Lawmakers respond to ground-rent ruling

Lawmakers in Annapolis moved Monday night to take another look at Maryland's arcane ground-rent system only days after the state's highest court invalidated a key element of sweeping reforms enacted seven years ago.

Emergency ground-rent bills were introduced in both House and Senate to, as one sponsor put it, "resurrect" some of the provisions of the law declared unconstitutional Wednesday by the Court of Appeals. 

Since Colonial times, many homes in Baltimore and around the state sit on ground that is owned by a separate leaseholder. Homeowners on those properties are legally required to pay rent, usually twice a year, to the holder of the ground rent. Until 2007, ground-rent owners seeking to collect unpaid rents could seize homes through "ejectment," sell them and keep all the money, regardless of the amount owed.

The General Assembly barred such "ejectments" in 2007, requiring ground-rent holders to foreclose instead on the delinquent property if the debt remains unsatisfied. But the court ruled that ground-rent holders had a vested right to seize the property and foreclosure was an inadequate substitute.

A sponsor said the bills were filed to meet legislative procedural deadlines, as lawmakers look to respond promptly to the court ruling.

"It's a vehicle to do whatever we can to give relief to people who are in danger of losing their homes," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, who as chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committtee helped craft the overturned reform legislation.  Among other things, the bill seeks to reinstate caps on attorney's fees, title work and other charges that can be levied against homeowners if a ground-rent holder moves to evict them, said Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat.

A parallel measure has been introduced in the House by Dels. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore city Democrat and Doyle L. Niemann, a Prince George's County Democrat.


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