Ground rents will be focus of city forum Monday

January 04, 2007|By Fred Schulte and June Arney | Fred Schulte and June Arney,sun reporters

The clerk of Baltimore's Circuit Court said yesterday he will hold a public meeting Monday to help homeowners guard against losing property over unpaid ground rents or city taxes.

Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. said the forum will feature several experts in real estate and law, and will focus on ground rents, tax sales, foreclosures and what he termed "other predatory real estate practices."

"I really think this is a crisis," said Conaway. "People are scared they might lose their homes."

Conaway scheduled the meeting in response to an investigative series in The Sun that revealed how small numbers of investors have increasingly used the state's arcane ground rent law to seize homes or charge their owners thousands of dollars in fees.

The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. at the Polytechnic Institute/Western High auditorium at 1400 W. Cold Spring Lane. Admission is free.

Benjamin A. Neil, a title lawyer and an associate professor of legal studies at Towson University, is one of the scheduled speakers.

"The system really is not working very well," he said. "I've been talking about this ground rent issue for three years. ... If they passed a law eliminating ground rents starting in July, I would be dancing in the streets in Highlandtown."

Conaway also has ordered an investigation into fees charged by lawyers who specialize in buying liens from the city for delinquent property taxes and later filing foreclosure actions to take possession of the properties.

"My office has been flooded with inquiries about the recent series of newspaper articles about ground rent ejectments," Conaway said in announcing the meeting. "There is a predatory element using the courts to take peoples' homes and overcharge them for ground rent and tax sale collections."

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