Ground rent reform faces test in U.S. court today
Berger said that Lee Barnstein, who is registered agent for plaintiff Lee & Joyce Inc., had failed to prove that he was entitled to all the fees he had requested.
Pikesville post office, driving to Baltimore and finding a parking place and searching for a deed, Berger said.
"This court must decide whether the plaintiff has proved he's entitled to that money," Berger said. "Without documentation, the court is unwilling to award them."
Barnstein and companies for which he, or a family member, is the registered agent filed at least 79 lawsuits in Baltimore City and
Baltimore County on June 28 and 29, court records show. In each, he demanded $500 in attorney fees. The judge awarded him $200 in the Sanders case.
In the past, judges seldom had required documentation or reduced the fees that ground rent owners sought in their court filings for ejectment, based on interviews and a reviewof hundreds of court files by The Sun.
Barnstein, who operates Ground Rents LLC, said he was concerned about the precedent of a judge reducing the fees sought.
"I'm paying like three or four times what I'm able to collect," he said in an interview. "It's just not fair. If we wouldn't have filed that case, we would never have collected that ground rent."
About 30 of the cases Barnstein filed are pending, said J. Scott Morse, an attorney representing Barnstein. The balance have been paid off, he said.
Barnstein said he and other ground rent owners are uncertain howto recoup their money.
"Nobody knows how to collect anymore," he said. "You can't just sit back and write letters and beg them to pay. And we have delinquent ground rents galore."
Alvin and Hilda Fisher of
Owings Mills have a dozen ground rents that they purchased more than 20 years ago.
"It's amazing to me how people avoid paying ground rent," Alvin Fisher said. "It becomes completely exasperating. When we first bought those ground rents over 20 years ago, they would get paid by the owners."
Fisher said he thought that publicity about ground rent would make homeowners more accountable. "I thought when they got that bill, money would be forthcoming. But it didn't happen."
The couple said they never had taken anyone to court. "We suffer in silence," he said.
One of the lawmakers who led the overhaul of ground rent law said he is happy that the only calls he receives these days about ground rent are an occasional question about how to redeem them.
"The abuse that took place drove that legislation," said Sen.
George W. Della Jr., one of the champions of ground rent and tax sale reform. "If owners of ground rent are inconvenienced by the legislation, then so be it."
Sun reporter Fred Schulte contributed to this article.