Landlord Karen Jones was sent to jail this past week to serve 20 days at the Baltimore City Detention Center.

Authorities said her crime — illegally evicting a renter — is becoming increasingly common this year as economic conditions spiral downward and tenants find themselves unable to make ends meet.

In the past year, Baltimore Housing has prosecuted 135 illegal evictions and unlawful cutoffs of essential services cases — a 75 percent increase from the previous year in Baltimore City.

“It’s the economy,” said Jason Hessler, acting director of Baltimore Housing’s Code Enforcement Legal Section.

“We saw things really pick up around October of last year. It’s not that we’re cracking down on cases; rather, there are more and more occurring. These cases are driven by the public.”

In Jones’ case, Baltimore City District Judge Devy Patterson Russell sentenced her to 20 days in jail and ordered her to pay a $500 fine after the landlord was convicted of two counts of illegal eviction.

Hessler said it was the longest sentence he can recall in an eviction case.

“It’s very rare,” he said. “It’s not very common for landlords to go to jail.”

Jones’ tenant lost all of her belongings and became homeless, when on two separate occasions, Jones changed the locks to her property to prevent her tenant from getting into her apartment in the Harlem Park neighborhood, after the tenant failed to pay her bills, prosecutors said.

Such an action is illegal, Hessler said.

Landlords who seek to evict renters must do so legally by getting the eviction ordered by the courts and using a Baltimore City sheriff to evict the tenant.

“Evictions must go through the court,” he said. “There are no self-help evictions in Baltimore.”

Illegal evictions are criminal misdemeanors punishable by up to 10 days in jail and a $500 fine for each count.