Rowhouse owners tried eviction

Carlests went to court twice, filed wrong papers

Thomas acknowledged she owed rent

East Baltimore Fire

May 24, 2007|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

The frustrated landlord put it plainly when she appeared before a Baltimore District Court judge a month ago: "I want her out of my property."

Margaret Carlest, who with her husband owns the Cecil Avenue rowhouse where six people died in a fire this week, complained that renter Deneen Thomas had "a lot of people there," and was destroying the house.

Though the Carlests had been to court twice in two months trying to have Thomas and her family evicted - and though Thomas had failed to pay rent for months - getting the group out was not a simple process. The Carlests, it appears, became tangled in the legal nuances of the eviction process.

District Judge Nathan Braverman determined at the six-minute hearing April 24 that Margaret and Oliver Carlest filled out the wrong civil paperwork.

A Sun reporter listened yesterday to an audiotape of that hearing, which was attended by Margaret Carlest and Deneen Thomas.

Thomas said she moved in at the end of November. She said she had a verbal agreement with Oliver Carlest to pay $60 per month. She said she paid him only once, in December, and acknowledged that she owed him money.

"Every time I go to pay, he be like, `What is this?' And he say he didn't want it," Thomas told the judge.

The Carlests had tried for months to get Thomas out, sending her regular and certified mail (which was returned unopened) and telling her family verbally to leave, according to the tape of the April 24 hearing.

In March, the Carlests and Thomas went to rent court. The hearing went nowhere. Thomas told Braverman that the problem was that the rental amount had been whited out on the lease.

The district judge at that hearing, Carlest told Braverman, had advised her to file paperwork that she referred to as "squatters' rights."

The filing that prompted the April hearing in Braverman's courtroom alleged "forcible entry and detainer," a provision aimed at squatters and guests who remain in a house after the owner asks them to leave.

"I don't even know what a `squatters' rights' is," Braverman said.

The judge explained that because Thomas was a renter, not a squatter, that what the Carlests needed to do was either sue Thomas for lack of rent payment or give her 60 days' notice of termination of the lease.

Braverman said the Carlests should send the notice through regular and certified mail and slip a copy of it under Thomas' door. "So you can come here and tell a judge under oath that that's been done," Braverman said. "And she'll be out."

He said he was making a note in the court file that Thomas agreed that the rent was $60 per month.

An exasperated sounding Carlest interrupted the judge, saying that she didn't have the money to file more court paperwork.

"I want her out of my property," she said. "She threw my dryer out. She's throwing a lot of my things out. Also, she's having people in there that shouldn't be."

A gavel clacked and Braverman told Carlest that he'd already told her what she needed to do.

Carlest continued talking. And then it was she who was thrown out.

Sun reporters Lynn Anderson and Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

911 calls

Transcripts of some 911 calls reporting Tuesday morning's fire

Dispatcher: Baltimore City Fire Department. Can I have the exact ...

Caller: We got a fire on North Avenue.

Dispatcher: Cecil and North?

Caller: Yes, Cecil and North.

Dispatcher: OK, what's on fire?

Caller: The house, the house is on fire. People inside. Cecil and North Avenue. People inside. It's on fire.

Dispatcher: OK, we're on the way now.

Dispatcher: Baltimore City Fire Department. Can I have the exact location of the emergency?

Caller: It's 1305 Cecil. That's on North Avenue. North and Cecil. North and Cecil.

Dispatcher: 1305 Cecil? OK, we're on the way there.

Caller: There's a body outside.

Dispatcher: There's a body outside?

Caller: Yes. Yes.

Dispatcher: OK, we're on the way there.

Caller: OK, OK.

Dispatcher: Baltimore City Fire Department. Can I have the exact location of the emergency?

Caller: I don't know. I'm on North Avenue before you get to Homewood.

Dispatcher: The house fire? We're on the way there.

Caller: Please hurry.

Dispatcher: We're on the way.

Caller: OK.

Dispatcher: Baltimore City Fire Department. Can I have the exact location of the emergency?

Caller: Dwelling fire, at 1911 Cecil Ave. ... Dispatcher: Is everyone out of the house now? ... Ma'am, is everyone out of the house?

Caller: No, babies.

Dispatcher: OK, we're on the way there.

[Source: Baltimore Fire Department]

To hear 911 call excerpts, go to

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