Baltimore has ended a longstanding policy of posting eviction notices on shared or exterior doors to apartment buildings when sheriff’s deputies are unable to get inside, Sheriff Sam Cogen announced Thursday in his first policy change since taking office a day earlier.
The new policy took effect Friday.
The old policy, promulgated by former Sheriff John Anderson, who held the position for 33 years before being defeated in the Democratic primary by Cogen, was the subject of a fight between the office and the members of Baltimore City Council this year as the group debated the office’s proposed budget.
During a June hearing, multiple council members argued the procedure contradicts a 2001 opinion issued by then Attorney General Joseph Curran. That opinion, issued at Anderson’s request, states that eviction notices are to be placed on the property being repossessed, specifically the individual apartment, absent “extraordinary circumstances.”
Anderson and his deputies defended the practice.
“It’s an opinion. That’s not a law,” one deputy told council members during the hearing.
When he campaigned for the office against fellow Democrat Anderson, Cogen said he wanted to “humanize” the eviction process. A former deputy in the office, Cogen upset Anderson in the July primary, defeating the incumbent by a 2,767-vote margin.
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Councilman Ryan Dorsey, a Democrat who offered sharp criticism of the existing posting policy, called ending it a good step for a 21st century sheriff’s office.
“This is such an obvious thing that could be improved, and it was just such a baffling point of noncompliance with the previous sheriff,” he said. “Tenants certainly deserve the respect of being treated with the level of care for proper communication that the law actually requires,.”
Cogen also campaigned on a promise of connecting city residents with more services as they go through an eviction process. And he pledged to check all landlords seeking an eviction against city rental license records to ensure landlords are legally renting their properties. Anderson’s administration admitted during budget hearings that such checks are not routine.
Cogen was sworn in Wednesday by outgoing Clerk of Courts Marilyn Bentley. He said he made arrangements to be sworn in as quickly as possible after multiple attempts to arrange a transition committee with Anderson and his staff were ignored.
Cogen said he was sworn in around 2 p.m. and shortly afterward approached the executive secretary in the sheriff’s office to request keys for the office. Anderson was sitting at the front desk, Cogen said.
“It was a peaceful transfer,” Cogen said. “He was in the office. We didn’t speak, and he got a ride home.”
Sabrina Tapp-Harper, a major for the office who served as a spokeswoman under Anderson, said Anderson retired from the position effective Thursday.