For the past three years, students in the Community Equity and Development Seminar: Legal Theory and Practice course have been involved in litigation against the owners and managers of vacant properties located across several neighborhoods in predominantly low-income areas of Baltimore. Recently, the parties reached a settlement agreement regarding the nuisance conditions that requires the defendants to invest in rehabilitating some properties and demolishing others that are beyond repair.
The Community Law Center, Inc. (CLC) is lead counsel in the action, along with pro bono counsel at Venable LLP. Under the supervision of Professor Robin Jacobs, director of Strategic Legal Services Projects at the CLC, law students have represented several nonprofit community associations in this action.
The case represents a new legal strategy in the fight against owners of abandoned properties in Baltimore. The lawsuit alleged, in part, that that the Defendants’ 57 properties constituted a nuisance, and that the communities were entitled to relief under the Community Bill of Rights, set forth in Maryland’s Real Property Code.
Involving the first action under the Community Bill of Rights, the case joined together six different community associations as plaintiffs. Putting the power of City Code enforcement into the hands of the communities impacted by the vacant properties is a new legal tool.
The students gained a variety of valuable lawyering skills working on this case, including fact investigation, research, writing, problem solving, and client engagement. The case also involved several areas of law – property, torts, litigation, business entities, tax, statutory interpretation, municipal law, environmental law, land use, and bankruptcy. Students had the unique opportunity to connect different legal skills and different areas of law to further their clients’ goals and, in the end, to bring justice to communities in Baltimore.