Bills would make landlords store evicted property Baltimore Co. renters still could lose goods after 15 days

August 17, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Two Baltimore County bills, one sponsored by the Hayden administration the other by a County Council member, could make landlords responsible for storing the belongings of people evicted from their properties.

The idea is to get the property off public streets and eliminate the county's responsibility of picking up the material after 48 hours.

The measures would solve the county's problems, but not the problems of those who own the furniture, appliances, clothing and personal items picked over by scavengers. That's because the bills don't require protected storage of the items. They only require landlords to store the property for up to 15 days, then dispose of it. This means the items could be left outside in a designated area on the landlord's grounds. "We don't know how to deal with [scavenging]," said Pat Roddy, legislative liaison for County Executive Roger B. Hayden.

Some people follow the constables in their cars, waiting until workmen carry out belongings. Then they, along with neighbors, begin picking through it as if shopping. Occasionally, constables call the police to break up fights between scavengers. Technically speaking, the property is "abandoned," said police spokesman Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger.

The problem with trying to eliminate looting is that landlords don't want the burden of protecting the belongings of people who haven't paid their rent.

"Everybody is forewarned" of an eviction, said Christopher J. Devlin, president of the Apartment Builders and Owners Council of Central Maryland. He and Edgie Russell, president of Partners Management Co., a large apartment management firm, said that most people move their belongings out before being evicted and leave behind what they don't want.

"It's not as tragic as it may seem," said Mr. Russell, noting that many evictions occur after tenants have "skipped" without paying rent.

"That's not true," said Phyllis Johnson, who runs an eviction prevention program. "At least 80 percent of those clients need those items. They don't have any money to put it in a warehouse."

Ms. Johnson's program, the Community Assistance Network, distributed $36,000 in eviction-prevention emergency grants between Jan. 1 and July 1. She said people facing eviction often request money with which to pay furniture-storage fees.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, D-5th, plans to introduce his bill at the council's next meeting Sept. 7 and have it voted on Oct. 4. He said his office and those of other council members have received a steady stream of complaints from citizens near large apartment complexes in Essex-Middle River, Timonium, Cockeysville and Woodlawn, where evictions have left large piles of belongings blocking streets.

Mr. Russell said he's eager to solve that problem by placing the items somewhere on the grounds rather than in the street.

C. Richard Moore, county highways and traffic chief, said two county crews work almost full-time making 20 to 30 runs per month, collecting the leftovers from an eviction and trucking them to the county landfill. Sometimes he sends a county truck sooner than the allotted 48 hours because the belongings have blocked the street. Police too are often called to mark off piles of furniture and clothing left on the streets.

Alan Erb, supervising Constable for Baltimore County, said that the theft problem is pervasive, especially because county police won't guard the belongings. "I've had to chase a landlord away who was trying to put stuff in his car," Mr. Erb said.

According to county District Court records, during the 1992 fiscal year -- July 1, 1991, to June 30, 1992 -- 4,159 evictions occurred. During the 1993 fiscal year, 3,322 evictions occurred, just under the 3,508 that occurred in fiscal 1991.

Mr. Roddy said the administration wants to meet with landlords before submitting its bill. Mr. Roddy and Mr. Gardina each said he was not aware of the other's plans to submit similar bills.

In Baltimore City, a council committee also is considering changing its eviction laws to make landlords responsible for removing property left after evictions.

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