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Baltimore Sun: Bill Aims to End Eviction Practice

From the Baltimore Sun

Bill aims to end eviction practice

Landlords would store tenants' items, could not dump on street if city passes measure

By Doug Donovan Sun reporter

May 7, 2007

The practice of dumping evicted tenants' belongings - couches, appliances, tables, clothes - onto Baltimore streets could soon come to an end under a City Council bill being introduced today. For years, taxpayers have been underwriting the $800,000 annual cost of disposing of the household furnishings of evicted renters that landlords are allowed to pile on city streets. The proposed legislation, sponsored by Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., would prohibit that practice, require landlords to pay for the storage and disposal of such "eviction chattel," and give tenants three days to reclaim it. "We didn't make everybody happy [with the bill]," said Harris, a council president candidate who represents North Baltimore's 4th District. "We came up with a compromise." For more than a decade, the council has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation to control the costly eviction practice. In fiscal year 2006, 7,062 evictions resulted in the dumping of 2,908 tons of belongings onto city streets, according to city statistics. In 2003, the Abell Foundation found that evictions are more common in Baltimore than in many cities, in part because the population is largely poor and the eviction process unusually swift, The Sun reported at the time. Renters can be ousted as quickly as 16 business days after they miss a rent payment. The process can take months elsewhere. In Baltimore, the consequences extend beyond delinquent renters and affect neighborhoods that have to endure the piles of household goods. "It's a problem all across the city," said Dan Pontious, regional policy director for the Citizens Planning and Housing Association. "It's humiliating for the tenants, and it certainly doesn't help revitalizing neighborhoods." But the bill's introduction is just the first step, and the traditionally divisive topic is far from being resolved - despite Mayor Sheila Dixon's apparent support for finding a solution as part of her "cleaner, greener" Baltimore initiative. Advocacy groups for landlords and tenants have been meeting for several weeks in a working group organized by City Solicitor George A. Nilson to hash out their differences over the proposed legislation. Tenant representatives said they believe Dixon is supportive of the measure. The mayor's spokesman did not return calls for comment. "I definitely think this is the furthest we've been on this issue," said Joe Coffey, executive director of Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. "Renters in general aren't as popular with elected officials or in the community. It'd be great if the council got off its butt and did something about eviction chattel." Although Harris was calling the draft bill a "compromise" on Friday, tenant and landlord representatives did not appear to be in agreement with the measure as it is currently written. "I don't think it's anything written in stone," said Katherine Howard, general counsel for Regional Management Inc., a Baltimore company that manages 4,000 rental units in the city. Alfred Singer, a board member of the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore Inc., would not comment. "We're still in the middle of negotiations," Singer said. But tenant groups are generally pleased with the proposal, even though it does not give tenants as many protections as other cities provide. The Rental Housing Coalition has planned a rally outside of City Hall for 4 p.m. today in support of the measure, said Levern Blackmon, tenant advocate for the Public Justice Center. "It is inhumane to take people's belongings and throw them on the street," Blackmon said. "Landlords are the only people who can dump trash on the street and not get fined." Blackmon said he is confident that this is the year for the council to approve such legislation. "The reason we've gotten so far is because of the mayor," he said. Michael Sarbanes, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, predicted that the legislation "will make the landlord-tenant system a lot more efficient" while improving overall cleanliness in neighborhoods. "Residents are working hard every day to keep their streets clean," Sarbanes said. "It doesn't make sense to have landlords putting tons and tons of stuff on neighborhood streets every day." Howard said her company agrees with the main goals of the legislation: to end the dumping of eviction chattel and to provide advance notice of the exact eviction date. Generally tenants are not warned about that date, a process that is overseen by a sheriff's deputy carrying out the court-ordered eviction. The new legislation would require two warnings: the first would come via mail five days before eviction, and the second would come as a posting on the dwelling two days before the sheriff's visit. Once the eviction date arrives, landlords would be allowed to take any remaining property and store it at another property or at a storage facility within a half-mile. A renter would have three days to reclaim the property before the landlord is free to dispose of it. An earlier draft of the legislation proposed giving landlords a 50 percent discount for dumping at the landfill, a move supported by landlords. In 2006, it cost the city $40.85 per ton to dump at landfills, according to a public works official. The draft filed with the council, however, removed the discount. "Everyone will have an opportunity to come before the council to express their likes or dislikes about the bill," Harris said. Baltimore tenant groups wanted to give evicted renters seven days to reclaim their property but were willing to compromise on three days to move the bill forward. The Citizens Planning and Housing Association pointed to its research of other cities that offer more generous storage policies: Philadelphia requires a 30-day storage period; St. Paul, Minn., gives 60 days; Los Angeles allows 15 days. "There are lots of good landlords who handle this issue properly," Coffey said. "But there is a number who don't. And that's why this [legislation] is needed." Howard said there will be a trickle-down impact on renters if landlords are forced to pick up the costs of storage, hauling and disposal of eviction chattel - costs that come on top of the lost rent and the court fees associated with the eviction. "All of that has a price tag attached to it, which just increases the bottom line for landlords," Howard said. "Any increase to the bottom line to do this is ... going to affect the affordability of the rent for everyone."

doug.donovan@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun



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