Please read on for recent legislative developments. 
Additionally, we invite you to take one of the available  foreclosure and
consumer protection cases listed below. 
_____________________________________________________________________________________

AVAILABLE CASES

We hope you'll consider accepting one of these cases.
 

URGENT!
 
Anne Arundel Foreclosure 16-0119644
**Mediation is scheduled for May 27th, 2016 at 12:30 pm in Annapolis**
Client is 63 years old and had a high paying job with the federal government, but fell behind on her mortgage when her position was cut in 2013. She has since struggled to find work paying enough to catch up on the mortgage; she is currently working but her income is only about $1,600 per month. She owes approximately $248,000 on her mortgage and the monthly payment is currently about $1,350 per month. Her servicer is Cenlar. She hopes to stay in the home, and is seeking an attorney to attend mediation and help her determine if she can actually keep the home.

FORECLOSURE
 
Anne Arundel Foreclosure 15-0116264
Client is 74 years old and lives alone. Currently, his only income is Social Security, which is about $1,900 per month. He has a reverse mortgage from Financial Freedom, who now claims that they paid property taxes on his behalf and that the client has failed to repay them. Client believes they are charging him for the 2009/2010 tax year, and attached copies of checks he wrote to the county in order to pay those taxes. Financial Freedom filed a foreclosure case on March 16, with a preliminary loss mitigation affidavit. No final loss mitigation affidavit has been filed at this time. Client is seeking an attorney to represent him in the foreclosure case and try to negotiate with Financial Freedom to avoid foreclosure.
 
Frederick County Foreclosure 16-0117182
Client was forced to retire early in 2014 due to a disability. She recently began receiving Social Security Disability and also gets a monthly pension amount for a total monthly income of approximately $2,600. She likely qualifies for a modification, but is facing a hurdle--there is a lien on the property from a judgment entered against her in 2012. The creditor is Lendmark Financial, and the lien is about $6,000. Client filed bankruptcy in 2012 and client states the Lendmark debt was included in the discharge. Client is seeking an attorney to help her clear up the lien issue so that she can take the next steps to get a modficiation. If she does not deal with the lien soon, her lender will initiate foreclosure proceedings.
 
Worcester Foreclosure 16-0116568
Client fell behind on her mortgage after her husband passed away in 2012. She was out of work for a long period of time, but recently began working again and also found a roommate to move in and help with bills.  Her servicer is Bayview, and she owes approximately $119,000, on the home that is assessed at $149,000. Bayview filed a foreclosure action on March 16, 2016, and client received the Final Loss Mitigation Affidavit on April 18. Client does not yet have a mediation date, but is seeking an attorney to represent her in the foreclosure action and to help her determine whether her new income is enough to keep the home.
 
Baltimore City Foreclosure 16-0119565
Client's husband passed away in April 2015. Wells Fargo has refused to let her assume the reverse mortgage, even though she should be eligible to assume and has complied with all of their requests throughout this process. Their attorneys opened an Estate without her knowledge in order to proceed with foreclosure. The client has taken concrete steps to help her own situation, but is at a point where she needs assistance to try and keep the home. She is very proactive in her case. An Order to Docket suit was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against client's late husband on February 12, 2016. No auction date has been set at this time.
 
Baltimore County Foreclosure 16-0116614
Client fell behind on her mortgage in the fall of 2015, and has been seeking to refinance or modify and get her ex-husband off of the mortgage long before the default. Her ex-husband has already signed a quit-claim deed (filed with land records), and is willing to cooperate with anything needed to transfer the loan to client's name only. Client is the sole caretaker for her disabled adult child, and has had numerous wheelchair accessibility modifications made to the home for her child. For that reason, it is important to the client to remain in the home. She is seeking an attorney's help to modify the mortgage and take her ex-husband off of the note.


TAX SALE
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0119295
Client's home was sold at tax sale in 2014, and judgment was recently entered in the foreclosure case in favor of the purchaser. Client is seeking assistance to get any surplus bid amounts available to her (if any), and to negotiate with the purchaser for some sort of "Cash for Keys" agreement. Client would prefer to work with an attorney located in Baltimore City, as she does not have reliable transportation outside of the City.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0118693
Client is a single mother with three children living on an income of less than $1,000 per month.  She owns her home, and does not have a mortgage.  Client is behind on her property taxes and also has a high water bill and environmental lien.  She also has a water shutoff notice for March 14, 2016, but the water has not been shut off yet.  Client qualifies for the Homeowners and Homestead tax credit, as well as various water discounts, but has not applied for them yet.  Client is seeking assistance in addressing her water bill, specifically to request a leak check and informal conference with the City, and help exploring her options to pay her bills and keep the home.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0117671
Client is living in the home that was awarded to her in her 2014 divorce, with an income of approximately $1,200 a month.  However, a deed transferring ownership from her ex-husband to the client was never recorded, so the client never received any of the delinquent property tax notices or the notice of tax sale on the property.  The property went to tax sale in 2015, and the purchaser filed a case in December 2015.  Client estimates the amount to redeem is about $8,700.  Client has filed for contempt in her divorce case, and believes she can get the funds necessary to redeem the property.  She is seeking legal assistance to help her redeem the property.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0118479
Client lives alone in his home with a monthly income of $1,060.  He and his wife divorced in 2002, and his ex-wife needs to be taken off of the deed. Client currently owes $2,452.96 in taxes.  The City sent him a check for over payment of his 2013-2014 taxes in the amount of $958.35, but the check is made out to client and his ex-wife.  Client plans on sending the check back in order to apply the funds to his current taxes, but needs help with a plan to pay the rest of the overdue taxes, and also needs a deed change in order to take his ex-wife off the deed.
 
Balitmore City Tax Sale 16-0119013
Client has extremely high usage on his water bill.  His bill is over $3,000, with one quarter's bill accounting for at least half of that amount.  He has talked to DPW regarding the bill, and they have told him they believe the leak is on his side of the meter and therefore he must fix the leak before he can get an adjustment on his bill. Client owns the home but has a mortgage; it is unclear whether he is behind on the loan.  Client is very low income, and is seeking an assistance to try and find a way to repair whatever leaks there may be, and get his water bill adjusted so that he can keep the home.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0118830
Client's property went to tax sale in 2014, and she just received a final notice from the investor informing the client that a foreclosure case would be filed if she did not redeem the property.  The client also has a mortgage on the property, but she has received no communication whatsoever from her mortgage company in years, and therefore does not know the current loan balance. There are five people in her household, and the combined monthly income is approximately $2,300. The client is seeking other assistance with raising the money necessary to redeem, but is seeking an attorney to represent her against the investor to make sure the fees and amounts charged by the investor are valid, and that the investor follows the law in conducting the foreclosure, should it progress to that point.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0118872
Client and her mother bought their home in 1978 as joint tenants. Her mother passed away in 2004, and client now lives in the home with her adult son.  Their combined monthly income is $1,825 per month.  The property went to tax sale in 2013, and the purchaser filed a case in December 2014. The purchaser requested judgment on April 1, 2016.  Client is unsure of the lien amount from the 2013 tax sale, but she owes almost $5,000 in subsequent property taxes, and her water bill is approximately $15,000.  There is likely a leak in the property.  Given all the issues and the amount of money it would take to redeem the property, the client does not want to keep the property and is already planning to move into senior housing.  Client seeks an attorney to review the court documents and make sure the purchaser is entitled to judgment, and help her claim any surplus funds after judgment is entered, if available.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0118741
Client and her husband are over 70 years old, and have an adult child and minor grandchild living in the home with them.  The household combined monthly income is approximately $1,800 per month. There is no mortgage on the property.  Clients seem to have a large water leak on their property, which has resulted in a water bill of almost $10,000.  Their water bill history shows a number of large spikes in usage in the past that caused the bill to skyrocket during certain quarters.  Clients have had an informal water conference in the past, but a billing adjustment was denied because the clients couldn't show that the leak had been fixed. Clients to not believe the leak is inside the home, so if there is a leak it is most likely an underground leak.  Clients are seeking an attorney to help them find ways to get the leak fixed, and then approach the Department of Public Works to get an appropriate reduction.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0119338
Client is on the tax sale list for unpaid property bills totaling over $6,000. He owes about $1,500 in property taxes, $1,700 for water, and the rest is most likely environmental citations. Client is not the record owner of the property; his parents' names are still on the deed. There is no mortgage on the property. Client is seeking an attorney to help him get off the tax sale list, or redeem from tax sale. If he is able to redeem the property, he will need to open an estate and execute a deed change so that he can qualify for property tax credits and water bill discounts.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0119339
Client's home went to tax sale in 2014 for unpaid property taxes of approximately $3,000. She was not able to redeem, and in February 2016, the purchaser filed a foreclosure case. The client's property is still in the name of her deceased mother, and so she is not currently eligible for property tax credits or water discounts. She has a monthly income of $2,900, and wants to try and redeem the property. She is seeking an attorney to represent her in the court case, make sure the purchaser is charging valid fees, and help her with a plan to redeem.
 
Baltimore City Tax Sale 16-0118859
Client is in danger of going to tax sale because of a high water bill and environmental citations.  The water bill is currently $2,700, and the environmental citations are approximately $1,245. It seems as though there is abnormally high water usage, as the last quarter's bill was almost $700. Client's deceased mother is the record owner of the property, but he lives there alone on an income of $1,500 per month.  There is a mortgage on the property and the current balance is $65,000.  The property is assessed at $95,000. Client has already opened an estate and was appointed PR; his siblings have disclaimed their interest in the property.  Client is seeking assistance to address his high water bill and environmental citations in order to get out of tax sale.

If you are interested in taking one of these cases or learning more please contact Ellyn Riedl .
_____________________________________________________________________________________
MVLS SUCCESSES IN ANNAPOLIS FOR 2016
 
MVLS testified in support of the following bills during the 2016 legislative session:
 

SB 771/HB 1491 - Third Party Debt Buyers 

The bills protect Maryland Consumers by prohibiting collection of debts pasted the statute of limitation. Debt collectors are also required to follow the rules of evidence in small claims court. This will prevent debt collectors from getting judgments against Maryland Consumers without adequate proof of a witness. Finally, the bill ensures that making a payment after the statute of limitations has run will not restart that limitations period. This is especially important for the clients MVLS assists at our clinic in the Baltimore City District Court.

MVLS testified at the request of Attorney General Brian Frosh. The bills were sponsored by President Miller and Speaker Busch. The bills were supported by a strong coalition of consumer advocates, including MCRC. We thank the Attorney General and everyone else involved for their great work on these bills.

SB 322/HB 378 - Homeowners Tax Credit 
 
The Homeowner's Property Tax Credit is an incredibly underutilized credit offered by the state to assist low-income homeowners with their property taxes. 83% of the clients MVLS saw at our property tax clinics in 2015 were eligible for, but not receiving the credit. The credit is one way we prevent homeowners from losing their homes through tax sale. 

The new legislation will require the Comptroller and the State Department of Assessments and Taxation to work together to ensure that homeowners eligible for the tax credit are made aware of it.  MVLS testified at the request of Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Jimmy Tarlauw We thank them for their great work to help Maryland homeowners.
________________________________________________________________________________________________ 
MARYLAND CONSUMER RIGHTS COALITION UPDATE
At the end of the 2016 legislative session, MCRC provided a legislative update on victories for Maryland Consumers:

Legislative Victories
Higher Education
  • For Profit Schools HB741/SB427
This legislation will create stronger consumer protections and provide greater transparency for the 30,000 students attending for-profit and private career schools in Maryland. MCRC ' s research found that these schools had tended to cost more, lead to higher debt and loans for students, and have lower completion and employment rates. Read our report and a Washington Post article about the legislation. The legislation creates a Guaranty Fund for students attending for profit schools and states that students at for-profit and private career schools can receive a full refund in the event of a school closure, receive refunds of tuition and fees if the school does not perform its contract faithfully. The legislation streamlines the process for providing a refund. The legislation also prohibits schools from enrolling students if completion of the program does not meet the state licensing and certification requirements or if the student cannot receive licensure or certification in the program. Finally, the legislation increase transparency by requiring schools to post the net price calculator (to determine costs) in a conspicuous on its website and to provide students with the CFPB ' s Financial Aid Shopping sheet. Many thanks to the leadership of the bills' sponsors Senator Paul Pinsky and Delegate Dana Stein for championing this important legislation.
  • Income Tax Subtraction-College Savings Plans HB335
This bill will create an income tax subtraction for contributions to college savings accounts in Maryland. With the rising cost of tuition, encouraging students and families to plan ahead for expensive degrees and training programs is becoming increasingly critical. This offer support to future students and the families of students saving money for higher education in the form of a income tax subtraction. Thanks to  Delegate Brooke Lierman for her leadership on this effort.

Homeownership and Affordable Housing
  • Rental Property Tax Relief Credit -HB340
This legislation increases the property tax relief an renter can receive from $750 to $1000 for the Renters Property Tax Relief Program. The legislation also changes in terms of what is excluded when calculating the relief and what percentage is taxed. In 2016, the legislation will provide an estimated $302 in additional relief to more than 8,900 renters. Thanks to  Delegate Jimmy Tarlau for his leadership on this critical issue-particularly important as more working families are spending more than 30% of their budget to rent a house or apartment.

Affordable Auto Insurance

The high cost of auto insurance drives many consumers out of the market and leads to 15% of Maryland drivers who are on the roads without insurance. Maryland ' s limited liability insurance is 30/60 which is one of the more expensive in the region. In addition, the use of non driving factors such as zip code, education, marital status, homeownership status, and occupation increase the costs of car insurance for drivers who live in certain zip codes or are single or widowed. This year, two innovative pieces of legislation passed which will reduce the costs of insurance for low-income drivers. Thanks to the bill sponsors, Senator Thomas (Mac) Middleton and Delegate Bill Frick for their leadership and commitment to reducing the burden of high-priced car insurance for low-income drivers.
  • Personal Injury Protection-SB784/HB900
Maryland is one of the few states that mandates that drivers buy full or limited  personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. This legislation will allow low-income drivers who have limited liability coverage to waive PIP coverage. Low-income drivers in Baltimore City who waive PIP are likely to save between $213-$527 per year.
  • Program to Incentivize Insurance SB888/HB912
This legislation creates an innovative auto insurance amnesty program. The program creates a 90 day period where MVA must (1) waive 80% of a vehicle owner's delinquent uninsured vehicle penalties that became delinquent before January 1, 2014, and (2) require those vehicle owners to purchase and maintain the required security for their vehicles. This legislation removes one of the economic barriers to purchasing car insurance once the insurance has lapsed. Traditionally once insurance has lapsed, a driver would have to pay the fines and then pay the cost for new insurance (which is higher due to the gap in coverage). 

These bills are important first steps in reducing the high costs of auto insurance in Maryland. We look forward to working with the bill sponsors to find additional ways to reduce the cost of insurance in Maryland.

Other Consumer Protections
  • Structured Settlements-HB535/SB734
The bill creates important new safeguards for injured Marylanders who face possible exploitation when offered immediate cash in exchange for a stream of payments obtained through the settlement of a personal injury lawsuit.The legislation requires that victims receive independent advice on whether a proposed transfer is in their best interests; requires that courts find that the transfer is in the best interest of the injured person, taking into account the welfare of dependents, and that the financial terms are fair and reasonable; requires that applications for transfers be filed in the circuit court in the county in which the injured person resides; creates a new registration requirement for factoring companies, and authorizes the Office of the Attorney General to discipline companies engaging in prohibited practices such as making gifts or extending loans to entice customers; offering referral fees; or using harassing marketing. Thanks to  Attorney General Frosh for his leadership on this critical issue.
  • Senior Citizens Operating Fund HB262
This legislation increases the amount of funding required to be included in the annual State budget for the Senior Citizen Activities Center Operating Fund to $750,000 and requires that $400,000 of the Fund be distributed to counties based on each county's share of the senior citizen population. The legislation also requires that $250,000 of the Fund be distributed to distressed counties in a specified manner. This legislation helps to ensure adequate funding for senior centers throughout the state and ensures appropriate focus on those centers serving low-income older adults. Many thanks to bill sponsor  Delegate Mary Washington for her commitment to older adults and the institutions that serve their needs.
  • Non-disparagement Clauses -HB 0131
This legislation prohibits the use of non disparagement clauses in consumer contracts. Many companies are including these types of provisions in their terms of services or in other provisions of consumer contracts. The clauses are intended to prevent a customer  from leaving a critical review, especially in an online forum or online review site, such as  www.amazon.com . Thanks to  Delegate Jeff Waldstreicher for his leadership on this issue.


Learn more about the great work being done by the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition

___________________________________________________________________________________________________
ATTORNEY GENERAL UPDATE

At the close of the legislative session, the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's Office provided an update about the bills sponsored or supported:

Attorney General's Priority Bills:
  • SB 734/HB 535 - Structured settlements (see above)
  • SB 771/HB 1491 - Third Party Debt Buyers (see above) 
  • HB 1450/SB 471 - Debt Settlement Services Sunset Repeal (see above)
  • HB 1448/SB 986 - Home Builder Registration Fees 
These bills increase the registration fees paid by home builders and home builder sales representatives in order to close a deficit in the Home Builder Registration Fund, which is intended to support the Division's Home Builder Registration Program.
 
The Division supported the following bills that passed:
  • HB 131 - Nondisparagement Clauses in Consumer Contracts (see above)
  • HB 190/SB 508  - Civil Penalties for Shoplifting and Employee Theft - Repeal 
These bills would have repealed statutory provisions allowing a merchant to demand civil penalties from an individual accused of shoplifting. The Senate bill was amended to, instead of repeal, provide procedural protections for the individual accused of shoplifting.
  • HB 525/SB 730 - Vehicle Laws - Manufacturers and Dealers
This bill establishes that a motor vehicle manufacturer may not prohibit a vehicle dealer from, or take any adverse action against a dealer for, providing (1) written notice to a person on safety-related recall matters; (2) a copy of a technical service bulletin under specified circumstances; or (3) written notice to a person identifying www.safercar.gov as an information source. In addition, the bill requires a dealer to be compensated under specified circumstances for holding vehicles on a lot under a stop sale directive. A provision expressly authorizing the sale of a vehicle subject to a recall that has not been fixed was removed after opposition from consumer advocates.
  • HB 718  - Consumer Protection - Asset Recovery for Exploited Seniors Act
T his bill authorizes the Consumer Protection Division to bring a civil action for damages against a person who violates the State's prohibitions on exploitation of a vulnerable adult on behalf of a victim of the offense or, if the victim is deceased, the victim's estate.
  • HB 741/SB 427 - Higher Education - Institutions of Postsecondary Education - Consumer Protection Provisions (see above)
Many thanks to the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division for providing bill summaries. Learn more about the work of the Consumer Protection Division.

For further questions on any information in this email, please contact:

Amy Hennen

Managing Attorney, Consumer and Housing Law

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service

P:  443-451-4064 | F: 443-459-9037