Renters may get break

City bill addresses evictions if a landlord is in foreclosure

May 21, 2008|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Renters who face eviction in Baltimore because their landlords are in foreclosure would be notified and would have more time to move under a bill advanced yesterday by a City Council committee.

Officials with Mayor Sheila Dixon's administration, which sponsored the measure, said the bill is intended to prevent tenants from being notified of a foreclosure for the first time when a sheriff's deputy arrives to evict them.

The proposal, which was approved unanimously by a council committee and is expected to win full approval this year, could prove particularly important if the number of foreclosures continues to rise, proponents said.

"The foreclosure process extinguishes the lease, and the tenant, who has done nothing wrong, will be evicted," said Suzanne Sangree, a chief solicitor in the city Law Department. "At least, under this bill, tenants will find out about it before the sheriff arrives to put them on the street."

That's been happening more frequently in Baltimore as the pace of foreclosures has increased in recent months. There were more than 4,000 foreclosure filings in Baltimore last year, according to the Law Department. Based on first-quarter figures, the city expects that number to climb to 6,000 by the end of this year.

Dixon made national news when the city filed a lawsuit in January against Wells Fargo for what the city says has been a practice by the company of predatory lending in black neighborhoods that often leads to foreclosure.

The proposal requires tenants of foreclosed property to be notified by certified mail and first-class mail at least two weeks before the eviction takes place and also requires that notice be posted on the property a week in advance.

"That will eliminate renters suddenly being evicted while totally unaware their landlords are being foreclosed upon," said Mel Freeman, president of the board of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, which has advocated for the legislation.

The legislation would also prohibit the new owner of the property from tossing tenants' belongings onto the street. Instead, it requires the owners to take the material to a landfill, donate it to a charity or arrange to have the tenant collect it. The bill sets a penalty of up to $1,000 a day for illegal dumping of foreclosure chattels.

The legislation under consideration follows an ordinance that took effect last year that requires similar procedures to be followed when a tenant is being evicted for not paying rent.

After years of struggling with versions of that legislation, the city solicitor's office convened a task force on the bill, and the City Council approved the measure in August. The ordinance took effect in October.

Before October, Department of Public Works crews were called on to clean up about 600 evictions each month. In the seven months since the eviction chattel bill was approved, there have been 12 cleanups.

But city officials realized at the time that the legislation would not cover instances in which a property owner lost a home to foreclosure. If the owner failed to notify tenants, they would not find out the property had changed hands.

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc. received calls from more than 80 tenants statewide between January and April because their landlords were facing foreclosure, a 50 percent increase from the corresponding period a year earlier, according to an article in The Sun on the issue this month.

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