BALTIMORE (WMAR) — Kimberly Armstrong has lived in her Northeast Baltimore home for 23 years, but has feared she would lose her house twice because of incorrect water bills. In 2014, she got a bill for $1,400 and in 2017, she got one for $2,500; both while she was living in a townhouse with just her daughter.
"I've raised 3 children here, taken care of my father who was elderly and never had a water bill for that amount," Armstrong said.
Both times, she tried to dispute the bills with the Department of Public Works and both times, her mortgage company ended up paying it off to make sure she didn't lose her house.
"Now my mortgage is twice the amount, double the amount, because my escrow is higher because they paid the water bill," Armstrong said.
Right now, Baltimore City can sell homes at tax sale that have $750 or more in unpaid water bills, in addition to another outstanding lien, to enforce the unpaid charges. State and city lawmakers are fighting to end that.
In 2017, almost 11,000 homes were sent to tax sale. Experts estimate 70-80 percent stemmed from overdue water bills. To stop the city from being allowed to sell property and places of worship like this, Maryland officials introduced the Water Taxpayer Protection Act and Monday, the Baltimore City Council voted unanimously to request the General Assembly pass it.
"There are so many other issues that we are having with our water billing system that it seems unfair that if you can’t get someone on the phone or have a face to face conversation about this water bills, that someone else can come and scoop a house away from you that is just ridiculous," Councilwoman Shannon Sneed said.
Sneed and Armstrong say it's not about letting people off the hook for not paying water bills, it's about making sure people aren't losing their homes while they fight incorrect charges.
"I am not losing my home to a water bill," Armstrong said. "You have the most vulnerable people in the city losing our homes to tax sale. We say we wanna decrease homelessness but yet we are making people homeless."
A similar bill was introduce in 2017. It sailed through the House but died in the Senate. This year, advocates say things are looking up with support from both chambers.