On Blighted Property Watch List

One of the properties on Frederick’s blight watch list is this single-family home, which belongs to Duk Hee Ro at 111 E. Seventh St.

Frederick native Sherri Dotson was familiar with city landlord Duk Hee Ro and the ongoing issues related to the dilapidated, blighted buildings Ro owned throughout downtown.

She also knew that Ro offered cheap, or even free, apartments to tenants in those buildings — something she and her husband, Joseph Dotson, a convicted felon whose criminal record of multiple drug possession and distribution charges ruled out many other housing options, needed badly.

“We were homeless people. We had nowhere else to go,” Sherri Dotson recalled. “If we weren’t homeless people, we wouldn’t have messed with her.”

Still, conditions at the home on 111 E. Seventh St. — owned by Ro’s holding company Julia & James Properties LLC — were worse than she anticipated. Dotson described piles of filth, clothes and heroin needles when they moved in last fall.

They relied on electric heaters to keep warm in the winter, since the house had no heating system. Bare bulbs and live wires dangled from walls and ceilings. They paid for electricity.

But they didn’t pay rent, apart from a $250 security deposit, instead working on the property and others owned by Ro in exchange for a place to live. There was never a lease, they said, or any type of written documentation on the terms of their agreement.

It was still better than the alternative of staying in a shelter, at least at first, said Sherri Dotson. Then Ro stopped paying the city water bills for the property.

For water and plumbing needs, Dotson and her husband then turned to local shelters and public bathrooms, and brought in bottled water. But plumbing problems at the property caused a steady stream of waste and sewage to flood the basement.

By July, they had saved enough money through their jobs — he at Wolf Furniture and she at a local cleaning company — to leave the Seventh Street property behind and start a one-year lease for a West Sixth Street home, a copy of which was provided to The News-Post.

Roughly a dozen phone messages to Ro requesting comment, along with a certified letter sent to her home, were not returned.

Making the call

Vicki Brust has watched a slew of tenants come and go from the Ro property across from her Seventh Street home. But she had never entered the home until the Dotsons lived there. Unlike with many prior inhabitants, Brust said, she was friendly with the couple, who invited her in once to see the squalid conditions they described.

“I got as far as the living room,” Brust recalled, describing a bare bulb and wire dangling from the ceiling. “Just what I saw was enough to scare me. I couldn’t imagine what the rest of the inside was like.”

Based on her observations, and what the Dotsons told her about their living situation, she encouraged them to report the property to the city after they moved out. With Brust’s convincing, Sherri Dotson said, she called a friend within the city’s code enforcement department.

That call prompted an inspection of the property, which from the outside appeared to be up to code, but inside revealed numerous violations, according to Brittany Parks, assistant manager of code enforcement. Violations ranged from rubbish and garbage surrounding the building, to plumbing issues, open junction boxes, a broken front window and missing heating system, Parks wrote in an email.

Parks declined to provide additional description of the violations and general property condition on the grounds that specific case files could only be shared through a Maryland Public Information Act request. The News-Post filed the records request Oct. 13 and had not received the information as of Friday afternoon.

The department issued notice for seven new violations on the property on Sept. 10, triggering a roughly one-month window for Ro to bring the property up to code, or else be fined $400 per outstanding violation, Parks wrote in an email. As of Oct. 13, the necessary repairs were made and no fines given, Parks wrote.

History of problems

The recent violations are not the first issued for the Seventh Street property. The home was identified as one of 30 on the city’s blighted property and property watch list created in June 2014. Prior violations had been fixed, however, and the property was slated for removal from the list next month until the new violations were found.

With those recent violations corrected, the one-year review process will start anew, with continued site inspections to ensure that no additional violations arise before the property can be taken off the blight list.

Sherri Dotson said she was skeptical, though, that the corrected violations translate to a livable property for future tenants.

“She brings it up to code, but that doesn’t mean everything’s fixed,” Joseph Dotson agreed.

Brust said the property has been a source of noise and police calls for as long as she could remember. Activity has died down there recently, but Brust described loud screaming matches between Ro and prior tenants in previous years.

Call records to the Frederick Police Department for issues at that address, provided to The News-Post through a Public Information Act request, show one call made in 2015, dated April 25. By comparison, the department received 26 calls for service to that address between January 2013 and December 2014.

“I’ve probably made most of them,” Brust said of the calls.

The building itself has been an eyesore on the neighborhood, and in various stages of decay, since neighbor David Hunter purchased his 109 E. Seventh St. home in 2000.

“I don’t think it’s really gotten significantly better,” Hunter said of the property’s appearance.

Although he acknowledged that city officials and code enforcement inspectors had pursued avenues to address the issues, he said the city’s response was overall “pretty lame.”

“It’s amazing to me she’s allowed to keep the property,” he said.

As for the Dotsons, they’re hoping to never interact with Ro again, even if it means never receiving the $250 security deposit back.

“I just want to leave her alone,” Joseph Dotson said.

Follow Nancy Lavin on Twitter: @Nancy_Lavin228.

Nancy Lavin covers social services, demographics and religion for The Frederick News-Post.

(13) comments

Gusty

So I am to gather from this article that But they didn’t pay rent, apart from a $250 security deposit, instead working on the property and others owned by Ro in exchange for a place to live. And they failed to live up to the conditions of a rent free space. The didn't clean up the place or even cap off the electrical wires. As the woman said she had no place to go and was given shelter for a year. What more do these various people want. They saved money enough to move on. if they , but couldn't live up to what they had agreed to do in exchange leaving trash (which the garbage would have taken) cleaned the debris from the yard (again trash) and instead blamed Ro on their lack of character in honoring obligations...fyi it is by being a good citizen that the jail time would be less important.

sue1955

The picture of this house on E. Seventh Street looks like the house that a sister and brother-in-law of mine rented from the Ros in the early 1990s. It was painted a brighter yellow, though and I remember steep stairs on the side going up to the upper level where they lived. The house had electrical problems that were never fixed. I remember that there was a plate attached to the wall in a bedroom which stated that it was built in 1900.

One comment months ago in the FNP regarding the Ros noted that Koreans put a high value on owning property, but not keeping it up. I think of the Ros when I watch "Hotel Impossible" on the Travel channel, when in a couple of episodes, Korean women were the owners/managers of the hotels in question. They acted absolutely apathetic to putting out any money for the property improvements and really couldn't care less.

Nevertheless, the fact that these slumlords are allowed to continue is beyond me. I'm afraid that it would take something catastrophic (e.g., a fire) due to faulty electric wiring for anybody in "authority" to take action.

josephdavis

This is why "absolute property rights" have always been trumped by the duty of the government to protect citizens from nuisance. This principle goes back to the beginnings of written law.

sevenstones1000

This is what happens when you have limitless "property rights".

"I own it and I can do what whatever I want with it." I do not understand why there is no provision for eminent domain taking of properties from clearly unresponsive owners who are ruining the neighborhood.

quemzeee2

What bothers many of us more is they made all there money from F.M.H. Dr. Ro was a very high paid anthesteseologist there. Simply very bad ethics , But that was the way Fredeick did alot of things 20 years back

MCEDDE21

Anesthesiology is one of the most lucrative of medical professions, if not the most. Why would anyone give that up to become a slumlord?

MAVRICKinc7

And still doing the same thing 20 later. What is it about SLUM LORDS in Frederick, Maryland, that local elected governance REFUSES to do anything about? What does ETHICS have to do with this issue when their is no ETHICS Board to be found in all of Frederick, Maryland? After 20 years of doing the same thing over and over again, is it any wonder that downtown Frederick isn't any more inviting than another flea market outing within a 50 mile radius of Frederick City proper? Just because Dr. Ro and FAMILY made a lot of money in their time, from a profession point of view, does that absolve the RO dynasty from any accountability for underwritting SLUM PROPERTIES in Frederick, Maryland today? Apparently it has, and for a very long time and many generations of government COMPLIANCE to the will of the RO FAMILY and its need for cheap labor, or another kind of SLAVE mentality in the 21st century...in Frederick, Maryland. Who out there is going to say the Mayor of Frederick and his all-white Alderman have no knowledge of these circumstance, other than their concerted political efforts to remove the Taney statue from it current moorings? What is it about governance that's been bought that the citizens of Frederick, Maryland just don't get?

Reader1954

curious, is she making enough rental income on these properties to pay the property taxes on them? What is Ro's real source of income to be able to keep and buy additional properties?

MAVRICKinc7

Whatever those sources are, matters little to Frederick, Maryland governance, as long as government gets its share of tax revenues. Didn't SLUM LORDS in New York and Baltimore, Maryland get the same GOVERNMENT breaks that the RO family and their legacy are getting from local elected officials of Frederick, Maryland.

Dig just a little deeper and broaden your scope of inquiry and you'll see Frederick, Maryland government is playing the same GAME as bigger governments are. Imitation is the best form of flattery and not much changes between any level of governance you care to identify. It's what comes of being a foregone conclusion.

Traderarb99

Good, detailed article. Any chance of fnp posting a pic of the property owners?

MAVRICKinc7

That would be a violation of trust and confidentiallity the FNP could not possibly explain away.

quemzeee2

This is actualy an improvement from 10 years back. Ro had assembled her own sercurity group which had imediate access to any of your belongings at her whim. She catered to young persons in recovery, homeless and the needy described above. The belongings they took from these persons wound up as "donations" and tax deductable for them.
Frederick City, Frederick County, is this ok to have here? Why not engage in rental property licsencing?

MAVRICKinc7

What is it about a slave labor workforce don't you understand?

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