Renter Protection Bill Passes

OCEAN CITY — A bill that would afford protections to renters in the resort area and across Maryland when their landlords foreclose on their property breezed through the House and Senate last week and now awaits approval by the governor.

With the foreclosure crisis not showing any real signs of abating, many renters in Ocean City and throughout the state have literally found themselves left out in the cold, but a bill introduced in the General Assembly by Sen. Jim Mathias (D-38) could create some protections for renters. Boiled down to its simplest terms, the bill could allow renters to pay portions of utility bills to maintain or restore services when the properties go into foreclosure.

Mathias, along with Sen. Thomas Middleton (D-28), introduced the bill which would require the Public Service Commission (PSC) to convene a workgroup to study and make recommendations on developing a mechanism to allow tenants to continue to make payments to keep their utilities on when their landlords foreclose on their properties. While the legislation, if approved, would apply in all areas of Maryland, Mathias said the catalyst for the bill was 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 several years who rented a home in a multi-family property with his wife and two children. The family paid rent every two weeks and was always current with their rent and utility bills. 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.”

Last week, the Senate approved the tenant protection bill by a vote of 44-0 and the House followed suit with a 131-7 vote, sending the legislation to the governor for approval. The PSC will study the issue and make recommendations for a mechanism to allow renters to pay their own utility bills when a landlord forecloses.

“I’m very please this legislation was approved,” said Mathias. “This is very important in our area because a large percentage of our workforce are renters and this appears to be happening more and more frequently.”