Landlords, tenants object to bill on evicted goods

November 25, 1994|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

For three years, Councilwoman Vera P. Hall has tried to figure out a better way to get rid of the trash and furniture left on the streets after a family's eviction.

Such household stuff makes a neighborhood look run down.

But Mrs. Hall's proposed solution has pleased neither tenants nor landlords.

Say the words "eviction chattels," and you're likely to get a blank stare from a lot of people. But while they may not be familiar with the legal term for the unsightly trash and furniture left on the street after an eviction, people know they don't like it.

"It changes the whole mind-set of people," said Beverly Thomas, a Northwest Baltimore resident. "No matter how well kept a neighborhood may be, once this stuff is dumped on the street it becomes a ghetto."

Before 1991, the city would pick up all items left on the curb after an eviction and store them for up to a month. But only 2 percent of the people evicted came for their property. The program cost the city about $650,000 a year.

City law now requires landlords to put on the street any belongings that evicted tenants don't take with them. These items are picked up by sanitation crews and taken to a dump, unless the evicted tenant has pre-arranged for the city to store them for up to 10 days.

There were 9,391 evictions last fiscal year in which the city picked up furniture and other items left on the street. There were 8,721 such evictions the year before. The pickups cost the city nearly $500,000 each of those years, according to the Bureau of Sanitation.

Neighborhood residents such as Ms. Thomas say evictions have become so common that sanitation crews can't keep up. The result is furniture and rubbish strewn about by scavengers, which makes communities look very trashy.

Last month, Mrs. Hall proposed that landlords be required to take all furniture and trash left after an eviction directly from the house or apartment to a dump. The landlord could be fined $500 if he left items on the street. The proposal stipulated that families being evicted could still pre-arrange to have the city store their property for up to 10 days.

Tenant advocates said Mrs. Hall's idea amounted to unlawful search and seizure and would doubly penalize the evicted. "Families will not only lose their homes, they will lose everything else they have," said Ken Walden, a Public Justice Center lawyer.

Landlords complained that Mrs. Hall was unfairly making them responsible for keeping city streets clean. "All the landlord has responsibility for is to remove what's left after an eviction from his property. Then it becomes government's responsibility to deal with it," said D. Robert Enton, a lobbyist for the Baltimore Property Owners Association.

Faced with opposition from both tenants and landlords, Mrs. Hall asked at the Oct. 31 city council meeting for a delay on the bill.

Last week, she introduced a new proposal, but the measure differed only slightly from the original. The new bill doesn't require a landlord to take eviction chattels directly to a dump, but it still would make it illegal to leave the property in the street and would fine anyone who does $500.

And the new bill still doesn't address a shortcoming she admits was in her original proposal: It still lacks a stipulation that tenants must be given an exact eviction date so they can make better plans to move or store their property.

Mrs. Hall is holding a public meeting Dec. 6 to explain both her old and new bills.

In the end, Mrs. Hall says she's only worried about the the appearance of neighborhoods.

"This is not about changing the balance of the tenant/landlord relationship," she said. "The tenants and the landlords have someone to represent them. I am the community's advocate."

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