Technical Problem

A few days ago, we posted an article that talked about the urgent need to study, right now, the economics of the 150,000+ complaints that are filed with “Rent Court” every year – and that result in 7000 evictions annually. It’s a really important study that addresses a very, very significant problem in our city, the resolution of which is essential to the accomplishment of the economic recovery which is our mission. (Not so subtle note to contributors… It’s a study Baltimore Rising would gladly do for the city if you’d like to fund it.)

Technical problem… Those 150,000 “Failure to Pay Rent” forms? They only exist on paper. They’re not computerized. Yes, friends, in an age when we carry the equivalent of sophisticated laptop computers with two-way video communications in our pockets every where we go, the city’s landlord-tenant disputes have yet to be computerized.

By the way, the 150,000 does not include additional forms for he approximately 7000 people who end up being evicted and other paperwork related the filings that do not result in eviction.

To handle all these forms, the Court has a small, heroic staff handling an average of over 10,000 complaints per year per person. Manually. The entire process is paper-only, so we’re told, start to finish. None of it is computerized.

“Really? Honestly, I find that really hard to believe. What? Are they keeping count of all Cartoon About Paperworkthese records by writing tick-marks on the wall in their basement offices?”

We know it sounds nuts, to put it politely. 150,000+ complaints a year is a huge problem for the city – and there are no data files?! Just a bunch of paper forms in file cabinets and boxes? We’ve got some further checking to do, but apparently paper files is all they have.

Think about what it means that none of these data are computerized. Difficulty accessing information about and processing these claims is certainly one concern. But far more importantly, there’s no way to study the problem. You can interview some landlords, tenants and Court staff, but there’s no way, not without computerizing these data, to understand what’s really happening.

  • Where, geographically, are the complaints concentrated in the city?
  • How many of them are for different people? How many of them are for the same people struggling to pay their rent?
  • What is the distribution of these complaints by the amount of the monthly rent tenants are paying?
  • How, exactly, are 150,000+ complaints turning into 7000 evictions?
  • How many of these complaints are related to lost employment or the inability of working families to earn a living wage? How many of these complaints are related to failure by the landlords to maintain and repair their rental units?
  • Dare we ask, how are these complaints distributed by the landlord or owner of the properties? How many landlords – after you tie the related companies together – are we talking about that are causing all this grief for so many thousands of the city’s families?
  • And the money question… Are poorly maintained apartments the best these lower-income families can afford? Or are the landlords taking advantage of the system’s inefficiencies to make extraordinary profits at the expense of their tenants?

What’s the solution? Well, for one thing, the city could elect a new Mayor and City Council that’s paying attention.

Clutter Fairy Cartoon“That would be nice. …Does that mean I’ll have to vote?”

Who do you think let this mess go neglected all these years?

In the meantime, there’s no need for the good people of Baltimore to wait until 2017 for a new government to take office. In the meantime, County Council legislation could…

“…and should!”

Thank you. …mandate a study of Rent Court activity that begins with the computerization of the last year’s 150,000+ files. Yes, it’s a huge undertaking but, with the help of students and faculty at Baltimore’s colleges, it can be affordable and completed relatively quickly. There’s no need to spend a fortune the city doesn’t have on a study by highly paid professionals that takes forever.

Yes, it’s a huge undertaking, but then so is the problem which is well worth the attention that is long, long overdue.

Paperwork Cartoon


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