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Tracking down owner of record

Dear Mr. Azrael,

I currently live outside Atlanta. I own a ground rent in Baltimore which is three payments in arrears. I sent payment notices by both regular and certified mail. The last notice was returned "deceased." I had a friend go to the property - it was boarded up.

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I checked the city records and the owner of record still shows the gentleman whom I received the "deceased" notice back from. Also, the "deceased" owner had no mortgage on the property.

Could you please tell me how I may pursue this matter.

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Warren Roskos Atlanta

Dear Mr. Roskos,

I infer from your letter that you have doubts about whether the record owner of the property actually is deceased. Where are you sending your ground rent bills? Perhaps you can locate a correct address for the record owner by checking the phone book or real estate tax records. These records can be accessed through the Internet on the Web site of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. The Web site address is www.dat.state.md.us.

You can request the post office to provide a forwarding address for mail directed to the "deceased" owner. You or a friend can check with neighbors to try to find out if the record owner is still alive, or if not, who is handling the deceased owner's affairs.

When the person who is responsible for paying your ground rent dies, you need to find out who is the new legal owner of the leasehold property.

You can check the records of the Orphans Court of the city or county where the record owner lived to see if an estate was opened for this individual. Real property cannot be transferred from the decedent's name unless an estate is opened. In fact, as a creditor of the deceased owner, you are eligible to open an estate for him so his interest can be sold or transferred.

You also can check the land records of the Baltimore Circuit Court to find the last deed, which conveyed the leasehold interest. Often, there is a joint owner, who will own legal title after the death of the decedent.

You should be concerned that the property is boarded up. Although you have a right, through a legal proceeding, to evict the leasehold owner for nonpayment of the ground rent, you may not want to own a vacant, boarded-up property. A building in poor condition may greatly reduce the value of your ground rent.


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