Liens on about 14,000 Baltimore properties could be put up for auction if their owners don't pay their debts to the city, according to a list published in yesterday's editions of The Sun.
The number of properties on the list is up about 15 percent from last year. But the reason for the increase is a tightening of the city's rules, not recession-strapped consumers being too short of cash to pay their taxes, said Tov Grande, Baltimore's assistant city collector.
The auction is scheduled for May 13 and 14 and will affect properties whose owners don't pay back taxes, water bills or other city charges by May 8, city Finance Director William R. Brown Jr. said. But Mr. Grande said the properties themselves won't be for sale.
"You might have the idea you're bidding on the property, but you're not," Mr. Grande said. "You're bidding on the city's rights under the lien."
In many cases, what it boils down to is this: The high bidder offers the amount the city is owed and buys the lien the city holds on the property. The lien buyer then waits at least six months, and if the property owner hasn't paid the back charges, the buyer can go to court to foreclose on the property, Mr. Brown said.
If the city certifies that a property needs substantial repairs, the person who buys the city's lien can start foreclosure after as little as 60 days.
However, the property's owner can head off the foreclosure by paying the taxes even after the city sells its rights to the property, Mr. Grande said.
He said that the city initially advertised about 15,000 properties as subject to tax sale. He said about 1,000 of the past-due bills were paid in the week after the first ad appeared in the Daily Record, a Baltimore trade paper for the legal and business communities.
He said that property owners' last warning is a notice mailed about two weeks before the auction. "That generates Z ZTC tremendous amount of interest," he said.
Last year, about 3,600 of the roughly 13,000 properties advertised as delinquent were actually offered for tax sale, he said. More properties were advertised for sale this year because of such rule changes as lowering the amount of past-due water bills that would make the property eligible for the sale, he added.
Mr. Grande said that the city doesn't know what percentage of the buildings advertised for sale are owner-occupied. While the properties are all over the city, most appear to be lower-valued properties in poorer neighborhoods.
Mr. Grande said that no well-known properties are known to be on the tax-sale list this year.
Mr. Brown said that despite the large number of properties advertised for sale, the real estate on the list represents a fraction of the city's property tax revenue due. The city's property tax collection rate has hovered around 98 percent in recent years, he said.