Mathias Bill Would Protect Renters In Foreclosure Cases

OCEAN CITY — With the foreclosure crisis not showing any real signs of abating, many renters in the resort area and across Maryland have found themselves literally left out in the cold, but a bill introduced in the General Assembly could afford protections for tenants caught up in the predicament.

Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38), who represents Worcester County and the Lower Shore, introduced legislation this month that, if approved, would create some protections for renters caught up in the foreclosure crisis.

Boiled down to its simplest terms, the bill would allow renters to pay portions of utility bills to maintain or restore services when the property in which they live goes into foreclosure.

Mathias said last week the bill, if passed, would obviously apply in all areas of Maryland, although the catalyst for the legislation was a single recent incident in Ocean City.

Mathias related the story of a long-time friend who has worked in the restaurant industry in the resort for years who rented a home in a multi-family property with his wife and two children.

Mathias said the family paid rent every two weeks and was always current on their rent, which included bills for utilities. However, one night the family returned home and discovered the power had been turned off for the entire building because the property owner had gone into foreclosure unannounced and had not been paying the bills.

“When I heard that story, I found it to be outrageous,” Mathias said. “The property owner knowingly took their money for the utilities and never paid the bills before going into foreclosure. He basically left a hard-working family that was diligent with their rent and their bills out in the cold.”

To that end, Mathias, along with Sen. Thomas Middleton (D-28-Charles County), introduced Senate Bill 765, which, if passed, will provide some recourse for tenants caught up in similar situations by the foreclosure crisis. Among other things, the bill would authorize tenants to prevent the termination of utility services by paying the amount due on a monthly bill, or restore service by paying a percentage of the monthly utility bill based on the number of units.

“Once a landlord goes into arrears, the tenant will have the opportunity to make payments to maintain or restore their service,” said Mathias. “The utility companies like Delmarva Power are cooperative, but there isn’t a mechanism to do that now. Hopefully, this bill will provide that.”

Mathias said the catalyst for the bill is not an isolated incident.

“This is very important in our area,” he said. “A large percentage of our workforce is renters and this is happening more and more frequently with the reality of this foreclosure situation. It’s happening in Ocean City and all over the state.”