Annapolis, MD — Moments ago, the Maryland House of Delegates unanimously passed legislation that would remove water bills from the tax sale process for residential properties and places of worship in Baltimore City. The Water Taxpayer Protection Act, sponsored by Delegate Nick Mosby (D 40), will be a permanent protection for thousands of Baltimore families who face threats of tax sale over water bills each year.
The legislation was cosponsored by every member of the Baltimore City House Delegation, and passed unanimously in the Baltimore City House Delegation. It now moves to the State Senate for passage. The legislation was cross-filed by Senator Mary Washington (D 43), and was unanimously supported by the Baltimore City Senate Delegation. The Senate cross-file, SB 96, is scheduled for second reader today as well, and is anticipated to overwhelmingly pass in the coming days.
“I am proud to pass the Water Taxpayer Protection Act for the thousands of Baltimoreans who have faced the threat of tax sale due to water bills, said Delegate Nick Mosby, 40th District. It’s overdue that we end this predatory and dysfunctional system that allows residents to lose their homes and places of worship over these often unaffordable and incorrect water bills.”
In 2017, Mayor Catherine Pugh declared that homeowner-occupied properties with exclusively outstanding water bills would be added to the tax sale list for the 2018 tax sale. In 2018, the Maryland General Assembly passed a one-year moratorium, on adding homeowner or renter-occupied properties to the 2019 tax sale list, again if they had exclusively outstanding water bills. While these measures were good first steps, the Water Taxpayer Protection Act as passed by the House of Delegates eliminates the ability for the City to use water bills to send any home or place of worship to tax sale.
“The unanimous passage of the Water Taxpayer Protection Act in the House of Delegates in another critical step toward our goal of ensuring that nobody in Baltimore loses their home or place of worship for unaffordable or incorrect water bills,” said Rianna Eckel, Senior Maryland Organizer, Food & Water Watch. “We applaud the work of Delegate Mosby, and urge the Senate to pass the legislation to ensure it becomes law. This bill will push Baltimore’s Department of Public Works to reevaluate their overuse of tax sale as a collection method, and move to a more humane practice.”
Before any protections were in place, in 2017, a total of 10,839 homes were sent to tax sale and legal advocates estimate that between 70 to 80 percent of tax sales involve water bills. Baltimore City advises that as of last month, there are approximately 18,189 residential properties, owner- and nonowner-occupied, as well as 108 churches with an unpaid water and sewer obligation of at least $750, which has been outstanding for at least 270 days.
“The practice of selling homes and places of worship over our most fundamental human necessity, water, is simply immoral and predominantly impacts communities of color in Baltimore,” said Brooke Harper, Political Action Chair of the NAACP Maryland. “Thanks to the leadership of Delegate Mosby, we are closer to ending this practice for good. Now we call on the State Senate to follow suit and protect our right to water.”