City fails to collect on tax, rent Bad management costs millions, report says

July 30, 1996|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

Some tenants of city-owned properties haven't paid rent or property taxes for five years or more, costing Baltimore millions of dollars due to poor management of its $3.2 billion real estate portfolio, the city's real estate officer said yesterday.

The uncollected rents and taxes have been neglected by the city agencies responsible for overseeing properties, said real estate officer Anthony J. Ambridge.

"At the center of the city's problem in managing lease agreements lies the lack of organization and coordination between departments," Ambridge said in a 102-page report done at the request of Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who hired him. "In some cases, departments that have clear jurisdiction over these sites have virtually abandoned their lease monitoring."

The report represents a first-glance look at Baltimore's real estate picture, Ambridge said, and doesn't include exact figures on how much money the problem is costing or how many properties are affected. Chief among its findings is that city agencies are having trouble keeping up with paperwork on the properties.

More than 40 city-owned properties, ranging from a Federal Hill apartment to Memorial Stadium, were listed in the report as having some type of paperwork problem -- in some cases rent isn't being paid, in others no billing or insurance information is on file, and in some cases tax bills haven't been issued for years.

"There needs to be better internal controls to make sure these things don't happen," said Pratt, who has appointed a committee of 16 Realtors, lawyers, and other professionals to study the problem. "I believe that if you are a tenant, you must pay rent."

The report concluded that the city is in need of computer software and tighter controls over its real estate holdings. City agencies -- such as the Department of Public Works and the finance and health departments -- should be required to submit rental terms, tax information and other specifics to a computerized database that is kept in a central location, the report said.

A spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who is out of town, said the mayor wouldn't comment until he had had a chance to read the report's conclusions.

William R. Brown Jr., the city's director of finance, said yesterday he also hadn't seen the report. He said, however, that he didn't know of any city properties that had problems with uncollected rent.

"I'm not aware of any particular one but in some cases the leases will be administered by individual agencies" that keep their own records, Brown said.

Ambridge said that some properties have no oversight and fall under numerous employees who are in charge of collecting rent and other services. "If the person leaves, dies or retires, then no one watches that property anymore and we sometimes don't know it exists," he said.

A city-owned property listed in land records as a parking lot has since been developed into a bakery, "But we didn't know that," Ambridge said. "In our records it's still a parking lot."

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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