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High Risk Policy

Abandoned Buildings In Baltimore Put Homeowners’ Insurance Policies At Risk

Frank Klein
BURNING SENSATION: Because of a vacant property next door, Shirley Rucker lost her insurance on her rowhouse—which promptly caught fire.

By Stephen Janis | Posted 6/15/2005

Shirley Rucker of Northeast Baltimore lost her homeowners insurance in November 2004, when Carroll County Mutual declined to renew the policy on her rowhouse because, Rucker says, “the house next to mine was abandoned.

“It didn’t make any sense” Rucker says. “I’ve been paying my premiums every month for nine years. I was a good customer.”

She says she frantically searched for new insurance, and tried to persuade the city to tear down the vacant rowhouse next to hers on Tivoly Avenue. “I sent e-mails to the mayor and the housing department,” Rucker recalls. “But I got the runaround.”

Finally, Rucker found an insurer willing to offer her a policy, but she says that the day the salesperson was supposed to visit to assess the property, her 10-year-old nephew accidentally started a fire in the upstairs bedroom. The fire destroyed the entire second floor of her home, causing close to $50,000 in damage. “I lost everything” Rucker says “I don’t know if I can ever go back. No one will give me a loan to rebuild without insurance.”

Mark Washington, executive director of CHMCC, the neighborhood association that covers the Northeast neighborhoods of Cold Spring, Homestead, and Montebello, says Rucker’s situation is not unique. “A number of residents in our area have lost insurance because they live next to vacant housing,” Washington says, noting that the problem has been going on several for years. “Essentially, this is undermining our neighborhoods.”

Washington has brought the problem to the attention of Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th), who, he says, considers this “a serious issue.”

Clarke, whose district represents Rucker’s neighborhood, has introduced a City Council resolution calling for a report by the Maryland Insurance Administration on the problem.

“Technically, this can’t happen without the approval from the state insurance commissioner,” Clarke says “I asked for a report back as to why this is happening.”

Clarke says she expects to hear from the Insurance Administration by October and hopes that legislation will be introduced in Annapolis in 2006 to address the matter. But that may not be soon enough for longtime city residents like Olive Stewart.

Stewart, a nursing assistant who has lived in her home on Tivoly Avenue for 27 years, took her fight to the Maryland Insurance Administration herself when American Skyline declined to renew her policy because of her proximity to an abandoned building.

“I appealed the cancellation to the Maryland Insurance [Administration], and they rejected it,” Stewart says. Though she eventually found insurance to cover her property, she says the cost of her new policy is “exorbitant”—roughly double the price of her previous policy—and includes many restrictions.

“They say I can only claim up to $1,000 for a burglary,” Stewart says. “People say I should move, but this is all I have, I put everything I’ve got into this home. The city needs to help us.”

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