Fresh Water, Foul Sewage
Lawmakers approve one-year moratorium on homes going to tax sale for water bills
Advocates said the measure was stripped down after lobbying by Mayor Pugh
Above: Advocates and city officials battled over how far to go to protect Baltimore residents from having their homes sold by the city for overdue water bills.
After behind the scenes intervention by Mayor Catherine Pugh on water bill lien protection efforts, the Maryland General Assembly gave final approval to a bill introduced by Senator Barbara Robinson that advocates said was “disappointing,” but represented “an incremental” victory.
The process began last week with lawmakers effectively killing a bill introduced by Del. Mary Washington that would have permanently ended the practice of selling homes at tax sale for overdue water bills.
That measure had included churches, owner-occupied homes and rental properties.
According to The Real News, instead of Washington’s HB1409, the lawmakers passed Robinson’s SB1098, which was amended to:
• Place a year-long moratorium on auctioning off homes at tax sales. (Under Washington’s bill the ban would have been permanent.)
• Apply to renters as well as homeowners. It does not apply to churches, as HB1409 had.
• Protects only customers whose potential lien would have been solely the result of a water bill. (Advocates had opposed this restriction.)
• No longer requires a third party to review the city’s customer service and bill dispute resolution process. (Some were concerned this amendment was a potential step towards water system privatization.)
Budget constraints were one reason cited by the Pugh Administration to explain its opposition to making the change permanent, according to the Real News‘ Dharna Noor.
A representative of the mayor’s office said at a meeting of the city’s House delegation that bill could result in “an initial $13 million hit,” Noor said she was told by Molly Amster, an activist at Jews United for Justice.
In December, Pugh imposed a one-year moratorium on tax sales due to unpaid water bills, an administrative measure that applied only to owner-occupied homes.