PJC In The News

A Better Balance: Baltimore Sun Editorial Calls for Better Balance in Landlord-Tenant Law


From the Baltimore Sun

A better balance 

May 8, 2007 

If you are a tenant down on your luck and unable to pay your rent, Baltimore is not a great place to be. You may or may not receive notice that you are about to be evicted, and the landlord can toss all your belongings onto the street. City Council member Kenneth N. Harris Sr. and Mayor Sheila Dixon have done a service by bringing landlords and tenants together and pushing legislation - introduced in the City Council yesterday - that strikes a better balance. 

The changes are welcome and long overdue. 

About 50 percent of Baltimore families were renters in 2006, and many use so much of their monthly income to keep a roof over their heads that any crisis or emergency leaves them behind in rent payments. The result: about 7,000 evictions a year, with no formal requirement for notice to the tenant of when the eviction will take place. 

Sometimes a tenant leaves things in the dwelling while trying desperately to scrounge up back rent money, and sometimes the tenant intentionally abandons unwanted items. In either case, the landlord may be left to dispose of the items. And while many landlords are responsible enough to take them to a storage facility or to the dump, many others simply junk them on city streets. 

For a tenant who is trying to comply, it's a slap in the face and an affront to basic dignity. The 2,900 tons of furniture, clothing and other belongings tossed outside are also major eyesores that blight many neighborhoods. In addition, it costs the city's Department of Public Works more than $800,000 a year for proper pick-up and disposal - money that could be used more productively to achieve Mayor Dixon's goal of a "cleaner, greener" city. Those are among the reasons the mayor's office worked with Mr. Harris to come up with the new bill. 

The bill would give tenants more formal notice of when the eviction would take effect and would prohibit landlords from dumping the evicted tenants' possessions on city streets. Tenants would also have three days in which to reclaim their belongings. 

Many other major cities provide storage for seven to 60 days; Baltimore would better serve all its residents by following those examples. 

In a city where the median income for renters is less than $25,000 and a two-bedroom unit typically rents for more than $1,000 a month, the larger solution is more affordable housing. But offering a little more protection for tenants' belongings while keeping city streets cleaner is at least one step in the right direction. 

Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun

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