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Residents sue Baltimore City after denied assistance when sinkhole caused home to be condemned

By CBS Baltimore Staff

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    BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Homeowners in a Baltimore neighborhood are pleading for Baltimore City leaders to step in and help after their homes were condemned because of a sinkhole on North Avenue.

Quentin Bell and Monique Bess are two of the homeowners suing Baltimore City.

Bell said he is still paying the mortgage for the home and rent at another location after Baltimore City denied his homeowner’s assistance claim.

As a response, the City denied the assistance claim because “there was no notice to the City of Baltimore of any issues prior to the date of the incident.”

The notice also said, “Please not that the law in Maryland has long established that before a local government is required to pay a citizen for a loss, the claimant must first show that the City had notice of the defect which caused the loss and a reasonable opportunity to correct the defect. Therefore, your clients’ claims are respectfully denied.”

A massive sinkhole formed in July on North Avenue between Greenmount Avenue and Homewood Avenue.

On Monday, five months after the sinkhole, Baltimore City reopened the street.

A portion of North Avenue—one of Baltimore’s heavily traveled roads— had been closed to traffic because a sinkhole developed along the sidewalk after a 115-year-old drain collapsed.

The sinkhole initially developed in front of two houses on the busy street. It slowly grew until it took some homes down with it.

The city has had to make “extensive repairs” to underground utilities in the area, according to the office of Mayor Brandon Scott.

The construction of a new concrete storm drain was even warranted, staff said.

Bell said he sent a claim to his insurance company, who also denied his claim because they said it was a Baltimore City issue.

“That trust they put in the people in the city was broken,” attorney Thiru Vignarajah said. “They applied for assistance from the city and the city denied those claims, and gave one reason, that they were not unnoticed off a 115-year-old storm drain that was on the brink of collapse.

“Because the residents had not notified them of this defect in the infrastructure beneath the ground, under the law, they were going to deny the claim.”

Several homes in the neighborhood were condemned and knocked to rubble, leaving some homeowners without a home, while still paying the mortgage for a home that is no longer there.

Bell sent a message to Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, saying that he needs to step in and assist this community.

“Brandon Scott, I’m just at a loss for words. If the shoe was on the other foot and I was the mayor, I would make sure the citizens going through this are going to be OK,” Bell said. “You can go out and take pictures and post to Facebook for the City, but when the citizens are in need, especially right now with the holidays coming, I don’t have enough money to buy my kids Christmas gifts because I am still paying the mortgage on a property that’s not there, and I am paying rent at other places.”

Vigarajah went as far as to say that if there was a sinkhole in a more prominent area of Baltimore, the City would come through and help those homeowners.

“Here off the corner of North Avenue and Greenmount, there is a different story,” Vignarajah said. “They got a single-page letter, in a single sentence that said, your claim is denied because you didn’t tell us about a problem that has been around for 115 years beneath the ground of our city.”

Advocates and homeowners believe the residents affected by the sinkhole shouldn’t be punished because of infrastructure Baltimore City should have been aware of.

“Does our mayor, city council, and Department of Public Works not know that the water and the storm systems in the city are corroded, that there are leaks springing up all across the city? Are they really not aware?” Vignarajah said. “That is a long-standing, decade-old problem that people have begged for investment in.”

WJZ reached out to a city spokesperson for comment on the letter the homeowners received and is waiting to hear back.

In the meantime, Bell said Mayor Scott needs to start caring about the community.

“If you don’t have a heart for me, or anybody else, that’s crazy. I think you should reconsider being a mayor,” Bell said. “For all the homeowners living in this area, or anyone driving up and down North Avenue, please be careful. There’s no telling when the next sinkhole will erupt in this area.”

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