Landlords unite to track tenant who owes money

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For most of her landlords over the past three years, Kay Lorraine Clary has been a nightmare -- "a predatory tenant."

In Howard and Baltimore counties, the 31-year-old administrative assistant and her former boyfriend have left a trail of damaged houses, civil judgments for thousands of dollars and at least seven victimized landlords, according to court records and the landlords.

During the past few months, some of Ms. Clary's former landlords have formed an informal support group, tracking her ,, and her ex-boyfriend, and trying to get authorities to file criminal charges against them -- a rare step in rent disputes.

"When you learn about this person, you get goose bumps," said David Thomas, an Ellicott City lawyer who rented an Elkridge house to Ms. Clary and her ex-boyfriend, Joseph Spangenberg III, in December 1994.

"You realize you've been had by a person who's been doing it over and over again," Mr. Thomas said of the woman he dubbed "a predatory tenant."

In an interview Friday, Ms. Clary, originally from Mount Airy and now renting a house in Catonsville, de- nied the landlords' assertions. She says that many of her problems have been orchestrated by Mr. Thomas.

"Never once did I ever, ever, ever move into a place with the intention of not paying," said Ms. Clary, wiping away tears. "I got caught up and couldn't get out."

Ms. Clary said her problems "snowballed" after she met Mr. Spangenberg in 1990. At that time, she said, they each had expensive apartments, lived extravagantly, lost their jobs and couldn't keep up with their bills.

Since 1992, she has moved from house to house in eastern Howard County and southwestern Baltimore County, court records show.

Mr. Thomas and other landlords said she wooed them into signing leases with little or no security deposits, met requests for long overdue rent with excuses and responded to eviction proceedings or other threats by disappearing -- often after trashing the rental properties.

Court records show that Ms. Clary has been called into civil court nearly a dozen times in the past five years for unpaid rent, unpaid utility bills, an unpaid $3,000 loan from an ex-boyfriend -- and unreturned library books.

Some of her former landlords obtained civil judgments -- one for more than $10,000 -- but they say they have received little money.

In the late 1970s, Lawrence Boyd taught Kay Clary at a Howard County middle school. So he remembered her when she came to rent his house in Baltimore County in June 1993.

Ms. Clary provided Mr. Boyd with a financial statement showing that she and Mr. Spangenberg would have no problems meeting the $875 rent for the house in the 5700 block of Richardson Mews Square, he said. Ms. Clary also gave the name and telephone number of a prior landlord, identified as Seth Friedman, who told Mr. Boyd he never had any trouble with Ms. Clary.

He got almost no rent and no security deposit, Mr. Boyd said. The couple was evicted in October 1993 -- but not before they damaged the house, he said. They left Mr. Boyd with no forwarding address.

Using a detective, he tracked down the couple a few months later and received a $10,650 judgment against them in Baltimore County District Court -- a judgment from which he said he has never received anything. But Ms. Clary said Mr. Boyd tells "bold-face lies" about her stay at his house. She said she often paid rent in cash, but didn't get receipts. The damage to the house, she said, wasn't nearly as serious as alleged by the landlord.

During the process of evicting Ms. Clary from his house, Mr. Boyd stumbled across the real Seth Friedman and discovered that he also had a judgment against Ms. Clary.

In October 1992, Mr. Friedman had rented his condominium in the 8300 block of Montgomery Run Road in Ellicott City to Ms. Clary for $695 a month.

"I thought she was a sincere, honest person," Mr. Friedman said. "I trusted her so much that I didn't ask her for a security deposit."

By February 1993, Ms. Clary was giving him excuse after excuse instead of rent. Mr. Friedman went to court to evict her, receiving a $3,240 judgment. He never got the money, he said. He also said he never gave a reference for her to Mr. Boyd.

Ms. Clary blamed her trouble with Mr. Friedman on a roommate, who moved out and left her to pay the rent. She continues, however, to faithfully pay $170 a month to Mr. Friedman for a car she bought from him almost three years ago, she said. Mr. Friedman acknowledged that she had made those payments.

By the time Mr. Boyd tracked down Ms. Clary to serve her with court papers, she was living in Mr. Thomas' house, in the 6400 block of Lawyers Hill Road in Elkridge.

Mr. Thomas recalled meeting her in December 1993. She said she wanted a garden and enough room for her black Labrador, Tesla, he said.

There was just one problem, she told him. She asked to spread payment of the $1,150 security deposit over two months. He agreed. He never got the deposit, he said.

By April, Ms. Clary, Mr. Spangenberg and two housemates were about $2,000 behind in rent. In May, Mr. Thomas began eviction proceedings and received a $4,605 civil judgment. Ms. Clary said she talked to Mr. Thomas about her rent problems, and he told her to stay put and just pay as much as she could. But he evicted her anyway, she said.

Mr. Spangenberg made several $50 payments on Mr. Thomas' judgment, but stopped paying when he filed for bankruptcy last summer, Mr. Thomas said. Mr. Spangenberg could not be located for comment. "He didn't have anything to do with this," Ms. Clary said. "I always covered everything to make him feel everything's OK."

The two landlords, Mr. Thomas and Mr. Boyd, found Mr. Friedman.

They also found others. Thomas and Sherry Fargo, an Endicott, N.Y., couple who rented another house in Elkridge to Ms. Clary.

And Steven Stanton, an Ellicott City landlord.

And Donald Reuwer, an Oella landlord.

And Charles and Audrey Pimentel, who rented her a house in Halethorpe.

All the landlords agree that Ms. Clary was an unsatisfactory tenant. But Some of them concede that they were partly to blame -- they shouldn't have been so trusting -- but they're frustrated by the lack of action by the courts and prosecutors.

Mr. Boyd said if he was robbed of $10 on a street, the robber would be jailed. "They robbed me legally, I guess," he said of Ms. Clary and Mr. Spangenberg.

Ms. Clary said she's trying to correct her mistakes by seeking financial counseling and working two jobs. "I will make everything right," she said. "There's no doubt in my mind."

Mean, while prosecutors have taken little action on the landlords' complaints, though police investigated them and several landlords met last fall with William R. Hymes, Howard's former state's attorney.

Mr. Thomas said he tried to file criminal charges against Ms. Clary and Mr. Spangenberg on his own -- for alleged fraud and theft by deception -- but a Howard District Court commissioner refused to process the case, calling it a civil matter.

Prosecutors say that rent cases are best handled as civil matters. "I was shocked and astonished at the system's failure to operate," said Mr. Thomas. "I didn't realize nothing would come of it."

"I'm not going to accept that," he said. "It ain't over till it's over."

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