We now need to raise funds to hire legal assistance to take the City (back) to Court and the like, but also to...relocate & survive. I don't have a place to work. Record music. Consult. Host touring/traveling artists. Practice. Or any of the things this residence that has come to be known as Fort Duckwood has provided us the place to do. We were forced to box and grab all we could, move those things to storage, and more or less float around and start over, but our fight does not end here. Continuing to work and live is of the most important, but plans to reclaim what we believe is my family's rightful property is underway. This is the assistance that's being requested. The funds currently generated (at the time of this edit: ~$1400) have go towards the research, the legal, the relocation, and the survival through this period. I wouldn't have survived July without this, literally. Thank you so much.
Enjoy the full story below (now with certain names and things omitted because, #legal)! Please feel free to contact me with any further inquiries of clarification.
My family is currently in the process of fighting Baltimore City and other entities against the wrongful selling of the home that has been owned by my family for over four decades. As a result, I am currently homeless. Myself and my business partner resided at
this address and it was also the home office of my partner's business, which I am an employee of. My famlily's estate has become yet another bullet in the long list of interrupted black generational wealth and black legacy families that have wrongfully lost ownership of property in Baltimore City.
The house I've lived in since 2007 is the house my mother, Jerlyn Buster, was raised in upon her family’s arrival to Baltimore in the mid-60’s. It was owned by my Grandmother, Shirley Dozier, who passed away in 1999. The will she left behind was set so the house would be willed to my mother, my aunt, Candace Dozier, and my next door neighbor. Everyone, at the time of my grandmother's passing, agreed the house would and should actually go to my mother making her the owner, and the will was supposed to be resolved that way. The lawyers involved with the finalization of the will failed to execute this process, and ran off with thousands of my mother's dollars. Since then, the house was still listed in Shirley’s name. My aunt continued living in the house until 2008, I moved in Fall of 2007 and later created an agreement with my mother surrounding my continued
residence in the house.
About 5 or 6 years ago, this issue reared its head during tax time: An inaccurate and grossly inflated water bill appeared calling for thousands of dollars to be paid. We
contested it, had to go to court for it. There they claimed a water leak “under the house” was contributing to the bill. Further investigation proved that really, the water bill system was messed up and reading incorrectly (this was happening en masse, city wide). As a result, they said okay, don’t worry about it, we’ll take care of it. The water bill was reset to nothing (and the water readouts never appeared crazy high, however, I eventually
stopped receiving water bills altogether…) In this process though, the issues with the title of the house still being listed as Shirley’s was brought up, and the city also said this would be fixed. Unbeknownst to us, that process was never actually resolved at all.
2016 came around, as it did for everyone. I lost my job Thanksgiving 2015, so extreme monetary straits appeared and due to such, unfortunately the house went up for tax sale. Since then, I have been self employed through the business we run out of our home. It was purchased by a trust in New York through an online auction. My mother went to reclaim the
property and ended up paying thousands of dollars to get the property back in her name… Just to instead again find out it’s still in Shirley's name, so we’re back to square one with the resolving of the will situation. This is where the current emergency and drama starts.
The state appointed an attorney to The Estate of Shirley Dozier to handle the property's sale and resolution as Personal Representative. He met with my mother to discuss the house. He communicated with her something along the lines of an amount was needed in order to keep the house or it would have to be sold. We didn't have that amount at the time and were looking for options on what could be done to abate this (because, what if we could raise the money!) He said he would take care of it. To resolve the will, he had to contact
all 3 people listen in the will to get a say of if the sale was cool or not (and to indicate if they wanted proceeds from the sale or not). My mother instructed the Attorney also to contact ME and keep me aware of the situation because I'm the one who actually lives there, so any information about sales would have to be told to me. He said okay and would let my mother know what was next. The last time he communicated with her was this conversation in August 2016. No further correspondence was received from him.
The first week of February 2017, I received a letter from an auction company, A.J. Billings saying my house was scheduled to be sold in public auction as contracted by the Personal Representative, and to contact them to make arrangements. Completely stunned me. This was the first correspondence or communication of any form regarding the house I ever received. I contacted them telling them I had no clue about this sale and what was going on and that the house was in no condition for that. They told me they were hired and appointed by the Personal Representative to facilitate the sale of the house as indicated by the State, and was confused about how or why I didn’t know since "the money is going to
the estate." I told them we’d get in touch with the P.R. about this as this wasn’t what was to happen next, especially without our notification. My mother spent the next 2 weeks (one of which weeks, I was in the hospital) trying to get in contact with him but to no avail, no returned call, nothing. A few days after, I got a letter nullifying my “tenant's letter of first refusal” to the sale of the property because a 3rd party, the auctioneer
house, was added to the situation.
The following week, I finally got in contact with the lawyer/P.R. (who was WILDLY disrespectful to me) and was blown off. I began telling him I was just trying to understand the situation as we never received any more word about the sale so we have no clue what to do. He said “who am I supposed to believe, me or you?” and went forth to say he didn’t have to say anything to me anyway because I’m not on the will nor did I contract his services. He said didn’t have to contact me (even though he told my mother when they met in person 'okay' when my mother SAID to contact me) because it wasn't in writing (so why didn't he tell her to put that in writing when she was sitting in his office and told him that in person?), and that the sale of the property was happening regardless because "this has dragged on for too long already," Regarding my current residence and situation in this house, he said I need to start finding a place to live or be nice to whoever buys the house and maybe I can work out a deal with them, he said have a nice day, and hung up the phone.
Despite asking the auctioneers to wait to get back to them, they, too, never contacted me again and scheduled the sale for the 15th of March. I found out because I came home one day to a “for sale by public auction” sign in my front yard. A snow storm affected the
city the day prior to the auction, so they, without telling us, rescheduled it for the
week later (people showed up on the 15th wondering). On the 23rd, the auction happened,
and the house was sold. The lawyer told us* he got "3/4 people listed on the will to agree
to the sale” so he went ahead and did it.
*Sometime in late February, prior to the sale, we went down to legal/housing aid and spoke
to someone. The free legal council heard my story, and called Drager’s office for more
information. They said the PR’s office told them he indicated that “3 of the 4 people”
listed on the will agreed to the sale of the property, so he moved forward with the sale
of the property. They told me that if that was true, the sale was okay, and more or less
all we could do was file a grievance against the P.R. for being unaccommodating and not
really working with us, but since the sale has been scheduled and put forth, it was too
late on that end. When I asked them about the “4” people listed, they said WE would know
because it was what was listed on the will.
This was ALL very suspicious, and basically the punchline to this story as this is where
the issues lie, because:
1) No one ever contacted my mother again to tell her the house was in fact being sold.
There was nothing in writing she received nor did any come to my address, nor any phone
calls either. So her “okay” was never finally and officially given.
2) We know for a FACT he never got in contact with my aunt. She moved to NY years ago and
doesn’t come here often. When we asked her about it, she had no clue any of this was going
on at all. She never signed or saw anything (and would also be on our side of it).
Which basically means, this sale occurred against the Estate's wishes, and what manner of
forgery occurred to get the 3rd signature? Who was the 3rd signature? Even if he claims my
mother was “okay with it” because they spoke, her plus my neighbor (who told us he did
respond to Drager in kind, and assumed all was well so just went with it. Through this,
the P.R. just went ahead and did it... thus creating the environment to displace those
inside. After the sale, My housemate went to a different legal aid and gave the updated
story with those points and details of the auction experience. They were indicated this is
definitely a problem and we likely have a case and need to, as soon as possible, find a
lawyer and take him to court on it.
The person who won the house in the auction painted an equally pressing issue on top of
that. Since March 23rd, he's been more or less harassing us to get out of the house “right
now”. He offered a “deal” where if we vacated the house by April 8th (which he later
extended to April 13th), as that was his anticipated date of sale closure, he would loan
us the immediate up front money we'd need to move (as in, the first month rent + security
deposit etc.) that we would give back once we got payment from the sale of the house (+ a
bonus $500 we wouldn’t have to give back). This was, in his head, to abate the issue of
our poverty and being able to find a new residence that quickly. But, the new owner
remained pressed, and then started threatening eviction. He began “checking up on us” and
frequently calling and texting about our progress moving out. Multiple times we spoke to
him and inform him of the situation but he continued to remain consistent and eventually
more persistent. He then begun changing up stories and not “remembering” or “forgetting”
the things we discussed in person or over the phone, so I told him he is to no longer
communicate with ME about issues with the house at all unless it is via e-mail. I also
informed him that regarding issues with the Tenant, he needs to address the former owner,
my mother, whom he met and exchanged information with the day of the sale.
The only correspondence he sent my Mother was an email asking her for money to help him
pay for a water leak the city said was in the house. He asked me the same thing, and I
informed him there wasn’t actually a water leak (recall the water bill story above from
several years ago…) but he is free to come look as he wishes. He came over one day with a
plumber, and instead of checking for the leak, spent time interrogating us about our
status moving out of the home. I again told him I was advised to not speak w/ him outside
of email on this, and he should be contacting my mother any way. He loudly began
threatening eviction and I told him he couldn’t even legally do that because no change of
title has been posted, and I informed him of certain housing/leasing protocols he didn’t
seem privy to. He left the house (without checking for the leak) and a few days later, a
letter was posted on the front door, and came via Certified mail, from his lawyer saying
to represent him, saying that the new owner is the new owner of the property and he is
ending the month-to-month lease he perceives as being in place for the people who live
there, and we have until June 30 to vacate the premises or will be held as tenants-
holding-over. It said if there was any contest to this, to respond within 7 days. I
responded via email indicating that we did have things to contest about this and would be
doing so and do have agreements with the house. The lawyer responded and said that the new
owner wished to respect whatever leases were in place and to send any information over.
A week or so after that, the new owner requested a time to come over to “take pictures for
inspection”. He took some pictures of the inside of the house. An email was sent and a
paper posted on the door saying he would be on site doing “exterior repairs”... and on May
1st for about a week and a half a few people and sometime he was on my back porch and roof
doing very loud and seemingly unlicensed work from 8-5 every day. As a result, large
amounts of dust, wood, old roof tar, dirt entered my home through the hole in my ceiling,
my bedroom window, and my kitchen door. Dust was in my bed and air conditioner, dust got
into my food and spices in the kitchen, and a huge mess was left in my upstairs hallway.
So much for my allergies, huh? None of this was addressed.
The final week of June, I was able to send the lease agreements my partner and I had with
my mother to the new owner's lawyer via email. I never heard a response, never got a phone
call, never got an email response...instead, my housemate and I received a court summons
for July 13th to Rent Court for “failure to pay rent” and the new owner was asking for
each of us to pay $1200, that’s $400 a month for May through July. We went to the court
case, and sought and used the free legal representation present. Upon looking at the
summons, our representaton immediately noticed the omission of any license numbers, asked
me when my house was built (the 40s), and informed us that because he has no license,
because of the lead paint situation in 1976, he can’t legally ask for rent anyway because
the house was never certified for it. Upon hearing the ENTIRE story (as typed above), he
was clear we had an issue, but would solve this current eviction thing first. My
housemate’s case was dismissed, and my case was ruled in my favor. the new owner and his
representation exited the courtroom and ran up to us like “okay so do you wanna solve this
right now?” and I responded yes, do you? Do you have money for us? And they retreated.
Upon attempting to continue the conversation, his representaion advised the new owner to
tell the bailiff he was being “harassed”, so we were unable to speak and resolve this
The afternoon of July 17th, we received another court summons for August 8th, for wrongful
occupation of the property.
Since then, the new owners took us back to court for eviction, and we were made to vacate
the property come October 1st. Our representation advises us now is the time that we can
seek action to hopefully recoup fees from the original lawyer in 1999 (who has since been
disbarred.) Along with the damages that we've experienced this entire year through this
ordeal. If we're lucky, we might even be able to reclaim the title of the house.
- Ian Schlakman
- Madeline Hale
- Jennifer Kunze
- Ty Alston
Organizer and beneficiary
#1 fundraising platform
More people start fundraisers on GoFundMe than on any other platform. Learn more
In the rare case something isn’t right, we will work with you to determine if misuse occurred. Learn more
Expert advice, 24/7
Contact us with your questions and we’ll answer, day or night. Learn more