Frederick City to ‘condemn every building’ if necessary

Last month, the Frederick City’s code enforcement manager announced that he would crack down on chronic violators, and this week he announced two more properties are condemned.

“The writing tickets part never got us anywhere,” Dan Hoffman said Wednesday. “We’re going to go one by one and condemn every building.”

Last week, an electrical cord’s trail helped condemn one downtown property belonging to landlord Duk Hee Ro. An inspector saw a cord going from the front of the Asiana building at 123 N. Market St. and snaking upstairs from the vacant restaurant, Hoffman said.

That cord tipped off the inspector that someone upstairs needed electricity, Hoffman said. The inspector could not go in without an invitation or a warrant, so he waited outside for someone to come out.

The inspector established that the man who emerged was living upstairs.

“He took our inspector inside,” Hoffman said.

What the inspector found was an uninhabitable mess, he said.

Sagging ceilings, evidence of water damage from a leaky roof, an incorrectly installed electrical panel, no running water, no electricity and no heat source condemned the apartments, Hoffman said. That forced the sole occupant to leave, though Hoffman said he is not sure where.

“We allowed him to get his stuff,” which was not much, Hoffman said.

Ro could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Hoffman, who has managed the code enforcement department since December 2010, said downtown merchants and residents are sick of looking at vacant and blighted properties that have only gotten worse over the past decade. Ro’s four downtown properties, which include 10 addresses, generate most of the complaints, Hoffman said.

In the past week, his department condemned apartments she owns at 123 and 125 N. Market St., above the Asiana, and all of 314 N. Market St. The vacant ground floor of 123 and 125 N. Market, which housed the Asiana, is not condemned.

At 314 N. Market, two people were living in an apartment without electricity, Hoffman said. For the second time since 2005, the city condemned that building under Ro’s ownership.

Ro’s property at 300 N. Market St., the former home of That Cuban Place, was condemned a year ago and is still classified as such.

A building must undergo a thorough inspection for condemnation to be lifted. Someone has been doing cosmetic work inside 300 N. Market, but the work is not sufficient to get the condemnation lifted, Hoffman said.

Unless a code violation presents a hazard outside the building, the owner can let the deterioration continue as long as no tenants are present, he said. The owner would be fined for permitting occupancy before the building passes inspection, he said.

New state laws and local policies may give the city some leverage to change what happens to vacant and blighted property, Hoffman said. A city task force is considering incentives and taxing policy that could reward property maintenance.

Soren Dodge, manager of the Record Exchange at 151 N. Market St., said he would like to see people take more responsibility for their buildings. He does not want to see a lot of condemned buildings.

Hoffman said Ro has been communicating more openly with his office than in the past.

“We’re going to … get all of her issues taken care of,” Hoffman said. “We’re not out to put her out of business; we’re out to make her run her business like everybody else does … in all fairness to everybody else who does it right.”

Ro and the city could benefit if she gets her buildings in shape for new business, Hoffman said.

“She’s sitting on a gold mine,” he said.

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