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Baltimore Homeowner Blasts City, Courts As Investment Property Turns Into 'Nightmare' After Fire, Murder, Squatters

BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Baltimore has almost 15,000 vacant homes, and many believe the disinvestment contributes to the city's soaring violence. 

One homeowner, Darryl Brown, told WJZ he regrets ever buying a rowhouse as an investment property in the troubled Carrollton Ridge neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore. 

He said his purchase at auction last year turned into a nightmare with multiple unsuccessful legal battles to evict squatters.

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Brown received the city's notice this week: the home at 325 Furrow Street that he bought for $22,000 last year must be fixed up or torn down within 30 days.

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Notice From Baltimore City

It follows the startling discovery firefighters made less than two weeks ago: The body of Miguel Soto Diaz found with gunshot wounds inside—and Brown's home set ablaze.

"My heart goes out to the family. I am so sorry. This could have been alleviated," Brown told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. "The city—and I hate to say it like this—but they killed this guy because they allowed it to happen."

Brown said he called police last year to remove squatters who had moved in. "I started to try to fix it up. As soon as they saw me try to fix it up, that's when every time I would leave at night, they would break in," Brown said. "The cops came, and the cops were like, 'There's really nothing that you can do. The only thing you can do is go downtown.'"

So, he turned to the courts, writing in an emergency petition for eviction that the squatters were stealing electricity and detailing rampant drug use.

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Brown's emergency petition

A judge denied it on the grounds there was no provision for an expedited trial. 

"Sir, I was just as flabbergasted and confused as you," Brown told Hellgren about the court battle. "The first time, for the eviction, they denied me. The second time, for an emergency eviction, they also denied me."

Eventually, by last month, he was able to get another hearing. 

This time, the judge ordered eviction but more than two weeks passed, and the sheriff's office—backlogged with cases—was unable to carry it out. 

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Last eviction order

That eviction order had yet to be served when the house burned with the body inside. 

"What can someone do if they're like you, a landlord? What can you do?" Hellgren asked Brown. "Well, at that point, I learned that you can do nothing. A lot of my friends have a distaste for even investing in Baltimore," he said.

Brown said while he hopes for change, he's not optimistic. "I feel for the people wholeheartedly… I wish I had never bought that house."

The lower floors are now boarded up. There is an $8,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the homicide. 

WJZ recently highlighted several independent investors who are fixing up homes in Carrollton Ridge. 

The community has continued to see violence, including the shooting of an elderly man as he took out his trash last week. 

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