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September 2, 2010

City resident gets bizarre bill for property registration

Alex Koblansky was surprised when he opened his mail last weekend and discovered that the city of Baltimore wanted him to pay $25 to register a property he didn't own. With an address that doesn't exist.

The city requires registration of non-owner-occupied homes, but Koblansky occupies the only one he owns, a Federal Hill home he purchased in May. So he could be pretty certain the bill was a mistake -- especially since the address apparently in need of registration was "1800 L Dham St."

He walked to the city's housing agency on Monday to try to get the problem resolved, but 10 or 15 people were ahead of him and he couldn't wait that long. He noticed others with the same registration form and wondered if they had bills for phantom properties, too.

"I am assuming people are going to tend to just pay this bill versus go through the hassle of getting the right answer," he said.

Cheron Porter, a spokeswoman for Baltimore Housing, the city's housing agency, checked out Koblansky's bill. "It was a mistake -- clearly," she said. "We apologize for any confusion and we'll be sending that gentleman a letter, a correction.”

She said she's not aware of others with the same problem. But anyone with a problematic registration bill can email, she said.

“When you're doing something that's automated and goes to 50,000 people, inevitably there will be some mistakes," she said.

It wasn't Koblansky's first wrong bill from the city. He was one of the thousands of recent home buyers who received notices this summer from the tax collectors telling them -- in error -- that they were overdue on property taxes for the last fiscal year.

"That was a fun day," he said.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Costs of ownership


Hmmm... strange. Similar to a certain medical billing company that consistently renders bills for co-pays that have been paid at time of office visits. Maybe not an error, more like a lucrative little lunch money scheme.....

I had my own troubles with the Housing Dept when I received a multiple family dwelling unit registration bill, and my rowhome had been converted from apartments to single family again since 2007. They had issued the permit for single family residence, and I tried two times with my title company, etc. to have them fix the clerical error and each time I was told it would be abated. The next month I would get a delinquent notice, and I or my title company would call again. When I got the third and legal notice, I contacted Councilman Cole, who immediately had the issue remedied and I received an abatement notice within three days with a zero balance.

I know there is some flux going on with personnel in that office, but the whole department needs very serious review and auditing. Maybe a new computer system? There HAS to be a way to do it better, especially with the complexities of the Baltimore housing stock.

4 easy payments of $4.99! Call today!

And if you act now we'll double the amount!

Luckily, the parking tickets are implemented a whole lot better.

THANK YOU! I too got an incorrect registration notice. I think my home was once registered as apartments (we can tell it was broken up at one point), and it was never changed back to single family despite what SDAT and all the paperwork says. I was planning on hiking down to the office because no one ever answers the phone. Hopefully an email will suffice.

Glad the information is helpful, Amy! Hope you get a quick resolution.

Thanks go to Alex for contacting me about his problem, figuring others might be in the midst as well.

I think Baltimore City needs to hire more competent people to do their data entry. I received my registration bill, which no longer applies since they changed the law about vacant lots adjacent to your residence, and I used to get two bills (one for each lot). Just last year they combined these to one bill and my address was typed incorrectly, as was the lot addresses, and it had someone else's phone number on it under "Owner's number". They should really take a good look at the person issuing this information. My guess is Alex's bill was a typo and should have been 1800 "Durham" Street in Fells Point.

I thought it might have been 1800 N. Durham, too (there's no 1800 S. Durham). But 1800 N. Durham is owned by -- wait for it -- the city.

Amy- I was in your shoes last year. My house had been split into two apartments back in the 50s, and converted back to a single family in the 90s. Unfortunately, the previous owner never pulled a permit for it. I talked to probably a dozen people in three different offices, plus my councilwoman. No one could help me resolve it.

In the end, I had to go in person to apply for a permit, take time off work to get an inspection, go again in person to get the permit, and pay all the fees. Annoying to say the least. I don't know why the title companies don't check for these things (I talked to them at the time too... they don't look into this at all).

This is probably referring to 180 Oldham Street which is now a grassy strip between Oldham Street and Ponca Street off of East Lombard Street. It appears to be government-owned.

There is, however, a "180 Oldham St" over near Bayview.

Aha! Thanks, guys -- that's probably it.

We were charged landlord-rate property tax on our owner occupied single family for two years. Straightened it out with a visit to MD Assessors Office, and got a refund.

The city/state makes mistakes, it's inevitable. Don't call on the phone when it happens--or use their web forms. If you have a problem with the city, go in person. Contrary to popular belief, they're actually really nice and helpful! I have never worked for the city or state nor has anyone I know. But whether it's jury duty, the cops, the tax folks--I have found that calling NEVER works, but when you just suck it up and wait in line, you're likely to find a nice, cooperative person on the other side of the desk. After all they hate bureaucracy too--they work for one.

(The one exception to this is, sadly, the schools.)

I tried to pay the property registration fee last year when I bought my duplex, but my check was returned with a letter saying the fee had already been paid. I didn't argue.

Now I just got a bill to register both units, including my owner-occupied one. Shouldn't we have to register only the one that's rented?

Unless there's something I'm missing, you're right that you should only have to register the rented unit, not the one you're living in, Also Confused. You'll want to contact the housing agency. (Perhaps the previous owner rented out both units?)

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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
Baltimore Sun articles by Jamie

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