Maryland had the third highest foreclosure rate in the country in January, with one in every 543 homes touched by foreclosure filings, according to a monthly report released Thursday.

The increase in foreclosure activity – up 98 percent year-over-year to almost 4,400 filings – ran counter to the national trend, which saw foreclosure activity fall 18 percent from January 2013, according to data from real estate information firm RealtyTrac.The firm tracks default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions.

Maryland, which has seen year-over-year gains in foreclosure activity for 19 months in a row, ranked behind Florida and Nevada in the report.

Experts said the gains reflected banks starting to move more aggressively through a backlog of loans. Maryland’s judicial process, in combination with lawsuits against lenders, slowed foreclosure proceedings, they said.

“We’re not seeing a new wave of people who are unable to afford it suddenly. This is a backlog issue,” said Jonathan Benya, an Annapolis-based real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty.

In the Baltimore-Towson area, about 2,300 properties had foreclosure filings in January, up almost 120 percent from last year, according to RealtyTrac. Baltimore-Towson, where one in every 492 units had filings, was one of only four large metro areas in the country to report an increase.

The foreclosure market still represents a significant share of Baltimore City's housing market, said Ross Mackesey, sales manager for Long & Foster Greenspring in Lutherville. Of the 410 sales that closed in the city in January, about 130, or 32 percent, came from distressed properties – homes in foreclosure, bank-owned, or exchanged by short-sale, he said.

The foreclosure numbers suggest continued slow recovery of the market, said RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist.

“The sharp annual increases in some states shows that many states are not completely out of the woods when it comes to cleaning up the wreckage of the housing bust,” he said in a statement.

Secretary Raymond Skinner, of the state's Department of Housing & Community Development, said the state expects foreclosure activity to slow down in future months, pointing a 10 percent drop in activity compared to December. 

"We expect the annual growth rate of property foreclosures will continue to moderate over the coming months as lenders continue to deplete their inventory of seriously delinquent loans,” he said in a statement.