One block in Carrollton Ridge offers a microcosm of Baltimore’s struggle with vacant properties

Published on: November 08, 2022 6:00 AM EST|Updated on: November 08, 2022 7:59 AM EST

Out of 29 parcels on the even side of the 300 block of South Smallwood Street in Carrollton Ridge, 23 are officially listed as vacant, one is a vacant lot, and another not listed as vacant is, in fact, vacant.

Dead people. Ghost companies. Foreign investors. A savings and loan that went out of business in the 1980s.

These are some of the owners of property on just one side of one block in one of Baltimore’s most blighted neighborhoods — and a snapshot of who owns blighted property throughout the city.

Out of 29 parcels on the even side of the 300 block of South Smallwood Street in Carrollton Ridge, 23 are officially listed as vacant, one is a vacant lot, and another not listed as vacant is, in fact, vacant.

City housing officials say the best solution would be finding a developer to take on the entire block, which would require a combination of receivership, tax foreclosure and even eminent domain, and they are labeling places like this as “Impact Investment Areas” to spur investment.

The Baltimore Banner attempted to reach out to each owner of the vacant properties, asking why they sit in their current states of disrepair.

302 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: 300 and 302 South Smallwood Street Properties LLC

Status: Vacant

Arline Sugar Kerman, a divorce and custody lawyer from Sandy Springs, Georgia, acquired both 300 and 302 South Smallwood Street from relative Dorothy Sugar in 2009, then transferred both to this LLC registered in her name. It was never registered in Maryland and was dissolved by the state of Georgia in 2015. Kerman, a 1961 graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law, died in 2019. The property at 300 South Smallwood was sold in 2013, and is now a corner store.

304 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Dilip Bhagat

Status: Vacant

Bhagat, who lives in the area and owns several properties, purchased this property for $40,000 in 2007. Bhagat said the properties were at one time rented out, but when tenants moved the homes would get broken into and raided for materials — copper pipes, the furnace and hot water tanks, electrical wires.

“You’re always playing cat-and-mouse with these people,” he said.

He’s secured the rear of one home with cinder blocks, but the interior damage requires a “massive job” to address. Bhagat said he’s recently returned from being out of the country for a year and is working to address his properties, “but I can only do one at a time.” He also worries that the poor condition of adjoining properties would deter potential renters. In the meantime, he said he’s got to keep up with taxes, water bills (even vacant homes are charged about $45 monthly) and fines when people dump trash. “I’m in a very hard spot,” he said.

306 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Facilitate LLC

Status: Permits obtained for rehab

Rebecca Brown, a federal contractor living in Hanover, Maryland, acquired the home in July for $20,000 and says she intends to rehab it and sell it. She first tried to get funding from a lending program for Black and Latino women, but was turned down and decided to forge ahead. “I’m rehabbing it with my own funds, and as a real estate agent I’m planning on listing it once it’s done,” Brown said. She has described the process as difficult, from delay in the title being processed to being hung up in the permitting process. “Needless to say, this is my first rehab in Baltimore and my very last,” she said.

308 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Mali LLC

Status: Vacant

This property was acquired in December 2020 by Miami-based Property Invest MD for $3,000, and flipped the same day to Mali LLC for $90,000. Property Invest markets to Turkish investors, and a review by The Banner found that about one-fifth of the homes it has flipped to investors remain vacant. The authorized person in business documents is listed as Ulker Bilir.

310 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Dilip Bhagat

Status: Vacant

Bhagat, who owns several properties in the block and area, purchased this property for $31,250 in 2008. See 304 South Smallwood Street above.

312 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Angelo and Sheila LoCastro

Status: Vacant

LoCastro purchased this property in 2006 for $52,500, and died in 2014. This is one of two homes he and his wife own in the 300 block of South Smallwood Street, and they own four total properties in the Carrollton Ridge area that were acquired between 2005 and 2006. His son, Anthony LoCastro, said the homes were acquired in good condition and rented out, and the neighborhood appeared at the time to be on the upswing. After the recession, he said, crime increased, property values sunk and investors who could pull out left. He said his retired father looked after the homes, but after his death they fell further behind. Like Bhagat, LoCastro said homes without tenants were raided for materials, and he was defrauded by property managers. LoCastro said the city doesn’t support struggling property owners; he said he recently went before the environmental control board related to this particular property, and was told to rehabilitate it. “I asked them, ‘How can you justify that? Who’s going to pay for it?” he said.

314 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: FRI LLP

Status: Vacant.

FRI LLP lists a resident agent of Anthony LoCastro, who owns two other homes in the block (see 312 South Smallwood above). The property was purchased for $10,000 in 2009.

316 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: FPBC LLC

Status: Vacant

This property was purchased in May 2022 for $13,000, and the company is controlled by Fernando Plastino of Potomac, Maryland, whose companies own at least 175 properties across the city. He could not be reached for comment. The city’s online records do not officially list the home as vacant, even though it is boarded up.

318 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Arrow Savings and Loan

Status: Vacant

Arrow Savings and Loan was among a number of such companies that were put into conservatorship or receivership between 1985 and 1988; this property nonetheless remains owned by a company that has been out of business for more than 30 years. A city housing official said there was a 2012 tax sale foreclosure on that property that went to judgment, but a new deed was never recorded. That can happen when there are significant accumulated liens on a property, and this home’s outstanding liens are indeed significant: $398,753.90 is owed. A spokeswoman for the city comptroller’s office said if someone were to buy the tax sale certificate, most of those liens could be wiped clean, however.

320 South Smallwood Street

Status: City lists as vacant, though a neighbor said it is occupied. It is owned by a man who owns another home in the block.

322 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Smallwood LLC

Status: City lists as lived in.

The property was purchased in March 2022 for $20,900. This company does not appear to be registered in Maryland; it lists an Atlanta mailing address that appears to be in a shopping center, though the company is not registered in Georgia either. Instead, it is registered in Wyoming, with a Georgia woman as the listed contact.

324 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Aamun Jamaal LLC

Status: Vacant

The LLC is not a registered business in Maryland, and it lists the property address as the mailing address. The business incorporated in West Virginia and not currently in compliance there lists the owner as Valan H. Christy. The property was purchased for $6,500 in 2019. On an Amazon author page for a 2012 book about drumming, Christy says he was born again just before his 20th birthday as Aamun Jamaal. He could not be reached for comment.

326 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Terraine Saunders

Status: Vacant

Saunders was struck and killed while walking on a sidewalk in Fort Washington after a driver fell asleep at the wheel in 2012. He had purchased the home in 2004 for $45,000.

328 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Mayor and City Council

Status: Vacant

The city has owned the property since 2003. A Housing Department spokeswoman says it is currently listed on the city’s “Open Bid” list.

330 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Lisa Bradford

Status: Vacant

Bradford acquired the property for $1,000 from a bank in 2001, records show. Her listed mailing address is a nonexistent address in Randallstown, and attempts to locate a valid address and contact information were unsuccessful.

332 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Kinneret LLC

Status: Permits for rehab obtained earlier this year

Kinneret LLC purchased this property for $38,500 in June. It’s not registered as a Maryland company; it is incorporated in Delaware, and its listed contact is a generic incorporation services company.

334 South Smallwood Street

Status: Listed as owner occupied; the owner has another property in the block.

336 South Smallwood Street

Listed owners: William and Glenice Clopein Jr.

Status: Demolished; vacant lot

The Clopeins have owned the home since 1976. William Clopein died in 1999; Glenice died in 2014.

338 South Smallwood Street

Listed owners: David and Kelly Warren.

Status: Vacant

The owners acquired this property for $500 in 1999 and listed a mailing address in Columbia, Maryland. Public records show they long ago moved from the Columbia address. They could not be reached for comment.

340 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Gemini Investments

Status: Vacant

This property was among 17 properties that David Marshall Thomas of Silver Spring transferred to a company called Gemini Investments, which lists Thomas as its resident agent, in 2000. This particular property was acquired a year earlier by Thomas for $46,000. A woman who answered the phone said of Thomas, “He’s not interested in talking.”

342 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Angelo and Sheila LoCastro

Status: Vacant

The LoCastros acquired this property in 2005 for $53,000. Angelo died in 2014 and his son is currently struggling to figure out what to do with the properties (see 312 South Smallwood Street). “It’s a continuous uphill battle,” he said.

344 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Joscelyn A. Horton

Status: Vacant

Horton acquired this property for $4,000 in 2011 and lists it as her mailing address. She appears to reside in New York and could not be reached for comment.

346 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: KMJ Properties LLC

Status: Vacant

This LLC, described on its web site as a Gaithersburg construction company, purchased this property for $4,750 in 2020. Owner Marco Castro hung up on a reporter.

348 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Asli & Cinar LLC

Status: Vacant

This property was acquired by Miami-based Property Invest MD for $52,000 and flipped in a double closing the same day to this LLC for $89,000. Property Invest markets mainly to Turkish investors, and a review by the Banner shows about one-fifth of the properties it has flipped remain vacant. Its listed address is that of Highlandtown’s Reliable Property Management, and the authorized person is listed as a person named Asli Sonmez.

350 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Richard Suter

Status: Vacant

Suter has owned the property since 1986. He died in 2016.

352 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Blue Pampa LLC

Status: Vacant

This property was acquired in 2019 by ABC Capital-Baltimore for $41,000 and flipped the same day to Blue Pampa for $55,220. Blue Pampa is not registered as a company in Maryland, but is incorporated in Florida with a Philadelphia mailing address associated with ABC Capital, which has been accused of not making promised renovations and rentals. The authorized person for the LLC is listed as Claudio Minones of Sunny Isles, Florida.

354 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Monarch Development LLC

Status: Vacant

This property was acquired in 2018 for $2,500. Monarch was created in 1999 and is currently forfeited and not in good standing with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation. It’s owned by Rajeev Kurichh of Burtonsville, who owns several rental properties. He told WBAL-TV earlier this year: “I’m not a slumlord. I was going to fix them up but I hit the skids. I’m trying to do the best I can. I just can’t get to them quick enough.”

356 South Smallwood Street

Listed owner: Wilkens One Inc.

Status: Vacant

Wilkens One was one of several companies created in 1986 by Clifton W. Semmont Jr., a Realtor who lives in the Anneslie area of Baltimore County. Semmont, 86, sold off some of his other properties but owns this and at least 24 more in the area. A message left at a number listed for Semmont was not returned.