City sues 2 landlords over drugs


The Baltimore state's attorney office has filed lawsuits against two East Baltimore property owners as part of an effort to target landlords who allow their buildings to be used for drug activity.

Notices were posted at 715 E. Preston St. and 812 N. Chapel St. yesterday afternoon. The notices state that the state's attorney will seek court orders requiring the landlords to evict tenants and submit plans to the court that will ensure the properties no longer will be used for drug activity. Officials said they plan to target 200 properties in the Police Department's Eastern District by July 12.

The suits were filed under the state's Nuisance Abatement Law, which gives courts broad authority to order landlords to eliminate drug activity on their property. Usually, the landlord is ordered to evict offending tenants, but the property owner can be required to sell the property. In Anne Arundel County, the law has been used to authorize demolitions.

"Nuisance abatement is just another tool to fight the war on drugs and reclaim neighborhoods," said Angela Gibson Hughes, director of the Community Anti-Drug Assistance Project of the Baltimore state's attorney's office.

The nuisance abatement law, which was adopted in 1991, authorizes not just prosecutors, but also community associations file civil suits against property owners in their neighborhoods.

The law is different from drug forfeiture laws in Maryland, because prosecutors or plaintiffs don't have to prove the real estate was acquired through drug profits and don't have to win a conviction against the homeowner.

In East Baltimore, the state-funded Community Anti-Drug Assistance Project has worked since April with Eastern District police officers to identify 200 properties used as centers for drug activity, Ms. Hughes said. Police identify the properties by searching records of past search-and-seizure warrants and locations of where drug arrests occurred.

The purpose of the Eastern District effort is to raise the awareness of community associations and police that the nuisance abatement law is available to fight drug activity.

"We're trying to bridge the gap between the community and the local police district. Since the community association can file the case itself, they only need the help of the local district to do that," Ms. Hughes said.

In most cases, the property owner cooperates with prosecutors to make corrections, which involves eviction of tenants in nine out of 10 cases, Ms. Hughes said.

In the two years since the Community Anti-Drug Assistance Project was launched, the city state's attorney's office has handled about 500 nuisance abatement cases and has gone to court fewer than 20 times.

"That tells you that the property owner will generally do the right thing, given the information about the drug activity," Ms. Hughes said.

The two lawsuits were filed this week against property owners who refused to cooperate, she said.

In the case of 812 N. Chapel St., owner Ronald Doswell repeatedly refused to evict his tenants, according to the suit.

At 715 E. Preston St., owner Raymond Belton, who lives at the house, did not respond after several attempts were made to contact him, according to Ms. Hughes.

Both property owners face hearings in District Court late this month.

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