When construction workers showed up last month at a vacant rowhouse next door to Adam Vidal’s place, they bluntly told him what was up.
They were renovating the structure for a buyer who wanted to re-sell it quickly.
Soon Vidal discovered that he was not only up against a “house flipper,” but a crew that appeared to be doing the work as fast as possible without required city permits.
“In less than a week, they demoed the entire interior, painted the front, installed siding on the back, demoed an existing deck, demoed an existing fence, built a new deck, built a new fence, installed new windows and framed out the inside,” he reported.
Vidal couldn’t see everything that was happening inside, but exposed wall studs were visible. The black paint slapped on the front door – already bubbling and blistering – didn’t inspire confidence. A basement window for a time was open to the elements.
Poor workmanship could cause an electrical fire or rupture a water pipe, threatening the home where he and his wife live in North Baltimore’s Barclay neighborhood.
Vidal became even more disturbed when he started calling 311 to report that the website showed no permits for 324 East 23rd Street.
He figured that the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) would slap the owner with a Stop Work order and bring the illegal activity to a halt.
Instead, workers continued to enter and leave the building despite Vidal’s many complaints, and the 311 “tickets” kept closing out, showing “no cause for action.”
His calls to the building inspection office – and eventually to the mayor’s office – proved an exercise in futility.
First, Vidal was told there was a permit, then that there wasn’t one.
After the latter admission came a promise that an inspector would come to the site, post a sign and notify workers to stop all construction on the building.
None of that happened.
“He told me they have their permits, and everything is fine. I asked him the permit number and he refused to give it to me” – homeowner Adam Vidal.
Instead, Vidal said he received a call on September 6 from Building Inspector Robert Smith, who “did not understand why I am concerned, and why I was escalating things.”
“He told me they have their permits now, and everything is fine. I asked him what the permit number was, and he refused to give it to me,” Vidal said.
“I then asked him if they were in violation before the permit was pulled and what actions would be taken, and he just hung up on me.”
“They’re helping him”
Reached by phone yesterday, the Baltimore man who purchased the property, Boris Maslow, confirmed that there was no permit for interior work because, he said, most of it was completed before he purchased the property.
Maslow told The Brew that Vidal was wrong about what took place inside the house last month.
“We haven’t done major demo, we haven’t removed walls. It was at the rough-in stage when I purchased it,” Maslow said. “I don’t know why he’s making a big deal out of it.”
Why were so many people going into the building, he was asked.
Contractors were looking at the space to scope out future work, Maslow replied.
Online records show the two-story brick rowhouse was transferred to Maslow’s Streamline Development LLC, of Pikesville, on August 11 for $165,000.
On September 14, The Brew sent DHCD a detailed inquiry about the experiences that Vidal recounted.
None of our questions was answered. Only a general response was provided by an agency spokesperson (see below).
On September 15, the day after our inquiry, the city issued a Stop Work order, but only for “new fence and rear deck without permits.”
On September 20, seeing workers enter the building, Vidal sent an email to David Crook, the DHCD contact listed on the Stop Work order.
Neither Crook nor anyone else replied to the email or came to the worksite that day, Vidal said.
“The city is not only not stopping or punishing the owner, they’re helping him,” Vidal complained, noting that a September 2 HVAC permit appeared on the website for heating and air conditioning work that started in August.
“I mean, who gets an HVAC permit in one day?”
“I don’t know why he’s making a big deal out of it” – Investor Boris Maslow
Asked about the citation, Maslow said he built the new fence and deck without a permit believing one was not required because he was replacing an old fence and deck.
“I have a new baby. I was distracted. I did screw up,” he said, adding the city has fined him $1,500. “I don’t have any special pull.”
Told that Maslow said he did no interior demolition or window replacement, Vidal disputed his account adamantly.
“I saw when the workers ripped out the framing and were bringing in new 2 x 4s,” he said.
“They had clearly demoed walls, drywall and framing. The backyard was filled with demo trash that they carted off to, I assume, the dump.”
Banging and Hammering
A Brew reporter witnessed what Vidal was talking about firsthand on September 20, when he called 311 to say workers were again inside the vacant house.
He had seen them enter, carrying a ladder and other equipment, walking right past the Stop Work order taped up next to the front door.
The Brew saw workers bringing equipment from an unmarked white van into the house.
No one responded to our loud knocks on the door. The windows were blacked out. Banging and hammering could be heard from inside.
“Why didn’t anyone respond to Vidal’s complaint?” we asked DHCD later that day.
Spokeswoman Tammy Hawley responded to this and previous questions with this email:
“I escalated this issue to our Deputy Commissioner for review. It appears that initially our inspectors could not gain access and there was some miscommunication. Records show the HVAC work was permitted. However, a Stop Work Order has now been issued for work done or being done without a proper permit in the rear yard. A citation has also been issued for work without or outside the scope of a permit.
It should be noted that this property has a Vacant Building Notice (VBN), and a thorough inspection of all work completed is required before the VBN can be abated. This provides an additional opportunity to ensure work is completed properly.
“Modern dream homes”
Yesterday (September 26), workers were again inside the house. Maslow said they were cleaning up after a water leak.
Self-employed as a real estate appraiser, according to an online bio, Maslow was cited in 2013 and paid a $2,000 civil penalty for failure to demonstrate compliance with a continuing education audit.
He also lists himself as an appraiser/Investor at Build321, whose website says, “Sell your house in 24 hours! Any condition! We make all repairs!”
The site’s Instagram page says, “We buy distressed properties and turn them into modern dream homes.”
In 2022, he was cited by the Maryland Commission of Real Estate Appraisers for allegedly violating its Code of Ethics in the submission of an appraisal report for a residential property on Paca Street.
He paid $1,000 as part of a settlement that stipulated that neither party, by signing, was acknowledging that the allegations were true.
“I did it to avoid going through the hassle and cost of litigation,” Maslow told The Brew.
“It has nothing to do with this,” he continued. “I can’t believe you’re going to put this in a news story.”
“A trustworthy inspector”
Vidal said he remains troubled by what he sees as more than lassitude in DHCD’s handling of his complaints about the property owner.
He pointed to a report by Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming that a building inspector who reported a cash bribe was told by a supervisor to keep the money “because it was under an allowable dollar limit.”
The report found a troubling “culture of acceptance” toward gratuities offered to DHCD inspectors whose job is to make sure work is being done properly and safely.
“There was NO substantiation of any bribes,” Hawley wrote in an emailed reply, calling the absence of a written departmental policy on inspector gratuities “unrelated” to Vidal’s complaints and pointing to the agency’s reply included in the IG’s report.
Vidal, who bought his house in 2020, said he just wants “to make sure that we and our neighbors are safe.”
Despite some challenges in the past, Barclay is on the upswing, he said – “a nice neighborhood with a terrible reputation.”
Asked what he hopes will happen as a result of his complaints, he said he would like Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy “to speak with me personally about what happened here.”
And there’s something else he requests: “How about they send out an actual trustworthy inspector to tell me how they are going to enforce the building code?”
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