Overwhelmed by the high automobile insurance rates charged to Baltimore drivers, many city residents, including at least one would-be member of the City Council, use addresses in the suburbs to cash in on cheaper premiums.
Insurance companies cannot give the exact number of those in Baltimore who resort to so-called "rate jumping," but insurers say the practice is partly responsible for the city's lofty rates.
Among those who have taken advantage of a suburban address is Baltimore City Council candidate Joan Carter Conway, who lives in a rowhouse near Memorial Stadium but lists an address in Harford County on her car insurance policy and driver's license.
Ms. Conway acknowledged that when she moved from Harford County to Baltimore two years ago she didn't tell her insurance xTC company because she wanted to continue to take advantage of the lower Harford County rates.
"I don't have a problem with you drawing that conclusion," said Ms. Conway, who won the Democratic nomination for a council seat in last month's primary.
In addition to Ms. Conway, a check of Motor Vehicle Administration records for dozens of city and state officials showed that two others -- Baltimore City Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr. and state election board chief Gene M. Raynor -- list addresses outside the city in their MVA files at the same time they maintained residences in Baltimore.
In general, the practice is "a symptom of the problem" of exorbitant insurance rates for residents of Baltimore, said David M. Funk, head of a gubernatorial task force that has been studying ways of easing premiums for city drivers.
People who feel overburdened by the premiums they have to pay in the city may try to find a way to avoid that," said Mr. Funk, a Baltimore attorney.
It is against state law either to make false statements on an
application for a vehicle registration or driver's license, or to lie on an insurance application.
When insurers find out that someone has listed a false address on an application, they rarely cancel the policy, said John Izzo, an assistant vice president with Geico Corp. of Chevy Chase. Instead, drivers are charged the higher premiums.
"Other customers, with their rates, obviously have to compensate for that," Mr. Izzo said.
The savings from using a suburban address can be dramatic. Geico, one of the state's largest insurers, charges a married 45-year-old man an annual rate of $940 for basic coverage in Baltimore. In Abingdon, the same man would pay only $338, according to rates on file with the state insurance administration.
Ms. Conway, 44, said she had not considered the legality of using a false address. "I haven't really checked it out," she said.
But after answering questions about her insurance, Ms. Conway said she intended to notify her insurance company of her actual address.
As a Democratic nominee in the overwhelmingly Democratic 3rd District, Ms. Conway is a strong favorite to win a four-year term on the City Council in next month's general election.
Mr. Raynor, 59, the longtime election chief for first the city and now the state, lives in a Fells Point hotel that he co-owns. But for a two-year period ending in January, he listed a friend's house in Bel Air as his address in MVA records.
Mr. Raynor said he spent much of his time in Bel Air during those two years and paid the much-cheaper Harford County insurance rates on his three vehicles.
But throughout that time, Mr. Raynor maintained his voter registration in Baltimore and voted in city elections.
Mr. Raynor said he now lives mainly in Baltimore, and in January he changed his address in MVA records to his home on Thames Street. He said he pays city insurance rates on two vehicles and Harford County rates on a third that he said is in a garage in Bel Air.
Dr. Handy, 51, said he and his wife live in a small apartment above the rectory of the West Baltimore church where he is pastor. But his driver's license lists Glen Burnie as his address and he pays the cheaper Glen Burnie car insurance rates. Dr. Handy said he and his wife spent much of their time in the Glen Burnie house, which belonged to Mrs. Handy's late father, until he was sworn into the City Council in February.
He said he has been waiting to change his MVA and insurance information until he found a bigger house to purchase in Baltimore. Dr. Handy said he recently bought a house in his district and plans to update his MVA and insurance information soon.
Dr. Handy is expected to be elected to a full term next month.