The City Council last night gave final approval to a bill that would repeal a 20-year-old ban on door-to-door and telephone solicitation and use of leaflets by real estate agents.
The ban, included in a law governing real estate practices, was enacted in 1971 to combat blockbusting tactics on the part of some unscrupulous real estate agents who sought to promote panic selling at low prices by preying on racial fears.
The Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors has urged that the ban be stricken from the law. It said that blockbusting is no longer a threat and other laws have made the ban unnecessary.
While the bill approved last night would give real estate agents BTC more freedom to solicit sales, it also would add to the law a list of restrictions on the kinds of solicitation messages they can use to induce homeowners to sell.
Under the measure, agents can not bring up the race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability or familial status of new residents in neighborhoods to influence homeowners to sell.
But should an agent use those kinds of messages, another provision in the bill makes it harder to prove a violation.
Under the bill, a violation would occur only if it could be proven that the intent of the solicitation message was to create panic selling. Currently, only the effect on the neighborhood by such practices need be proven for violations to occur.
Real estate agents sought the change several years ago after filing suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to overturn a similar law passed in Baltimore County in 1972.
Last November, Chief Judge Alexander Harvey 2nd ruled the county ban was unconstitutional. He said that since blockbusting ceased to exist in the county, there is no longer any substantial government interest served by infringing on advertising activities.
Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th, lead sponsor of the bill to repeal the solicitation ban, said that not to act on the measure could put the city's law in legal jeopardy.
Hall also noted that a fair-housing bill signed into law in January gave the Baltimore Community Relations Commission the power fine real estate agents up to $50,000 if they try to induce sales by implying that a change in the racial composition of a neighborhood could bring on crime or otherwise affect housing values there.
Opponents of repeal said the ban was necessary to stem the flight of the middle class from the city.
The city already is struggling to hold on to residents concerned about crime, poor schools and neighborhood decay, said Council Joseph T. "Jody" Landers 3rd, D-3rd. He added that integrated neighborhoods in northeast Baltimore still were susceptible to blockbusting.
In other action last night, the council again defeated an attempt to repeal the controversial beverage container tax.
Last week, the council voted, 12-7, to table both a bill that would repeal the 14-month-old tax and an amendment that would set March 31 as the date for ending the tax.
By a vote of 11-8, the council turned back a move to bring the bill and the amendment to the floor for a vote.
Landers, who favors ending the tax March 31, has said he will keep trying for a vote on the bill at every council meeting.
The tax adds 4 cents to the cost of 16-ounce beverages in glass and cans and 2 cents to the cost of smaller containers. Milk and juice products are exempt.