E-Alerts & Press Releases

The PJC Urges Maryland Court of Special Appeals to Declare Surprise Evictions in Foreclosure Context Unlawful

July 5, 2011:  The house you’ve been renting has been foreclosed and you are negotiating your move-out date with the foreclosure purchaser. You assume that if no agreement is reached, you’ll receive notice of the scheduled eviction date as required by Baltimore City law, and the Sheriff will oversee the eviction. But you return from a weekend trip to find that the foreclosure purchaser has locked you out of your home without notice, with all of your personal belongings still inside. This was the experience of one Public Justice Center client and, unfortunately, the circuit court held that his eviction was perfectly legal under Maryland’s right to conduct a “peaceable self-help” eviction without the Sheriff.

The PJC agreed to co-counsel the appeal with the client’s trial attorney and filed an opening brief on July 5, 2011, in the case Nickens v. Mount Vernon Realty Group, LLC. The brief, authored by Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Jessica Weber, argued that surprise lockouts constitute forcible conduct and thus do not fall within Maryland’s right of peaceable self-help. This right allows foreclosure purchasers to take possession outside of regular judicial channels so long as their conduct is peaceful. The PJC also urged the court to modernize the common law right to reflect the realities of today’s society, as well as the public policy expressed in Baltimore City’s Clean Streets law, which was enacted to provide notice of the scheduled date of eviction to occupants of foreclosed homes   and to tenants evicted for nonpayment of rent. The cause of the PJC’s client was supported by an amicus brief filed by Maryland Legal Aid, Civil Justice, St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
The PJC has played a key role in protecting the rights of tenants renting foreclosed homes and in passing the Clean Streets law. We hope the court will reject an interpretation of the common law that would allow foreclosure sale purchasers to engage in surprise evictions without the Sheriff and undermine the statute’s intent of preventing surprise and needlessly destructive evictions.

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