E-Alerts & Press Releases

PJC brief addresses illegal threats to evict residents

December 3, 2018


A person who claims the right to possess this property believes that this property is abandoned. If you are currently residing in the property, you must immediately contact:

[Name and phone number]

If you do not contact the person listed above within 15 days after the date of this notice, the person claiming possession may consider the property abandoned and seek to secure the property, including changing the locks without a court order.

Imagine finding a notice like this on your front door. The questions start running through your head: I’m clearly living here. Why would they think it’s abandoned? Is it even legal to threaten to kick someone out like that?

Such threats are the focus of a brief the Public Justice Center and the Consumer Law Center filed in Wheeling v. Selene Finance in the Court of Special Appeals on December 3. The brief argues that someone seeking to take possession of a home on grounds that it’s abandoned cannot send a notice threatening to evict any residents without first making a reasonable inquiry into whether someone lives there.

Wheeling v. Selene Finance takes on the latest approach to an issue that the PJC has been fighting for years. In 2013, the PJC and allies helped pass a law that prohibits landlords and foreclosure sale purchasers from evicting or locking out a homeowner or tenant without court process or the presence of the Sheriff. It prohibits even threats of non-judicial eviction. The law does have a narrow exception, allowing non-judicial evictions in cases when the owner believes based on a reasonable inquiry to confirm that the resident has abandoned or surrendered the property. Even then, the owner must still provide notice to the resident and wait 15 days to hear back. If they don’t receive a response, the owner can proceed with regaining possession of the property. In Wheeling v. Selene Finance, we are arguing that the owner did not make a reasonable inquiry into whether the property was occupied before posting the notice, and therefore the notice itself constituted an illegal threat to evict under the statute.

Since this is the first case to interpret the new law, the PJC joined the plaintiffs’ original counsel, Phillip Robinson of the Consumer Law Center, for the appeal to help ensure that residents’ rights under this important statute are respected. 2017-18 Murnaghan Fellow K’Shaani Smith filed the opening brief in August. 2018-19 Murnaghan Fellow Ejaz Baluch, Jr., authored the reply last month and will be arguing the case in February. We hope that the Court will send a strong message that owners must check whether a resident is still in the home before treating the property as abandoned.

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