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On March 5, 2019, the Honorable Shannon E. Avery of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City issued a ruling finalizing a $96,593.39 award against Ted Thornton, Maryland Property Management, LLC, and ANT Properties, LLC (“Defendants”). Late last year, a jury had found the Defendants liable for illegally locking Helena Peters-Hawkins and Charles Hawkins (“Plaintiffs”) out of their home and taking or destroying property, including bunk beds, toddler beds, dishes, clothes, sheets and blankets, and a television. Plaintiffs and their children ended up sleeping on bare wooden floors and sharing a few blankets. The jury awarded Plaintiffs damages against Defendants, including an award for the emotional distress inflicted by the landlord during a several weeks’ long campaign of threats ending with an illegal eviction.

 In 2013, the Maryland legislature provided a remedy for tenants, like Ms. Peters-Hawkins and Mr. Hawkins, whose landlords threaten eviction and take self-help measures to lock out tenants from their homes. Using the relatively new law, tenants may recover their damages and petition the court for an award of attorneys’ fees and costs to be paid by the offending landlord. In the instant case, the Court granted Plaintiffs the full amount of attorneys’ fees and costs requested.

 One of the express purposes of the “illegal lockout” law in Maryland is to preserve human dignity and human rights. “This case is a win for our clients, who were repeatedly threatened by Defendants, and for tenants in Baltimore whose landlords may now think twice before violating their tenants’ rights,” said Chelsea Ortega of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC, Plaintiffs’ attorney. Ms. Peters-Hawkins stated, “we went through so much with this landlord, but we stood up against him and his companies. You cannot treat people the way we were treated.” No offer was made to settle the case prior to trial.

 The case is Helena Peters-Hawkins, et al. v. Maryland Property Management, LLC, et al., case number 24-C-18-001445 in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. Ms. Peters-Hawkins and Mr. Hawkins were represented by Chelsea Ortega and Matthew Thomas Vocci of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC.

Tenants' rights, dignity for the disabled and landlord profits

The attorneys at Santoni, Vocci & Ortega have been testifying in Annapolis during the 2018 Maryland legislative session regarding bills that will help tenants, consumers, those experiencing poverty, disabled individuals and the elderly.  We do not get paid as lobbyists and we do not represent entrenched corporate interests.  We advocate on behalf of everyday Marylanders who need protection from those who would seek to take advantage and injure them financially.  

A bill that we testified in favor of in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and the House Environment and Transportation Committee, SB250 - HB580, would have allowed tenants who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), unemployment benefits, Social Security, temporary cash assistance, food stamps and other benefits that allow Marylanders to receive a short reprieve before a 5% late penalty on rent is imposed.  As we wrote to the House Environment and Transportation Committee,

This is a common-sense bill that will positively impact the lives of Maryland tenants, including seniors, disabled individuals and those experiencing poverty, by delaying the imposition of late penalties by a few weeks.  Tenants who receive their government benefits after the fifth day of the month will avoid a cycle in which penalties and fees added to their monthly rent make it difficult, if not impossible, to ever get back to even with their landlord.  

The Maryland Multi-Housing Association, which is self-described as "a group of rental housing providers, suppliers, and professionals dedicated to promoting and advancing the needs of the rental housing industry"  and the Maryland Building Industry Association testified against the bill, which was voted down by the House Committee.  The Maryland Building Industry Association testified that the bill (which would simply push back late fees for a few weeks for seniors, disabled individuals and those who are in need of federal assistance) was "totally unfair to landlords."   Tenants who want to avoid automatically imposed late fees because their disability payment arrives in the middle of the month are disregarded by an industry concerned about the imposition of penalties (i.e., profits) over people.  The video of the House Committee hearing is below.      



Tenant files suit against Housing Authority of Baltimore for wrongful eviction and debt collection violations

Shermika Pittman, a Baltimore City resident, filed suit yesterday against the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) and two of its employees for debt collection violations and wrongful eviction alleging that the Housing Authority, as her landlord, filed a number of Failure to Pay Rent actions (FTPR) when rent had been paid -- relying on false statements; and demanded court costs for the wrongfully filed rent court actions.

In one of the alleged instances, Ms. Pittman was evicted from her home on the basis of a FTPR filed despite her payment of rent and despite her offer to pay the "redemption" amount to remain in her apartment. She was out of her home for nearly three weeks until the District Court ordered that possession be returned to her.  HABC then filed a FTPR against Ms. Pittman averring that the rent was not paid timely despite Ms. Pittman having been wrongfully evicted and out of the apartment when the rent was due.

Ms. Pittman suffered economic and emotional distress for which she is seeking to hold HABC accountable.

She is represented by Matthew Thomas Vocci of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC. 

Download Complaint.

Download Press Release.