Gateway to Italy

by Chris Markham. 0 Comments

A few weeks ago, I read a story out of Italy that could have some foreshadowing here in the good old US of A. But first, some background.
I’m certain by now all of you have heard of the financial crisis (which seems to continue unabated given the recent financial reports from major financial institutions such as Citibank). The top-line result of the crisis was that a bunch of people lost their homes through bankruptcy or foreclosure. Concurrently, there was a bit of a rent hike in the greater DC metropolitan area. Demand for apartments and rental properties was high, so, as the market tells us, rents could be increased.
Not all of the people that lost their homes left the DMV. Quite probably, most of them remained here, obtained apartments, and began to pay these increase rents – rents that, dollar for dollar, were competitive with the monthly mortgage payments on the properties that were foreclosed on or lost through bankruptcy.
I think you may be seeing where I’m going.
Recently, in Rome, local officials began to “evict” squatters that, with no place left to go, began to live in abandoned buildings. In one building alone, police found approximately one hundred families. These people have been forcibly removed from the properties, and are now looking for somewhere else to live. It goes without saying that high unemployment and inflation are the causes of the hundreds, if not thousands, of squatters around the city. Where will these people go? No one knows, but one could reasonably expect to another abandoned building, or jail.
I think we’re perched on the edge of a similar crisis here. Despite what you hear on the news and read about on the Internet, the employment picture for people isn’t the best. I tend to thin the gradual decrease of the unemployment statistics are more from people whose benefits have run out, and those no longer actively searching for jobs. If these people have mortgages, they’re not likely to have them for much longer. If they’re in rental housing, the same applies.
In just driving around Montgomery and Frederick Counties, I’ve seen an incredible amount of personal property littering the sides of the roads. The concentration of these items are owned by those evicted from their properties. By just my impersonal and unscientific observations, I’m seeing about ten evictions per day; and evictions are like icebergs – only ten percent of them are visible.
If we get to a point in this area that they’ve reached in Rome, we’ll have mass chaos. Sure, the County Sheriffs try to make the eviction process as efficient and contained as possible, but, faced with mass evacuations, that system could shut down and overwhelm almost instantly. If you think the homeless problem now is obscene, I can only imagine what the issue will look like six months or a year from now.
In my practice, I represent both landlords and tenants. Although Maryland is considered a “tenant-friendly” state, if you don’t pay your rent, you can’t stay in the rental property. Sure, a judge will listen to your tale of woe, but if you’re not prepared to pay what you owe, you’re out.
But you aren’t evicted right away. You have some time to appeal the court’s decision – usually four days. And even if you don’t appeal, it takes a couple of months for the sheriff and the landlord to come knocking at your door. At that point, you can either pay the entirety of what you owe to the landlord, or you can leave the property (or be forcibly evicted with your personal property strewn by the side of the road).
Point is, most of the tenants I’ve come into contact with are hard-working, honest people who can’t catch a break for some reason. And most of the landlords I’ve met are honest people that really want to help others. So, if there’s one thing that could potentially stop the madness happening in Rome from spreading like a virus to our shores is communication.
As a tenant, if you know you’re going to be late, let your landlord know. Talk to them about it. Try to work out a plan. The earlier everyone is aware of the situation, the sooner a resolution can be reached. Remember, it’s always easier to work on a problem when there’s a roof over your head!

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