For most of her landlords over the past three years, Kay Lorraine Clary has been a nightmare -- "a predatory tenant."
In Howard and Baltimore counties, the 31-year-old administrative assistant and her former boyfriend have left a trail of damaged houses, civil judgments for thousands of dollars and at least seven victimized landlords, according to court records and the landlords.
During the past few months, some of Ms. Clary's former landlords have formed an informal support group, tracking her ,, and her ex-boyfriend, and trying to get authorities to file criminal charges against them -- a rare step in rent disputes.
"When you learn about this person, you get goose bumps," said David Thomas, an Ellicott City lawyer who rented an Elkridge house to Ms. Clary and her ex-boyfriend, Joseph Spangenberg III, in December 1994.
"You realize you've been had by a person who's been doing it over and over again," Mr. Thomas said of the woman he dubbed "a predatory tenant."
In an interview Friday, Ms. Clary, originally from Mount Airy and now renting a house in Catonsville, denied the landlords' assertions. She says that many of her problems have been orchestrated by Mr. Thomas.
"Never once did I ever, ever, ever move into a place with the intention of not paying," said Ms. Clary, wiping away tears. "I got caught up and couldn't get out."
Ms. Clary says her problems "snowballed" after she met Mr. Spangenberg in 1990. At that time, she said, they each had expensive apartments, lived extravagantly, lost their jobs and couldn't keep up with their bills.
Since 1992, she has moved from house to house in eastern Howard County and southwestern Baltimore County, court records show.
Mr. Thomas and other landlords said she wooed them into signing leases with little or no security deposits, met requests for long overdue rent with excuses and responded to eviction proceedings or other threats by disappearing -- often after trashing the rental properties.
Court records show that Ms. Clary has been called into civil court nearly a dozen times in the past five years for unpaid rent, unpaid utility bills, an unpaid $3,000 loan from an ex-boyfriend -- and unreturned library books.
Some of her former landlords obtained civil judgments -- one for more than $10,000 -- but they say they have received little money.
Ms. Clary pleaded guilty in Howard County District Court Friday to four theft counts for opening an account in a former roommate's name to buy merchandise from a mail-order company. She could be sentenced to up to six months in jail at a hearing set for March 23.
Howard Judge Louis Becker, expressing concern about Ms. Clary's record, ordered a psychiatric evaluation before sentencing.
"While greed is usually the driving force behind these things," Judge Becker said, "sometimes life is a little more complicated."
Ms. Clary's legal problems with her landlords are among the more than half-million rental disputes that end up in court each year in Maryland, about three-quarters of the annual total of civil cases in the state. But her problems seem to go beyond typical rent disputes.
In the late 1970s, Lawrence Boyd taught Kay Clary at a Howard County middle school. So he remembered her when she came to rent his house in Baltimore County in June 1993.
Ms. Clary provided Mr. Boyd with a financial statement showing that she and Mr. Spangenberg would have no problems meeting the $875 rent for the house in the 5700 block of Richardson Mews Square, he said. Ms. Clary also gave the name and telephone number of a prior landlord, identified as Seth Friedman, who told Mr. Boyd he never had any trouble with Ms. Clary.
He got almost no rent and no security deposit, Mr. Boyd said. The couple was evicted in October 1993 -- but not before they damaged the house, he said. They left Mr. Boyd with no forwarding address.
Using a detective, he tracked down the couple a few months later and received a $10,650 judgment against them in Baltimore County District Court -- a judgment from which he said he has never received anything. But Ms. Clary said Mr. Boyd tells "bold-face lies" about her stay at his house. She said she often paid rent in cash, but didn't get receipts. The damage to the house, she said, wasn't nearly as serious as alleged by the landlord.
Said Mr. Boyd: "It's sad. They really did a number on me."
During the process of evicting Ms. Clary from his house, Mr. Boyd stumbled across the real Seth Friedman and discovered that he also had a judgment against Ms. Clary.
In October 1992, Mr. Friedman had rented his condominium in the 8300 block of Montgomery Run Road in Ellicott City to Ms. Clary for $695 a month.
"I thought she was a sincere, honest person," Mr. Friedman said. "I trusted her so much that I didn't ask her for a security deposit."