A System In Collapse

March 2003 / Salutes / Community Development

Baltimore City suffers from an overwhelmingly high caseload of tenant evictions. Hurt in the process are tenants, landlords, the City of Baltimore and its neighborhoods.

Few scenes reveal urban malaise so visibly and vividly as a sidewalk piled high with broken-down chairs, tables, blankets, mattresses—the furnishings of a life. This dismal experience represents a system in collapse, with unhappy consequences for the tenant who has been evicted, the landlord who has obtained the eviction order, the neighborhood that is littered, and the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland—as unwitting enablers.

There are thousands such scenes in Baltimore City every year. The saddest aspect of it is probability: if you rent in Baltimore City, the chances of eviction are greater than if you rent in the comparable cities of  Washington, D.C., Detroit, or Cleveland.

Tenants in Baltimore City are handicapped from the start. Compared with other cities, the eviction process assigns less responsibility to landlords to notify tenants of non-payment of rent and to dispose of tenant belongings. The combination of widespread tenant delinquency and minimal landlord responsibilities results in:

  • significant time and expense spent processing and serving an enormous number of complaints, compromising the ability of the courts to properly serve the citizenry
  • a huge number of tenant judgments appearing on credit records despite the fact that the eviction may never take place, needlessly and unfairly jeopardizing the tenants’ credit rating
  • a much larger number of evictions than there need be, overburdening tenants, landlords, city agencies, neighborhoods
  • the demoralization of neighbors and neighborhoods, as tenant property is deposited in the public right-of-way following eviction; and
  • cost to the City’s Department of Public Works for storage and disposal of tenant belongings.

These consequences adversely affect the quality of life in Baltimore City. But the effects can be reduced. This paper presents nine recommendations.