Tenants are a significant portion of Maryland's population. According to the 1990 Census, 35 percent of the occupied residential units in Maryland are tenant occupied.
In Baltimore, the figure was 51 percent; Baltimore County, 34 percent; Anne Arundel County, 27 percent; Carroll County, 21 percent; Harford County, 26 percent; and Howard County, 28 percent.
While many tenants are treated fairly, others have problems. They may face discrimination -- based on race, sexual orientation or handicap, or because they have children. But usually, their problems have little to do with discrimination and more with their status as tenants.
In addition, most tenants know little about their rights. Most are aware that the average lease is a list of responsibilities for tenant and landlord. Most leases, however, say little about the rights of the tenant and the responsibilities of the landlord -- they are not spelled out in the lease but are present, nevertheless, by virtue of overriding Maryland law.
BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., works in the Baltimore metropolitan area to uphold the fair housing laws and to eliminate discrimination in housing.
BNI sends out testers -- black and white people -- to real estate open houses and apartment complexes to see how each group is treated. If BNI finds different treatment for the black and white groups, it may lead BNI to confront the building owner or real estate professional to work out an agreement.
A tenant may feel that he has been discriminated against. But how does one prove discrimination? And if one has proof, what then? File a complaint with HUD or the Maryland Commission on Human Relations? Some people prefer a lawsuit, but that is expensive, and often frightening. Fighting discrimination can be excruciatingly difficult.
BNI also works throughout the state on tenant-landlord problems and conducts tenant organizing in Baltimore. The agency offers advice to landlords and tenants, and acts a mediator to settle complaints.
George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.
Send questions to BNI, 2217 St. Paul St., Baltimore, Md. 21218. Or comment on Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, by calling (410) 783-1800 (268-7736 in Anne Arundel County). Using a touch-tone phone, punch in the four-digit code 6171 after you hear the greeting.
For questions about specific tenant-landlord problems, call the BNI staff at (410) 243-6007.