A bill being discussed in the Maryland Senate could place accountability for the state of foreclosed properties on the owners – the banks.

The bill, sponsored by the Prince George’s County’s delegation, would give the County Council authority to collect a $75 registration fee each year from owners of abandoned foreclosed property in the county. The money collected would go into a fund to help maintain abandoned properties.

Residents and realtors alike have been complaining about how distressed properties have brought down the property value of homes. Both parties say neighborhoods are being destroyed because of it.

“The banks were not very cautious about how they were taking care of the assets they were backing with these loans,” Michael Cerrito, chair of the Legislative/Political Affairs Committee of the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, told the {AFRO.} “In many cases they’d shut off the utilities which would cause more damage to the property and it drove the price down. It made it harder for the average buyer to buy the house because the condition of the house was so bad.”

Despite the previous headway it has made on the foreclosure issue, Prince George’s continues to struggle with the menace. The county still leads the state with over 700 foreclosure properties for a rate of 1 in every 456 housing units. In comparison, Montgomery County has only 157 foreclosed properties, 1 in 2,325; Baltimore City has 140, 1 in 2,102; and Baltimore County 117; 1 in 2,804.Dorchester County rates second in the state with 1 in 1,036 housing units.

“We’re still dealing with a pressing economic crisis that we’re slowly coming out of,” said Councilman Mel Franklin, D-Dist. 9. “We’re still dealing with the effects of the foreclosure crisis that has particularly impacted Prince George’s County and the budget.”

Despite majority support for the proposed legislation, not all members of the council agree that this is the way to go on the issue. “That’s a touchy subject,” said Councilwoman Karen Toles, D-Dist. 7. “I do know that it’s a big issue and we have to attack it in some way, but I don’t know the best way to do that as of yet.”

This would be the second time county officials confronted the issue of abandoned properties. A law passed in 2009 requires foreclosed properties be registered with the county. Under CB-11-2009, debtors must register a property within five calendar days of filing an order or complaint to foreclose a residential property in the county. The debtor would be charged $50 for each day that the notice is not filed.

However, under the new law, misdemeanor charges could be filled on anyone who remains negligent. County council members would prefer that civil penalties be given instead of jail time.

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO