Scant public notice has been given to a crucial piece of legislation coming up for final City Council vote Monday. Council Bill 1081 would lift an existing ban on solicitation of residential real estate by agents door-to-door, by telephone or by the mass distribution of circulars unless it can be proven that "one of the purposes. . . would be to change the racial composition of a neighborhood."
We urge the council to defeat this unenforceable bill. If passed, it could open floodgates to unscrupulous solicitation at a time when the city's residential real estate market is glutted, in a deep slump and the number of homes staying on the market for more than 90 days is significantly higher than in neighboring counties.
The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors argues that Bill 1081 would do in the city what a recent federal court ruling did in Baltimore County. There, U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Harvey II invalidated an 18-year-old anti-solicitation law. "Judge Harvey's opinion applies with equal force in the case of the city's anti-solicitation law. The city's law is a product of another time," the Realtors board said.
We disagree. Judge Harvey ruled that blockbusting, "panic selling" and "white flight" no longer existed in Baltimore County. However, a city that lost 115,000 residents in the 1970s, 50,000 in the 1980s and each year continues to lose 5,000 residents is in a different category. Census data clearly document the racial effect of that exodus.
We shudder to think what Bill 1081 could do if irresponsible agents begin bombarding city homeowners from Homeland and Roland Park to the Wilkens Avenue and Belair Road corridors with door-to-door solicitation visits or by telephone calls at all times of the day and night. No records would exist of what residents were told to induce listing, which would make policing by city officials -- or by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors -- impossible. By the time the impact would become evident, it would be too late to save neighborhoods.
Owning a home in Baltimore City is a sacrifice. Real estate taxes and car insurance rates are double those of any suburban county. Schools are inferior, crime is soaring. Urban living produces countless other headaches.
With the continuing loss of the middle class, the city's future hangs in a precarious balance. Many residents, while committed to the city, are fearful of the security of their investment. The City Council should do everything in its power to preserve home ownership and encourage new investment. Bill 1081 is unlikely to do either.