Annapolis, MD - The Maryland State House has passed HB 453 with a vote of 125-12. The bill would place a one year moratorium on localities selling houses at tax lien sales for unpaid water bills.
Across the U.S., localities are grappling with water service costs that are increasingly unaffordable for more and more of their residents. This problem becomes especially complex in this period of widening income inequality and reliance on regressive water billing practices, which cause low-income households to pay a disproportionate amount of their income on water bills. One study found that water rates are already unaffordable for nearly 12 percent of households in the United States.
Unaffordable water bills can lead to evictions and tax foreclosures. In some cities, like Baltimore, homeowners can see their unpaid water bills added as tax liens that can allow a city to seize and sell a person’s home over unpaid water bills.
“Passage of HB 453 is good news for water equity for all Marylanders,” said Delegate Mary Washington, District 43. “Placing a statewide moratorium on the sale of people's homes for unpaid water bills goes a long way toward protecting vulnerable people and their families as we continue the fight for water access and affordability.”
“We applaud the House for passing this legislation to protect homeowners from losing their homes because of unaffordable water service bills,” said Mitch Jones, Senior Policy Advocate for Food & Water Watch. “This moratorium gives the legislature time to further consider all of its options for addressing the growing water affordability crisis we face. We call on the Senate to pass HB 453 quickly.”
“We appreciate the leadership displayed by Delegate Washington and the House of Delegates in recognizing the need for a one year moratorium on water bills in tax sale,” said Dan Ellis, Executive Director of Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. “This action will protect Maryland residents as water utility companies correct problems that exist with billing systems and study the impact of including these properties in the tax sale. We are excited to work with the Senate to secure quick passage of this bill.”
“By placing a moratorium on tax sales for unpaid water bills, HB 453 is an important step towards stabilizing communities, preserving home equity in communities vulnerable to erroneous billing practices, and ending the use of foreclosures in water consumption,” said Komal Vaidya, Clinical Fellow, University of Baltimore School of Law Community Development Clinic.