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.      



Maryland consumer files lawsuit against MLK-quoting judgment buying company

Renee Spencer, a Baltimore City resident, has filed suit against The Asset Recovery Group, LLC doing business as The Judgment Group ("The Judgment Group"), one of its employees, and her former landlord, for debt collection violations alleging that The Judgment Group garnished her wages on an alleged debt that had been paid 10 years earlier. The Judgment Group continued to garnish her wages even after Ms. Spencer provided proof from her employer that the alleged debt had been satisfied.

“I had just gone back to work after completing treatment for cancer for the second time,” says plaintiff Renee Spencer. “I felt like I was just getting back on my feet, and then my wages were garnished.  The full amount of the same debt had been paid over ten years ago, but over $6,000 was taken from my paychecks.”

“We have alleged that The Judgment Group, a company that quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in its mission statement, unlawfully garnished Ms. Spencer’s wages, said Chelsea Ortega of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC, Ms. Spencer’s attorney. “This case illustrates the dangers of zombie debt, which is a debt that is very old or no longer owed but comes back to life years and years later to haunt consumers.  Often the companies collecting these judgments purchase the debt for pennies on the dollar, but can collect up to three times the original judgment amount because they seek post-judgment interest over a lengthy period of time.”

The case is Renee Spencer v. The Asset Recovery Group, LLC, et al., case number 24C17005402, pending in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

A copy of the Complaint is available here.

Victory for SVO's clients - Jury finds Contractor Liable for Fraud, Consumer Protection and Debt Collection Violations

On August 10, 2017, at the end of trial prosecuted by Jane Santoni on behalf of homeowners against a landscape/hardscape contractor, a Baltimore County jury found that Defendant Peter Ireland, Jr. of "PieScape" committed fraud, violated Maryland's Consumer Protection Act and Maryland's Consumer Debt Collection Act, and breached his contract. The jury awarded economic and non-economic damages along with punitive damages against Ireland.  The jury awarded almost $36,000 in damages to the couple who were victims of Defendant's actions.

Details from Maryland's Casesearch can be found here.




Maryland tenants file class action against Westminster Management to stop illegal fee collection practices

Two Maryland residents filed a class action lawsuit today, challenging Westminster Management, LLC’s alleged practice of charging its tenants excessive, illegal fees. The lawsuit contends that Westminster Management, LLC, JK2 Westminster, LLC, Dutch Village, LLC, and Carroll Park Holdings, LLC (collectively “Westminster”) charge tenants excessive, illegal fees, regularly misapply tenants’ subsequent payments in part to the illegal fees, and then deem the next rent
payments “late” to justify additional excessive fees. Westminster demands payment of these improper fees under threat of eviction.

“The routine practice of charging tenants illegal fees combined with filing eviction proceedings against tenants who have paid their rent on time is predatory and destructive to hard-working Marylanders and their families. This is yet another example of corporations profiting from deceptive policies,” said Chelsea Ortega of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC. “Santoni, Vocci & Ortega is proud to partner with the Public Justice Center and Brown, Goldstein & Levy to represent tenants harmed by Westminster’s practices.”

A copy of the Complaint is available here.

The press release is available here.

Class Action Certified Against Blue Ocean Realty, LLC

The attorneys of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC ("SVO") filed a proposed class action suit in Circuit Court for Baltimore City on December 1, 2016 alleging that Blue Ocean Realty, LLC, the property management company for numerous residential properties, violated Maryland law and breached contracts by charging and/or collecting illegal fees, designated as late fees, court costs and/or agent fees. The lawsuit is seeking compensatory damages, a declaration that Blue Ocean Realty, LLC’s conduct is illegal, an injunction preventing the continuing conduct, an order that Blue Ocean Realty, LLC be required to pay back all illegal fees collected by Blue Ocean Realty, LLC, and attorneys’ fees.

Recently, the Circuit Court determined that class certification is appropriate and that the class representative and SVO could represent the following class of people:

All persons who are or were tenants in a residential rental property managed by Defendant Blue Ocean Realty, LLC in Maryland who were charged or paid fees in excess of the permissible 5% late fee allowed by Maryland law.

We want to hear from those affected by business practices of landlords/property managers.  Please contact us, if you believe you have been charged by or paid excessive fees to your landlord or property management company.  

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.