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Tindeco Wharf loses privacy suit brought by tenant; jury awards $5K

A Baltimore city jury has awarded $5,000 to an apartment unit owner who alleged his landlord invaded his privacy by taking photos of his property in an attempt to remove him as a tenant.

But the jury, after an hour of deliberation, rejected Stephen H. Sacks’ claims of retaliatory eviction, breach of lease and intrusion upon seclusion against Tindeco Wharf.

It also found Tindeco Wharf was not unjustly enriched by the more than $10,000 in improvements Sacks made to his Canton apartment in his 20 years as a resident because the improvements were made at Sacks’ insistence.

And Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion said following the trial she would issue a ruling Friday on a defense motion for possession of Sacks’ apartment and double-rent payments going back to June 1, 2012, when he was ordered to vacate.

Sacks, a veteran solo practitioner representing himself, said after the verdict he planned to file an appeal not based on the jury’s verdict.

“I’m very pleased the jury recognized the fact that you respect the privacy of a tenant,” he said. “The damages were not as important.”

Adam M. Spence of Spence & Buckler P.C. in Towson, who represented Tindeco Wharf, called the jury’s verdict “an unequivocal success.”

The seven-day trial was not Sacks’ first lawsuit against his landlord: More than a decade ago, Sacks alleged Tindeco Wharf officials entered his apartment without permission to remove firewood from his porch. Spence, in his closing argument Thursday, said the firewood was a fire hazard on his deck because it was not properly stored and the landlord only entered Sacks’ home without permission after eight months of asking him.

Sacks dropped that first lawsuit after he and his landlord reached an agreement allowing him to stay, and eventually signed several lease renewals, according to court documents.

But in October 2011, after failing to come to terms on a new lease, Tindeco informed Sacks the building would not be renewing his lease when it expired that December. Sacks responded with the new lawsuit.

In his closing argument, Sacks argued he had been singled out by his landlord and that, even if it wanted him out, it did not take the proper steps to remove him. Sacks said he had received no written letters about any violations of his lease, only the photos of his front and back patios and his notice for removal.

“They were going to force me off the premises,” he told the jury of four women and two men. “They wanted me out of the building at whatever cost.”

Spence countered with the photos of Sacks’ deck, which Spence described as a “junkyard” with the same firewood problem as from a decade earlier. Bats and mice had made homes in the woodpile, which was also blocking a fire easement used by his neighbors, Spence said.

Spence also chronicled in a PowerPoint the dozens of times the landlord tried to schedule routine maintenance for Sacks’ apartment to accommodate Sacks.

“He only wants the benefits, not the burdens of living in the apartment,” Spence said. “We would have treated him like every tenant if he behaved like every tenant.”

On the unjust enrichment count, Sacks said he purchased his own washer and dryer, replaced the garbage disposal at his own cost when it broke and installed a granite floor. Spence countered Tindeco Wharf did not ask for Sacks to make the improvements and that the building would prefer uniform apartments.

Sacks’ fraud claim against Tindeco Wharf was dismissed by Carrion before the case went to the jury.

STEPHEN H. SACKS V. TINDECO WHARF LLC, ET AL

Court:

Baltimore City Circuit Court

Case No.:

24C11008407

Judge:

Audrey J.S. Carrion

Outcome:

Verdict for $5,000 for plaintiff

Dates:

Incident: October 2011

Suit filed: Dec. 8, 2011

Verdict: Oct. 24, 2013

Plaintiffs’ Attorney:

Stephen H. Sacks, Baltimore solo practitioner

Defendants’ Attorneys:

Adam M. Spence and Garrett E. Brierley of The Law Offices of Spence & Buckler P.C. in Towson

Count:

Invasion of privacy, unjust enrichment, retaliatory eviction, breach of lease, intrusion upon seclusion

*This story was revised Oct. 25 to more accurately explain the unjust enrichment count of the lawsuit.