Buyers of foreclosed properties in Montgomery County who fail to register their purchases with the state within 30 days would face $1,000-a-day fines under a bill introduced Tuesday by Council member Tom Hucker.
The 2012 state law requiring such registrations was aimed primarily at lenders and investors who buy foreclosed properties but delay formal transfer of the title, making it difficult for authorities to identify who is responsible for payment of taxes, condominium fees or other obligations.
Critics say such “zombie foreclosures” — which can linger as long as nine to 18 months — contribute to blight and reduced property values.
A provision of the state law allows localities to levy the $1,000 fine.
Hucker (D-Silver Spring) said state data shows that 34 percent of foreclosures in the county during fiscal 2015 were either unregistered or were registered long after the 30-day deadline had elapsed.
“This will give the county an overdue tool,” Hucker said. “Having a meaningful penalty for these violations of state law will be a deterrent.”
Hucker introduced a companion bill that would require owners of vacant residential buildings that are in poor condition to register with the county’s housing department and pay fees to be set by the county executive. He said his office receives numerous complaints about vacant structures that are not properly maintained.
A public hearing on both bills is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 18.
In other action Tuesday, the council approved the hiring of outside attorneys to help execute an agreement with a private developer to build a 300-acre life science town center adjacent to the Food and Drug Administration campus in White Oak.
County Attorney Marc Hansen had proposed retaining attorneys Francoise Carrier and Douglas Bregman to represent the county when Percontee seeks approval of detailed site plans from the county planning board. Carrier is a former board chair.
Hansen said he wanted to hire outside counsel because his staff attorneys are busy with other major cases.
But the special counsel measure was pulled from the agenda last week after objections from Council member Marc Elrich (D-At Large) and Harriet Quinn, a leader of the Montgomery County Civic Federation.
Elrich said the hiring of Carrier and Bregman was “putting the cart before the horse” because of significant changes in the county’s deal with Percontee.
The council approved the joint venture last year. But months of sometimes contentious negotiations between County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and Percontee executive Jonathan Genn on the specific terms of the deal led to many amendments. What was once a partnership is now a complex land sale that would convey county-owned property to Percontee at below market value.
“This is a significantly different agreement that needs to go back to the council,” Elrich said Tuesday. The eight other council members approved the hiring of the two attorneys but agreed that their work could not begin until the council has a chance to scrutinize the amended agreement.
“I think it’s way past time for an update,” said Council members George L. Leventhal (D-At-Large).
Elrich had also contended that Carrier’s role as chairman of the planning board when it approved the White Oak land-use plan — which created the framework for the life sciences project — constituted a conflict of interest. Hansen said this was not an issue because Carrier did not work on the agreement between the county and Percontee, only the general land-use plan.
Hansen said that Carrier and Bregman would each be paid between $425 and $525 an hour. He said the rate represented a “government discount” from their usual fees.