2024 Legislative Recap: Housing & Consumer

The Maryland General Assembly adjourned for the year on April 8th, passing several housing-related bills. Below is a selected list of housing and consumer bills that lawmakers passed during their 90-day session.  

Consumer  

HB622 – Prohibits a consumer reporting agency from including in a consumer report any record of a criminal proceeding in which the consumer was falsely accused, acquitted, or exonerated; in which a nolle prosequi was entered as to a charge concerning the consumer; or that did not result in a guilty verdict for the consumer (signed by Gov. Moore 5/9, takes effect October 1, 2024) 

SB760 – Gift Card Scams Prevention Act; establishes rules and procedures merchants must follow when selling gift cards in the State; requires a merchant that conducts online sales of gift cards to consumers in the State to register with the Office of the Attorney General as an online seller of gift cards (signed by Gov. Moore 5/9, takes effect October 1, 2024) 

Housing  

HB7/SB203 – Creates Housing Innovation Pilot Program; allows low or no-interest loans for local housing authorities (signed by Gov. Moore 4/25, takes effect July 1, 2024) 

HB16 Requires the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to maintain a website that any person may use to donate to the Homeowner Protection Program; requires local tax collectors to include a separate insert with property tax bills that encourages taxpayers to donate to HPP through the website (takes effect July 1, 2024) 

HB93/SB162 – Limits a tenant’s liability for rent to no more than 2 months after the date on which the tenant vacates a leased premises if a physician, counselor, therapist, or psychologist completes a form specifying the tenant has an intellectual or developmental disability or mental disorder (signed by Gov. Moore 4/25, takes effect October 1, 2024) 

HB139/SB171 – Requires landlords to accept financial assistance from federal Office of Home Energy Programs for utility costs a tenant is required to pay (signed by Gov. Moore 4/25, takes effect October 1, 2024) 

HB154– Authorizes the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to accept applications for the homeowners’ property tax credit submitted by a homeowner within three years after April 15 of the taxable year for which the credit is sought if the homeowner is enrolled in the Homeowner Protection Program (takes effect June 1, 2024) 

HB287/SB342 – Excludes the cash value of any qualified retirement savings plan or individual retirement accounts in the definition of assets for purposes of the Renters’ Property Tax Relief Program (takes effect June 1, 2024) 

HB693 – Renter’s Rights & Stabilization Act; establishes the Office of Tenants’ Rights; extends the period between granting judgment for possession in favor of a landlord and the execution of the warrant of restitution; establishes a tenant’s right of first refusal when the title to certain residential rental property is transferred; increases a certain surcharge assessed for summary ejectment, tenant holding over, and specified breach of lease cases to a maximum of $93 per case (signed by Gov. Moore 4/25, takes effect October 1, 2024) 

HB1117 – Generally establishes a landlord is deemed to warrant the rental dwelling fit for human habitation; establishes remedies if a landlord breaches the warranty of habitability; establishes additional remedies if a landlord fails to repair serious and dangerous defects (signed by Gov. Moore 4/25, takes effect October 1, 2024) 

SB19 – Requires the District Court, within 60 days after the final resolution of a failure to pay rent proceeding that did not result in a judgment of possession, to shield all related court records; prohibits with limited exceptions, a landlord from increasing rent solely because a judgment was entered against a tenant in a failure to pay rent action (signed by Gov. Moore 4/25, takes effect August 1, 2024) 

SB283 – Authorizes applicants for the homeowner property tax credits to attest to gross income on an application in lieu of providing an income tax return to the State Department of Assessments and Taxation under certain circumstances (Gov. Moore signed 4/9, takes effect June 1, 2024) 

Indie Soul Magazine Podcast: The Link Between Structural Racism, and the Justice System, Featuring Aja’ Mallory

In the third installment of how structural racism links with the justice system, MVLS’ Senior Staff Attorney, Aja’ Mallory was recently featured on the Indie Soul Magazine Podcast. This is an incredibly in-depth and insightful interview with an historical focus of how these systems were erected and how they continue to be a barrier in communities of color.

MVLS Featured in the Baltimore Banner, “Time to bridge home valuation biases affecting Black homeowners”

Did you know, despite numerous legal obstacles and the longstanding history of racism, many families of color still managed to purchase homes, creating the largest source of wealth for their families? Says, MVLS Senior Consumer Attorney, Aja’ Mallory. However, homeownership has its challenges, which often intensify when determining how the government and commercial housing industry value Black-owned homes. These homeowners often face inflated property tax assessments and the undervaluing of their homes when it’s time to sell or refinance.

Baltimore City Residents Pay Higher Water, Sewer Bills Than County Residents | Food & Water Watch

It may come as a surprise to some, and to others an expectation as Baltimore City residents continue to deal with the ups and downs of water related bills. Housing and Consumer staff attorney, Courtland Merkel was quoted in the latest by Food and Water Watch. ““Baltimoreans have always bore the brunt of funding the water system of the region, the Task Force’s Consultants again shows what residents have always known”. Read the full excerpt using the button below.

“New federal regulation empowers human trafficking survivors with credit repair support” Article Published by The AFRO-American Newspaper

Outstanding debts and poor credit can be a major roadblock for human trafficking survivors. However, a new process from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau enables survivors to address negative credit records and repair their credit scores. Check out this new article in The Afro from MVLS attorney Heather Heiman to learn more!

Maryland 2023 Legislative Changes to Housing & Consumer Law

As this year’s legislative season is wrapping up, it’s time to highlight several MVLS backed bills that successfully made it through both houses and onto the Governor’s desk! Some of these bills have been several years in the making and we are proud to finally see their positive effects throughout our community.

Senate Bill 351 establishes a program in the Maryland Legal Services Corporation that provides affordable life estates, wills, and estate planning for low-income seniors. The bill requires the Governor to appropriate $500,000 in the annual budget for the program. Eligible Maryland residents must be at least 60 years of age with a combined family income not exceeding 50% of the State median. Senate Bill 351 affords low-income Marylander’s the means to access advanced planning services, thereby aiding families in maintaining their generational wealth.

House Bill 0042 creates an automatic bank account exemption of $500 for residents facing wage garnishment in debt collection cases. Opposition to this bill was largely from banks, as the new automatic exemption disrupts the current garnishment process. Wage garnishment is one of the main concerns we hear from clients coming through the MVLS Consumer Protection Clinic in Baltimore City District Court. Many of these clients are either on fixed incomes or are supporting families with an already strained debt to income ratio. Prior to the passing of HB 0042, clients facing garnishment had little to no financial security net, the risk to these clients’ financial and housing status were severe. They will now at least have access to a secure $500 to use for familial and household needs.

House Bill 843 creates a Baltimore Regional Water Governance Task Force to look at the prospect of creating a regional water system.  MVLS, along with twenty other organizations including UB School of Law, NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and Food & Water Watch, signed off on a letter to officials suggesting amendments to the bill. Although the amendments were not adopted, MVLS and others are still pushing for the need for racial and economic equity impact assessments, the requirement of public hearings, and the inclusion of local labor and low-income community member representation on the task force.

House Bill 0092 sets forth a requirement for ground rent holders to register ground leases with the State Department of Assessments and Taxation. The ground leases are to be posted on the State Department’s website; lease holders who fail to register will be barred from collecting rent, late fees, interest, and any other expenses related to ground rent. This new registration provision provides transparency into a historically confusing process that was often used to take advantage of low-income Maryland residents. This bill provides an added layer of protection for some of our most vulnerable populations throughout the state.

Overall, it was quite a successful legislative season on the housing and consumer front. With the passage of the bills highlighted above, Maryland homeowners and consumers will have expanded access to estate planning services, more financial protections against garnishment, have an active voice in the regulation of their water, and have transparency when looking into properties that may have ground rent attachments. This year, the legislature listened to their constituents and the organizations that aid and assist them, and they made marked steps toward the accessibility and equity that Marylanders deserve. We still have a long way to go but these developments show that course correction efforts are underway, and we are heading in the right direction.

MVLS Launches Consumer Hotline

The Consumer Protection Project (CPP) aids Maryland consumers who have been sued by creditors in District Court collection actions, MVLS has recently launched a hotline (443-451-4083) to support Marylanders. CPP volunteer attorneys and MVLS staff will provide brief advice on defending against debt buyers and other consumer lawsuits such as car repossessions and bail bonds.
 
MVLS volunteer attorneys will work with consumers to discuss possible defenses, negotiate settlement agreements with creditors, and help file a Notice of Intention to Defend if appropriate. The hotline can assist with scenarios like: 
 
  • Constant calls from debt collectors
  • Management of large hospital bills
  • Landlord requests to pay for excessive damage, interests, and other fees
  • Victims of identity theft.
  • Received debt collection calls for a debt you did not incur
  • Harassment from debt collectors
  • Co-signed on a car loan and held responsible for the unpaid balance
  • Income garnishment
  • Large amount of credit card debt
  • Unpaid utility bills
  • Bail bonds contracts
  • Signed for someone on an apartment rental or a student loan and unsure if they are making payments.
  • Received a payday loan.
  • Car repossession
  • Questions about a debt
 If you or someone you know, is experiencing any of these issues, please call the MVLS Consumer Protection Project Hotline at 443-451-4083.

MVLS Volunteer Helps Maryland Woman Clear Debts

Darlene* has roots in Maryland, but lived and worked in other states. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012. In 2014, she moved back to the Eastern Shore to be with family. Darlene’s debts totaled more than $40,000, and included student loans. Darlene’s income from food stamps and Temporary Disability Assistance simply could not stretch enough for her to make payments on debts she incurred while she was still working.

In 2015, she sought help from an attorney who volunteers with MVLS. MVLS provides our volunteers with bankruptcy software, and for all types of cases volunteers receive malpractice insurance, mentorship if desired, client screening, and staff support. The attorney agreed to represent Darlene pro bono if she went through our intake. We referred her back, and he was able to help her discharge all her loans through chapter 7 bankruptcy and successfully helped her get a disability exemption for her student loans.

Darlene needed relief from her financial troubles so she could focus on her health. When MVLS’ low-income clients are able to move past their legal issues, it frees them up to focus on employment, housing, child care and more. Without help from volunteer attorneys, almost all MVLS clients would go unrepresented.