Ending Tax Sales over Water Bills
Homeownership and renting a home can be expensive. Rent in Maryland for a 2 bedroom apartment is approximately $1,425 compared to the national average of $1,230. On average, renters and homeowners in Baltimore County spend approximately $139.68 a month on utilities. In Baltimore City, renters and homeowners spend approximately $380.69 and can run the risk of losing their home due to an unpaid water bill. No one should lose their home for a past-due water bill.
Senate Bill 96, The Water Taxpayer Protection Act of 2019, would make permanent, a current law that prohibits foreclosure tax sales for homes in the city with delinquent water bills. The General Assembly passed a bill last session that has been in place since Oct. 1st, 2018, but expires at the end of this year. A separate moratorium, put in place by Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, has stopped sending owner-occupied property to tax sale lists. No property has been foreclosed due only to water liens in the past three years.
The bill was filed by Sen. Mary Washington and supported by nearly the entire city delegation in the General Assembly. The bill would also stop delinquent water bills from contributing to a home or church’s eligibility for tax sale when combined with other past-due bills. Supporters of the bill say the problems with billing and increasing water rates in the city disproportionately affect black, low-income and older city residents.
Ending the ability for tax sales over water bills is a good first step; however, this doesn’t fix the hurt that those living in poverty feel since water cost in the city has increased and will be increasing by 10% each year for the next 3 years. It further incentivizes landlords to not invest in other water savings measures like low flush toilets, because they know their property won’t be taken away.