Today Judge Nugent of Maryland Circuit Court granted a stay on an eviction notice, ensuring Pastor Mark James Barnes would not lose his church due to tax sale. This past session, legislation to ensure that no properties would be sent to tax lien sale for outstanding or unaffordable water bills failed to pass. Barnes Memorial church (3000 Hillen Road, 21218) is one of many churches that are still unprotected by the law. This time, through legal support, the church evaded eviction, but the same resources may not be available for every church in Baltimore.
Pastor Mark James said, “I very seldomly run out of words, but I was rendered speechless when I heard the news that we are living to fight another day to keep our Church. I am grateful for God’s faithfulness and providence. Now, we’re onto the Courts to win our Church back once and for all, and will work to ensure that others victimized by U238 LLC get their redemption as well.”
"The Court's decision to stay the eviction which was scheduled for last Monday is encouraging. On behalf of the Barnes Memorial Church, I look forward to pressing its case for legal redemption in the tax sale process. I believe the law is on the Church's side, so that it may continue to provide spiritual redemption from its longtime home on Hillen Road," said Curtis Cooper, President of the Maryland Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
“Pastor James has been granted a stay on his eviction thanks to the National Lawyers Guild Maryland Chapter. The decision from the Judge came just an hour before the eviction was scheduled to take place,” said Rianna Eckel, Maryland Organizer with Food & Water Watch. “This is an incredible victory for our community in Baltimore, but one that shouldn't have to be fought. That's why we supported legislation in Annapolis to reform tax sale and put in place procedures for contesting bills. We call on the Mayor's office and the General Assembly to act and ensure that nobody else has to go through this process.”
Background: Pastor Mark James was the pastor at Barnes Memorial for the past 8 years. He was scheduled to be evicted from his church on May 8th, 2018, as a result of tax sale. His church was sold in the 2015 tax sale, after the City told him he would be spared from the lien sale if he made a large payment towards his water bill and entered into a payment plan. He did, and the church still went to tax sale. When visiting the Tax Sale Division, they then told him it was for an outstanding environmental citation, which he was never informed of, and could not afford to pay after making the large water bill payment.
He has been fighting to keep his Church for over three years, and thanks to legal work by Curtis Cooper and Nick McDaniels with the National Lawyers Guild, Maryland Chapter, Pastor James has gained more time to save his property. They have filed a motion based on the grounds that the out-of-state LLC that purchased the tax lien and foreclosed on the property was not in good standing with the State at the time they purchased the lien, making them ineligible to purchase the lien. The stay was granted by Judge Nugent, Maryland Circuit Court.