A Baltimore woman’s five-year campaign to pressure landlords to repair blighted buildings has attracted fans and imitators in other cities, the ire of some property owners, and now for the first time, a pair of lawsuits.
Since early 2009, Carol Ott has run a website called Baltimore Slumlord Watch. On an almost daily basis, she posts photographs of boarded-up or dilapidated buildings and the names and addresses of owners she identifies through public records.
Last month, Ms. Ott was sued for her role in a recent project in which artists painted murals on 17 vacant buildings in the city. Two civil lawsuits filed in state court in Baltimore allege the work was an act of vandalism at two properties and seek $5,000 to restore the buildings to their prior condition.
"To trespass on property and vandalize property is just anarchy," said Brian Spern, a lawyer who filed the lawsuits on behalf the owners, two trusts whose investors he declined to identify. "Labeling someone a ‘slumlord’—name-calling—is not in the best interest of anyone," he added.
Ms. Ott, 45 years old, said she advised artists as they looked for buildings to target and provided property-owner information, which was posted next to the finished artwork. She said she didn’t trespass and plans to fight the lawsuits and keep blogging.
Her use of the word “slumlord,” an epithet normally reserved for owners who permit substandard living conditions, is intentionally volatile, Ms. Ott said. ” ‘Negligent Property Owner Watch’ doesn’t have the same ring,” she said.