Ground-rent owners rush to file suits
Flurry of ejectment cases logged before law changes
Hilton Stone, 80, whose home is in the Franklintown neighborhood, paid ground rent for 30 years. But then a disagreement arose among people who said they owned the ground rent, and the bills stopped coming, he said.
Edward A. Bennett, a 53-year- old systems engineer, said he didn't realize that a ground-rent ejectment lawsuit had been filed against him in January 2006 - though the court file includes a letter dated February 2006 that demands $3,500.
He said he bought the home in the Frankford neighborhood in 1990 and was surprised to find that he owed back ground rent and fees of about $2,000. He said he paid half that amount and then paid a new bill when it arrived.
"I thought, `It's crazy, ground rent - what's that?'" he said in a recent interview. "I thought it was done. I was hoping. The amount of money they said I owed was all interest."
At the end of last week the Baltimore sheriff's office had received notices of 10 ground-rent ejectments ordered by the Circuit Court. Six had been scheduled - four for July and two for August.
"We have to carry them out," said Baltimore sheriff's office administrative Lt. Deborah Claridy. "Whatever the law says is what we're bound by. We can't add our opinion to it."
State Sen. George W. Della Jr., who lobbied for ground-rent reform, said he'll continue to monitor ejectments as well as the annual auctions in which investors bid for the right to collect back taxes and fees from homeowners.
"It's unfortunate that they didn't get the message," said Della, a Baltimore Democrat. "They're going to keep squeezing this thing for as long as they can and get everything they can out of it. They're doing what the old law allows them to do."
Ground-rent reform In addition to ending the court process known as ejectment, the new ground-rent laws: Make previously irredeemable ground rents - those created before April 9, 1884 - redeemable by the homeowner unless paperwork maintaining its irredeemable status is filed by Dec. 31, 2010.
Offer loans through the Department of Housing and Community Development to homeowners to redeem ground-rent leases.
Require ground-rent owners to mail bills no later than 60 days before a payment is due to the homeowner's last known address.
Create an online registry of properties subject to ground rent. Ground-rent owners must register their properties by Sept. 30, 2010.
Eliminate the waiting period before a ground rent can be redeemed.
Require that homeowners receive notice about their right to redeem when a ground lease is transferred to a third party and when they close on a loan secured by property subject to ground rent.
An emergency bill banning the creation of new ground rents took effect Jan. 22.