Ignoring vital mailings is invitation to trouble

MAILBAG

July 17, 2005

Q: An 87-year-old owner of a $72 ground rent on property in Baltimore writes that she has received "much mail" about the ground rent from the city's Real Estate Department during "the last year or so." She complains that she has "not collected any ground rent or been paid for my ground rent" and asks me to review some of the papers the city sent her and advise if the city's actions are legal.

A: The reason you haven't been receiving ground rent is that the city acquired title and possession to your property months ago by a court proceeding. Baltimore City has the right to acquire real property (including ground rents) for public purposes through its power of eminent domain. The Constitution requires the city to pay "just compensation" for property it takes from citizens. In the case of real estate, the compensation is the fair market value of the property on the date it is acquired.

The papers I reviewed make it clear that the city notified you of its intent to take your ground rent over a year ago, and that it offered $600 as "fair market value." You were invited to contact the city real estate agent to discuss the acquisition. Either you did not discuss the issue or discussions were unsuccessful. Because no agreement on a price was reached, the city filed a condemnation lawsuit. The city's lawsuit and a court summons were served on you. Apparently, you did not respond to the lawsuit. Because you did not oppose the condemnation, the court entered a legal judgment confirming the city's right to acquire your ground rent and awarding $600 as just compensation.

The city has paid $600 into the registry of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. You are entitled to that money. I suggest you contact the Baltimore City Law Department to see if it will assist you in having the funds disbursed to you. It might be necessary for you to file a formal petition in court to have the funds paid to you.

You and others might feel that $600 is less than the fair market value of your ground rent. Although you could have contested the amount of the payment, it probably is too late, as the court has issued its final judgment. When a person gets mail and legal papers regarding her real estate or other important matters, they should not be ignored.

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