You need about 10 to 20 minutes to do the activity described in this guide. You also need:
- A phone and a camera (or a smartphone). A notebook (or spreadsheet or other document) to record dates of violation reports and 311 reference numbers.
- A concern about a building, yard, or a vacant lot and a street address for that property.
A quick reference card version of this guide is available as a Google Document. You can print two reference cards onto a standard letter size (8.5 x 11) piece of paper or card stock. Print front and back then cut the card in half to share a copy with a neighbor.
When do you want to call 311? When you are dealing with a vacant building you may not be able to contact the owner. Reporting code violations with 311 is may be your best option. If you are dealing with an occupied property, you may want to talk with residents at the property before you report the issue with 311. You or your neighborhood association may be able to help the property owner or residents resolve the issue. This is a good idea if you want to help a neighbor resolve a code violation and avoid the expense of citation.
1. Looking at the property
Take a walk around the building, structure, or yard. What do you see? Write down your observations and take photographs to make a record of the condition of the property.
Questions to ask about buildings and structures
- Does the building appear unsafe (or unfit for people to live inside) because the building is deteriorated, abandoned, vacant, infested with rats or pests, unsanitary, or may cause a fire hazard? Does the building seem structurally sound?
- Are the windows or doors missing? Are all the exterior doors tightly secured? Do any exterior doors not fit properly in their frames?
- Does the roof keep out rain and prevent the walls or interior from deteriorating? Or is the roof missing?
- Are there stairways or floors still inside the building? Decks or porches outside the building? Are they structurally sound, properly anchored, capable of supporting their loads, and maintained in good repair and safe condition?
Questions to ask about yards and vacant lots
- Do you see garbage, vermin, spills, stagnant water, or any other health hazards? Do you see significant litter, such as paper, bottles and cans, food or yard waste, or other household trash?
- Is there high grass (over 8” high) or weeds? Are there dangerous materials or waste (e.g. wires, nails, construction debris) dumped on the property? Do the weeds or waste block the sidewalks, gutters or alleys?
- Are there any detached garages on the property? Fences or walls around the property? Are they structurally sound?
- Are there overgrown trees or shrubbery? Do they make it dangerous for people walking or driving by the property?
If the condition of a building or vacant lot is dangerous or unhealthy for you and your neighbors, it may be a code violation.
What is a code violation? The questions listed above are based on Baltimore City’s Building, Fire, and Related Codes and Health Code. For more information, see Building, Fire, and Related Codes Part II §116.1; Part II §116.4; Part VII. §304.4; Part VII. §304.7; Part VII. §304.10; Part VII. §304.15; Health §5-201; §5-702; Building, Fire, and Related Codes, Part II §116.2; Health §5-901, Building, Fire, and Related Codes, Part VII. §306.1; Health §5-902, 7-607-09, 7-608; Health §7-702; Building, Fire, and Related Codes, Part II §116.2, Art. 23 Sanitation, §2-2; Building, Fire, and Related Codes, Part VII. §304.24; Building, Fire, and Related Codes, Part VII. §305.3.
2. Reporting the property with 311
Baltimore 311 is a system for Baltimore residents to share issues in their communities directly with the city employees responsible for fixing those issues. Code violations are just one kind of issue you can report with 311. You can also use 311 to report potholes, graffiti, water leaks, and other issues. Baltimore created the first 311 call service in the country in 1996 but the system has spread many different cities.
There are three main ways you can report code violations (or make a service request) with 311:
- Call 311 on your phone and talk to an operator.
- Use the Baltimore 311 smartphone app to submit a request. You can download and install the app for iOS or Android.
- Visit 311.baltimorecity.gov and select “Submit Request”.
Both the website and mobile applications use a platform known as Spot Reporters.
Do you want to stay anonymous? You can make an anonymous report to an operator or on the website. You can also use a separate email address for making 311 reports make sure you keep your personal email private.
Calling 311 and talking to an operator
Calling 311 is the most popular way to submit 311 service requests. The operators do not ask you to categorize your request in advance but can assign it to a category based on your description of the issue. In some cases, operators might discourage you from making a 311 request if they think you should report the issue to another service (such as the police non-emergency line).
If you call in the report, the operator will ask if you want a request number. Take the number and write it down. You may need this number to follow up if the issue is not resolved.
Remember: You must have the exact street address for the property—not the block number or cross street. The operator cannot look up an address on your behalf and, typically, will not accept a 311 request without an address.
Use the Baltimore 311 smartphone app
The app allows you to include a photograph along with your report. If you are taking the photograph with a smartphone, it may be “geotagged” which allows the app to automatically detect the address for the issue based on where you took the photograph. You can also set the location manually by searching for a specific address or using the “crosshairs” in the app to mark the location.
The app allows you to save your contact information so you do not need to input your email or phone number every time you submit a request. It also allows you to browser recent requests and receive notifications when a city employee closes on of your 311 service requests.
Submitting 311 requests with 311.baltimorecity.gov offers you a similar experience to the smartphone app. You may prefer using the website if you want to provide a detailed description and are more comfortable typing on a keyboard. The website does not save your contact information so, if you do want to include it, you need to input your information every time you make a request.
3. Following up on 311 service requests
In some cases, the city marks a 311 request “closed” but the issue is not resolved. What does this mean?
- A city employee assigned the issue to a crew or contractor and you can expect them to resolve the issue within hours or days.
- A city employee believes you made an error when you submitted the 311 requests (such as putting the request in the wrong category).
- A city employee made an error by closing the issue without resolving the problem.
If the issue is not resolved, you want to re-submit to Baltimore 311 or you want to contact the relevant city agency, the code enforcement district office, your neighborhood association, or your City Council representative. When you call or email any of these people for help with the issue, you need to provide the date of your request and the service request identification number so they can determine why a city employee closed the 311 request and why the issue was not resolved as you expected. You may want to keep track of correspondence with city employees or elected officials using the same notebook, spreadsheet, or document you use to record your 311 service requests.
If you are having persistent issues with a single property, you may want to keep track of your 311 service requests in a spreadsheet. You can create separate columns for information including:
- The date you submitted the requests
- The service request number
- A link to the service request on the Baltimore 311 website
- Notes on whether the city resolved the issue satisfactorily