Bandit Signs: The New Blockbusting

“I wish they wouldn’t post those here, they make our neighborhood look trashy.”

I hear this a lot about bandit signs — those “WE BUY HOUSES” signs that pop up like toadstools after a storm. And yes, they do make a neighborhood look trashy. But even worse — they’re the new tool for blockbusting. For devaluing property — maybe your property. (Hint: It’s a scam.)

In the 1950s and 1960s, blockbusters (usually realtors or “investor” types) would go into neighborhoods to intentionally destabilize real estate prices, in order to snap up properties on the cheap, by “warning” white families that “blacks are moving in next door”. The white family (along with their neighbors, who the “investor” approached earlier) would then flee to the suburbs, but not before selling their property at a ridiculously low price. The investor or realtor would then turn around and sell the property to a black family under a ridiculously rigged “rent to own” scheme, which ultimately led to the financial downfall of many black families in once-prosperous neighborhoods. Many of Baltimore’s neighborhoods in West and East Baltimore are still feeling the effects today, through abandonment, concentrated poverty, subprime lending scams, and sub-standard rental housing. In the late 1960s, most predatory real estate practices were outlawed under the Fair Housing Act, yet many still remain. With new tactics, steering, blockbusting and redlining are alive and well in Baltimore City.

With these signs, shady investors are able to create a culture of urgency and fear in a neighborhood by indicating this is a neighborhood where people are looking to leave…and leave quickly. They’re not a hard sell — they’re usually posted in the middle of the night, quietly. The people who post these signs prey on residents who need money. They prey on residents’ emotions and feelings about their neighborhood. Worse, these signs start to chip away at a neighborhood’s sense of community. Nobody wants to live where they presume a mass exodus is about to take place. These signs are a cheap attempt to divide and conquer. To pit neighbor against neighbor in a blockbusting scheme, 21st Century-style.

These signs are also illegal, per article 19 Subtitle 45 of the Baltimore City Code.  (Link will open a PDF) However, the fines are so negligible (and of course so rarely levied that the law is laughable), the investor chalks them up to a business deduction and continues to hang them. My advice? Rip them down. Every time you see one of these signs, rip it off the light pole, off the door of a blighted vacant. Throw them into the trash, and send a message to these people that our neighborhoods are not to be preyed upon. This is perfectly legal, by the way — despite what some might say about “stealing” signs off light poles and street signs.

screen shot of Baltimore City code about the removal of illegal signs, also known as bandit signs.

Don’t be a victim to this scam, and don’t allow your neighborhood — your neighbors — to be devalued by these people. Realizing your true worth is the first step towards strengthening your community.


8 thoughts on “Bandit Signs: The New Blockbusting

  • I learned that it was illegal to hang signs on vacants through you. I’ve ripped down many a political sign (for my candidates, because I didn’t want them to get in trouble, or for the other candidates, because it was a valid reason to do so 😉 ). I didn’t know these kind of signs were illegal in general. Will do so.

    • The only time it would be legal is if the person hanging the sign had permission from the owner to do so. My guess is most of these guys go into poor neighborhoods assuming that nobody cares, so they hang these eyesores everywhere, thinking there will be no consequences. I think it’s time we show that yes, there are indeed consequences in devaluing the residents of our city.

  • Has anyone experienced real estate companies more aggressively blighting neighborhoods by moving thugs in? In my neighborhood in Omaha, real estate company called Greenslate has done just this. From lighting off M-80s at all hours to bumping bass at 3 am, to grafitti, to attracting scrapers to not just strip the houses they have already acquired, but also to claim they are “removing asbestos” and simply punching random holes in the walls of all the rooms. And leaving the houses wide open as well. I believe the goal is to qualify for TIF by slumming the block. I’d love to hear about it. Moreover this is ripe for a journalist to write a story on. Plenty of evidence here.

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