An Update from the Legal Department Regarding Water Bills and the Tax Sale

By Christina Ochoa

Every year when spring arrives, the lawyers at St. Ambrose begin to receive many worried phone calls related to May’s tax sale in Baltimore City. A tax lien certificate can be sold for an unpaid water bill, unpaid property taxes, or an environmental control board citation. The attorneys here have represented clients in informal hearings about disputed water bills in order to help homeowners avoid the tax sale and straighten out their bill.

water bill christina
Evelyn Anderson (left), a client who was facing a $1,300 water bill and Staff Attorney Christina Ochoa (right)

 

This year, things got a bit tricky, because in October of 2016 when the city switched from quarterly billing to monthly billing, they also eliminated the hearing process. As advocates it has been a very difficult transition because we have homeowners with bills into the thousands of dollars who would like to meaningfully dispute their bill with an impartial third party, but no longer have any mechanism to do so.

In response to these changes, St. Ambrose has become very involved with trying to initiate change and also work with the city in different individual cases. City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young and Councilman Robert Stokes called for an investigative hearing to be held where the Department of Public Works was to address several different issues, including missing bills, the informal conference, and erroneous bills. Advocates from other organizations as well as Baltimore City homeowners and business owners offered testimony as to the experience they have had with very high water bills and the general disorganization of the Department of Public Works. We called on DPW to reinstate a hearing process to protect homeowners from potentially losing their homes over an erroneous water bill. Charlotte Clarke, an attorney at St. Ambrose, went into detail about a specific property where the bill was over $44,000 and expressed the clear necessity of a hearing process to address this type of problem.

As of yet, no changes have been implemented. The tax sale occurs every year in May and the deadline to pay in order to avoid tax sale is April 28, 2017, so we are hoping for some meaningful resolution prior to that time. Through our tax sale workgroup, we have invited the Director of Public Works, Rudy Chow, and all the members of the city council to meet with us to discuss the city’s next steps. Hopefully our local government and our Department of Public Works will accept our group’s invite and come up with a solution that protects our residents. In the meantime, our team will remain committed to serving Baltimore residents in many different affordable housing related cases, including water bill disputes.

If you, or someone you know, is in need of free legal advice or assistance regarding a water bill or tax sale notice, please don’t hesitate to call us: 410-366-8550 x249 or email legal@stambros.org.

Or visit one of these upcoming clinics: 17917657_1408357049184886_3061156531151684134_o

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Author: Carla Hinson

Housing, Baltimore, and also Brazil.

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