PBRC advocates for Baltimore City homeowners at risk for tax sale

At an annual auction held in May, the Baltimore City government sells City residents’ delinquent property tax liens to the highest bidders, generally private investors. The ultimate consequence for many of the homeowners whose liens are sold is foreclosure, and the loss of their equity in the home. With the economic devastation wrought by the pandemic, PBRC has been actively advocating in Baltimore to prevent additional harm to City residents that would result from holding the tax sale as usual this year. Together with our fellow tax sale advocates from Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and Fight Blight BMore, PBRC’s Home Preservation Project Director Allison Harris spoke at a press conference on March 22nd at City Hall, hosted by City Councilmember Odette Ramos, to call on the Mayor to uphold his commitment to protecting homeowners from tax sale this year and to reforming the system in the long term.  As the backdrop, the advocates created a “house with no walls” as a demonstration of how the City’s tax sale system takes houses from longtime homeowners and leaves them with nothing but a few possessions.

This year's tax sale list includes nearly 4,000 owner-occupied properties, which are homes in which the owner resides. These homeowners can lose their homes for as little as $750 in unpaid tax bills. The tax bills for these properties were due last July, at the height of the pandemic. During the pandemic, as business slowed and ground to a halt, City homeowners have experienced unemployment at massive levels, limiting their ability to pay off liens and remove their properties from tax sale. At both the press conference and in an op-ed published on March 25th by the Baltimore Sun, we asked Mayor Brandon Scott and the Director of Finance Henry Raymond to postpose the tax lien certificate sale currently scheduled for May 17, 2021; or, in the alternative, to withhold owner-occupied properties from the sale if it does move forward this year. Canceling or postponing the sale or withholding owner-occupied homes will prevent compounding economic harm that would otherwise result from this emergency – harm which would fall heaviest on low-income neighborhoods, seniors, and on communities of color in Baltimore – and help preserve homeownership for hundreds of Maryland families who are currently experiencing economic crisis during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and need time to recover financially.

The day of the press conference, Baltimore City homeowners began receiving the postcards we mailed a few days prior to each address classified as owner-occupied on the tax sale list published by the City.  PBRC’s Home Preservation Project began offering our annual pro bono tax sale prevention clinics on April 1, which are currently scheduled to run through the end of April for Baltimore City residents.  Homeowners facing tax sale can speak over the phone to a volunteer lawyer who provides information and advice on avoiding tax sale, applying for tax credits and other benefits that will put money back in their budgets, and helps connect them with additional legal and social services. For more information on our tax sale clinics, call our intake line at 443-703-3052.