The General Assembly has passed legislation that would ban the city of Baltimore from placing liens against homes, churches and other properties over unpaid water bills.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Mary Washington, a Baltimore Democrat, passed the state Senate 47-0 on Friday. A companion bill sponsored by Del. Nick J. Mosby, also of Baltimore, passed the House of Delegates 138-0 in February.
Owner-occupied homes can go to tax sale if they have at least $750 in unpaid water bills that are nine months late. At tax sale, investors can buy that debt from the city — important revenue for a cash-strapped City Hall — and can foreclose if homeowners don’t pay.
Community advocates and church groups have called on the city to end the process, which can send about 1,000 properties a year to tax sale for water debt, including some churches, The Baltimore Sun has reported.
Baltimore has struggled to bill accurately for water use for years. In 2012, the city had to refund about $9 million after overcharging residential and business customers. It switched to a new billing system, but problems continued. Last year, for example, hundreds of customers received bills of more than $50,000, which city officials attributed to a software upgrade.