Baltimore law deprives evicted tenants of their belongings and violates constitutional protection of private property, brief argues

December 7, 2023

Medicine. Clothes. Personal identification. A loved one’s ashes. Pets. Tenants have lost all of these things in evictions as a result of Baltimore’s confiscation ordinance. Under the law, a renter’s possessions are considered abandoned if left in a rental property after an eviction and become the property of the landlord. In cases where a tenant stays past the end of the lease (called tenant holding over), landlords can evict tenants without notice of the actual date of the eviction, resulting in the surprise loss of their belongings. And once the eviction happens, Baltimore provides no opportunity for renters to reclaim their property.

Marshall and Tiffany Todman lost nearly all of their possessions in an eviction and sued the Mayor and City of Baltimore, claiming that the City’s ordinance violated their constitutional rights. At trial, a jury awarded the Todmans $186,000 in damages for lost or destroyed property and emotional distress, but the City appealed the verdict to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. In support of the Todmans, the Public Justice Center, Civil Justice, Homeless Persons Representation Project, and Maryland Legal Aid filed an amicus brief in October to demonstrate the devastating consequences the ordinance has on Marylanders living in poverty and urge the Court to affirm that tenants’ personal property is protected from such confiscation under the Constitution.

Written by Murnaghan Appellate Advocacy Fellow Melanie Babb, the brief shares the experiences of tenants represented by the PJC and allies to illustrate how losing all of one’s property compounds the trauma that eviction inflicts. It explains that Baltimore’s eviction crisis is an extension of the city’s legacy of housing discrimination and as such, the confiscation ordinance disproportionately harms Black renters and other people of color, people with low incomes, and women. The brief further argues that Baltimore’s approach is out of step with jurisdictions across the country that require landlords to provide advance notice and protect renters’ right to reclaim their property. Finally, the brief argues that the ordinance violates the Constitution’s prohibition on taking a person’s property without compensation and strikes at core democratic principles on which our society is founded. We ask the Court to affirm the lower court’s conclusion that personal property is important and deserves to be protected from state interference, especially for individuals who are being evicted.

Thank you to PJC attorney Matt Hill, managing paralegal Carolina Paul, paralegal Kelsey Carlson, and the Human Right to Housing team for their assistance with the brief.