Tenants facing eviction not receiving proper notice
A Baltimore City Council committee is looking into repeated complaints of tenants being evicted illegally, without notice and even locked out of rental units.
In a hearing Tuesday, Councilman Kristerfer Burnett said his office heard from a constituent last June who had been evicted and was “desperately seeking housing resources.”
“The eviction was done illegally,” he said. “No notice was given to the tenant prior to the court date, or the scheduled eviction. And the sheriff's office did not post a scheduled date to the tenant’s door. Nor were they present during the eviction.”
Burnett said the woman and her child are still not in stable housing and that her story is not unique. He said he’s heard similar complaints from tenants, landlords and housing advocates.
He also highlighted a specific complaint: tenants not being property notified when evictions were upcoming.
“The situation has become significantly more dire as we see an unprecedented number of evictions being filed, a spike in illegal evictions,” Burnett said. “And the majority of the time, tenants are given no notice.”
The city sheriff’s office is responsible for scheduling and carrying out evictions. Major Jason Gruzs, of the office, told the committee his department is responsible for alerting a tenant a landlord has filed a failure to pay rent notice by posting the notice and the court date “right on the front door” of the property.
Councilman Ryan Dorsey peppered Gruzs with follow up questions.
“Where does the sheriff’s office post that?” he asked.
“Right on the front door,” Gruzs replied.
“What if it's a multi-unit building?” Dorsey asked.
“The common entrance to the building,” was the answer.
“The common entrance to the building?”
“Has that always been the case?”
Gruzs said for just a year or two, maybe in the early 2000s, they were required to post on individual units in multi-unit buildings.
To do that, they had to get keys from landlords to enter various buildings, which they would then have to carry around.
“It was just not practical for them to do all these postings,” Gruzs said. “Some areas will get 10,000 rent notices a day.”
But Dorsey pushed back.
“I think that's incorrect,” he said. “I do not believe that it's constitutional for the sheriff's office to post to the common area and that in fact the sheriff's office is required to post to the individual door.”
Dorsey cited a 2001 state attorney general’s opinion that says that in multi-unit buildings, “ejectment summons” must be posted on the door of the tenant’s individual unit.
“I'd like to know who's going to be in charge of complying with the law going forward,” Dorsey said.
Gruzs said he would work on clarifying the issue with the current attorney general, Brian Frosh.
Cory Warren, a housing staff attorney with Disability Rights Maryland, said that regardless of legality, placing failure to pay rent notices anywhere that isn’t the individual unit’s door is a public health hazard, especially during the ongoing omicron surge. Tenants in quarantine may not be able to leave their individual units for days.
“So you are having people who are not receiving these notices because they are under quarantine,” Warren said.
Over the course of the two and a half hour hearing, city council members pressed agency leaders about various other eviction-specific issues, including rehousing and mental health resources for those evicted and emergency rental assistance funds.