the defendant named in the lawsuit.

"I think if anyone has malice, it's the person who owns these properties and doesn't fix them up," she said.

The lawsuit claims Ott directed the Wall Hunters: Slumlord Project, choosing which Baltimore properties street artists would paint. She tells ABC2 that's not true. Ott considers the lawsuit an annoyance, saying she believes she'll win because she simply handed over public record information about who owns the properties.

"But for me it's not really about winning this battle. It's about telling residents you don't have to put up with this kind of blight in your community," Ott said.

The lawsuit includes estimates from a contractor ABC2 investigators discovered is unlicensed. Those documents claim it will cost $2,500 to paint over the mural on Longwood Street. Another similar lawsuit mentions a mural painted on Old York Road, using a mirror estimate with the same cost.

Shawniece Smith says those thousands could be better spent by the property owner.

"If you've got time to recognize that, then you've got time to recognize that place is falling apart and needs attention. Immediately," she said.

Brian Spern, the attorney who represents the two business trusts that have filed suit, wouldn't say which individuals make up the trust. He refused to explain why the trusts sought estimates from a contractor who is not licensed to do business in the state of Maryland.

Ott has not yet been served with court papers.

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