Hall criticized for proposal on evictions

March 20, 1995|By Harold Jackson | Harold Jackson,Sun Staff Writer

City Council Vice President Vera P. Hall is drawing sharp criticism over her long-stalled proposal to keep Baltimore's streets free of the furniture and appliances routinely left after evictions.

Five months after proposing the measure -- which upset two important groups, tenants and landlords -- she says she still isn't ready to press for a council vote. And that delay has prompted charges that Mrs. Hall is trying to sidestep controversy as she starts campaigning for the council presidency.

"No question that has something to do with it," said 4th District Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, who also is running for council president. "More important, she knows her bill won't pass the council."

Mrs. Hall denied letting the issue languish because it might cost her votes. "I'm never afraid of political fallout, because I'm prepared to be citizen or legislator," she said.

Litter from evictions is a serious problem in Baltimore, where there were 10,269 evictions in the last fiscal year. Bureau of Sanitation crews were called to 9,391 of those evictions -- at a cost exceeding $500,000 -- to pick up tables, chairs and other items.

In October, Mrs. Hall introduced a measure that would require landlords to take furniture and trash left after an eviction to a dump or storage facility. Current law requires that such items be placed on the street, where city sanitation crews can pick them up.

Landlords balked at the proposal, saying they shouldn't be held responsible for keeping streets clean. Tenants groups didn't like Mrs. Hall's idea either; they said it would allow landlords to confiscate tenants' property and dispose of it.

With her measure apparently headed for defeat, Mrs. Hall persuaded the council to delay a vote so that she could hold a Dec. 6 public hearing on the issue. More than three months later, she still isn't ready for a vote.

Mr. Bell tried to force a vote on the measure last Monday night, when Mrs. Hall was absent due to illness. But his motion failed to get a second, as members chastised him for bringing up the measure in her absence.

"I would vote against this bill if it came out, but I think we should have the courtesy, we are losing our courtesy here on this floor," said 4th District Councilwoman Agnes B. Welch.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke said she thinks Mrs. Hall hasn't brought the proposal back to the full council because the plan is "half-baked."

"Many of us would like to see the bill withdrawn entirely. It purports to solve a problem and does not solve it at all," Mrs. Clarke said.

Mrs. Hall said she is waiting for a new Bureau of Sanitation report, including recommendations making collection of all bulk trash, not just "eviction chattel," more efficient.

"The city is trying to get the city clean. And that's my interest," she said.

Bureau of Sanitation Supervisor Ken Strong said a trash collection system recently implemented should lead to a cleaner Baltimore by dividing the city into zones and designating cleanup days for specific neighborhoods. "We want to see the impact of the new system before deciding if we need to address the eviction problem differently," he said.

Meanwhile, tenant groups say Baltimore's streets would be a lot cleaner if fewer evictions occurred.

Ken Walden, a Public Justice Center attorney, favors laws that dTC would make it tougher for landlords to evict tenants. A survey by the center shows tenants can be evicted faster in Maryland than in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware or Washington, D.C., he said.

For example, he said, landlords in neighboring states must give tenants from three to 30 days' written notice of an eviction before seeking a warrant for the tenant to appear in rent court. Maryland landlords can take a tenant to court if rent is one day late.

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