Until this year, people facing eviction in Baltimore could count on one thing: Should they be forced from their homes, their belongings would be gathered from the curbside and stored by the city for up to a month while they sorted out their lives.
But come May 1, the city will not be required to store the belongings for more than 10 days, according to a cost-cutting measure proposed by the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and passed yesterday by the City Council.
George G. Balog, the city's director of public works, estimated in a November letter to the council that it was costing $650,000 per year to collect and store the belongings. Most of that spending is wasted, city officials argue, since only about 2 percent of the people evicted from their homes ever retrieve their property from storage.
But advocates for poor and homeless families have said the bill would make it harder for many of the more than 6,000 individuals and families evicted in Baltimore each year to hang on to scarce belongings.
"My concern is 10 days is really not enough time," said Irvin J. Conway, president of the Maryland Welfare Rights Organization, who also works in the eviction prevention unit of the Urban Services Agency. "Where are they going to find the money to reclaim their goods if they are already behind on their rent?"
Homeless advocates also said court eviction notices could be so confusing that tenants often did not know when they were scheduled for eviction and were not around when their possessions were set outside.
In 1989, 6,416 evictions were carried out in Baltimore on the orders of the Rent Division of the District Court. Of those who were evicted, however, only 126 reclaimed their belongings, according to a letter written by Mr. Balog in support of the legislation.
Last month, a traditionally slow time, the constable's office carried out 553 evictions.
By law, landlords may evict tenants only after receiving a court order, and they may not begin unless a constable is present. Once an eviction order is executed, the constable's office -- part of the District Court -- calls in an auctioneer to haul the belongings to storage.
To reclaim the property, the tenant must pay hauling, storage and other fees that typically total more than $100. If the tenant is unable to come up with the money and a way to transport the property from the auctioneer's warehouse at 2720 Sisson St. in Remington, the auctioneer may sell it, keeping 25 percent of the proceeds and turning over the remainder to the city.