Nickels said it's possible someone talked to him -- nearly two years later, it's testing his memory -- but added that he's sure no one ever mentioned fines. He would have been upset, he said, but he also would have paid.
The agency cited him for building materials, trash, bulk items and the overflowing can, all in the backyard. It also cited him for failing to register his property as "non-owner-occupied," which the city requires. If he had registered, Baltimore Housing spokeswoman Cheron Porter pointed out, he would have given the agency the correct mailing address.
"If you change your address ÃÂ you've got to tell us," Porter said.
Nickels said he thought owners only had to register rental homes, which he did in 2009 when he moved his office to Harford County and put a tenant in. As for the trash, he said a neighbor dumped construction debris in his yard once, but he thinks he keeps his property in good shape.
The rowhouse has a fresh coat of red paint. And last week, the front yard was neat with new mulch while the backyard, covered in concrete, was clear. On a block full of sagging rowhomes, boarded-up windows and overgrown grass, it was a standout.
Nickels said that while his citations headed to his old home, at least one city agency had his correct address, because his water and sewer bills for the Baltimore rowhouse always arrived in Harford County.
Meanwhile, yet another city agency — the tax collectors — also didn't seem to have the right address. But that was one bill Nickels knew he owed. So he had his office manager, Krystal Walker, send a certified letter this year to ensure the city knew where to mail it. (In previous years, Walker said, she paid the property taxes by going online to see how much was due.)
Walker isn't sure how she managed to slightly underpay the 2008 bill. She and Nickels said they never received the past-due notice the city says it sent out in 2009, and the unpaid amount wasn't added to the 2009 bill they saw.
Raymond, with the revenue collections bureau, thinks his office did all that could be expected once the account was flagged for tax sale. It mailed two warnings. "The notice is very clear and specific," he said.
Nickels and his office manager insist the first warning never arrived and the second gave the past-due amount -- which at that point was $915.16 -- but didn't specify what was being billed.
Walker assumed it was a tax issue and called the revenue collections office to find out what was wrong. She said a staffer assured her that no taxes were due. She got the employee to write "paid in full" on the 2009-2010 tax bill and sign it, just for her own peace of mind.
Walker said the staffer never mentioned that anything was owed for the previous year, or that the property had outstanding citations.
"It's crazy," Nickels said. "I don't understand it."
Raymond, the bureau chief, said he can't comment on "what that conversation may or may not have been."
"In general, we work to the best of our ability with all constituents to resolve all billing issues prior to tax sale, because we do not want to take properties into tax sale that do not legitimately belong in tax sale," Raymond said.
Nickels had planned to keep the home until the nearby Westport waterfront was redeveloped. Now he has changed his mind.
"I'm going to sell," Nickels said. "I don't want anything to do with real estate in the city anymore."