As someone who pays ground rent I feel compelled to respond to the letter "In defense of ground rents" (June 11) by Benedict Frederick Jr.. Your newspaper's series on ground rents shed necessary light on who collects and why in a time when it serves no purpose. Mr. Frederick defends it as a way for a few to make an income through a "mortgage" system. But in reality, homeowners already have a mortgage.
The sad truth is that ground rent collectors have found a loophole in the law that allows them to collect money for no good reason. They do nothing to make that money. They perform no service. In my case, once or twice a year I receive a threatening bill informing me I can lose my house for $150.
Or, as one of those who collects ground rents stated so blatantly and greedily in The Sun a while back, "If we can't take houses, nobody will pay us." That's tantamount to declaring, "If we can't hang you, you won't take us seriously." Talk about a penalty in the extreme. A life sentence for taking a loaf of bread. Justice in the style of old England.
According to The Sun, some 400 houses over a period of time were lost to ground rent collectors who used the courts as a "home field advantage" to run up prohibitively large legal expenses. Then they'd claim the property for failure to pay original debts in the range of $100-$150. It was little more than a legal license to steal a home.
I am sorry I cannot feel sympathy for ground rent collectors who have lost some of the value of their ground rent assets because state legislators determined taking away someone's home for pennies on the dollar through court machinations wasn't a good thing. Yes, Mr. Frederick, it's a dirty job, and no, Mr. Frederick, it has no reason for being in 2011. Let the ground rent collectors actually work for a living by performing a real service. I defy anyone in defense of this practice to list one service performed through the collection of this fee that actually benefits homeowners. Anyone except the collectors, themselves, that is.
We have some slimy professions in our world today. But any and all of them somehow manage to claim they are offering some necessary service or product for their customers. Ground rent collectors? Zero. Zilch. Nada.
In fact, why we in Baltimore remain one of the only places in the nation with this law still in place defies explanation.
Mr. Frederick has to stretch a point historically for us by noting that "as recently as WWII, ground rents were a meaningful financial aid to home ownership." Logic would tell us something OK 60 years ago is likely less than necessary today.
Even he admits, however reluctantly, that ground rents have "outlived their usefulness." I'm sorry, suggesting it's a good thing because it makes 6 percent for a few at the expense of hundreds of thousands of area homeowners placed at risk of losing their property over a legal technicality is not a good thing.
A few years back, we were late with our ground rent payment, and our august collector charged us a $600 late fee on our $150 bill. When I pointed out this seemed a prohibitively large amount as a penalty, his response was that it was the law, he could charge whatever he wants and had the right to take my home, so there!
It became clear to me this miscreant lives for the opportunity not only to collect ground rents but to grab a home or two when the opportunity presents itself. In fact, you overlook that fee at your own peril. This is not a 6-percent-return-on-investment individual. This is a predator. One of the bad guys, as pointed out by Mr. Frederick, in defending the collectors who are in the business for perhaps more honorable reasons.
Give the ground rent people — reportedly suing the state for hundreds of millions of dollars — their day in court. Then allow the state to take a final necessary step and put ground rents in a "blue law" category by wiping them off our books once and for all.
Samuel A. Zervitz, Baltimore