Developed by reader MG, here is a list of questions you might hear when discussing the new property tax legislation before the House and Senate, along with answers to those questions.  Feel free to use these as talking points as you’re writing letters to your elected officials in support of these bills.

Question: Aren’t city taxes high enough?  This sounds like just another cash-grab by our city’s government.

Answer: The idea behind this legislation is to shift the tax burden from owner-occupants, who positively contribute to the city, to landlords who drain city police and fire services and drag down the property values of neighboring, occupied properties.  The City Council can make this bill revenue-neutral by reducing the overall property tax rate by an amount that would offset the additional revenue that is collected from vacant property owners.

Question: Wouldn’t a higher tax rate for vacant properties discourage people from buying and renovating dilapidated properties?

Answer: The City Council can insert language into the bill that would allow renovators to apply for a waiver as long as they obtain the appropriate permits and renovate their properties within a reasonable amount of time.  Also, we’ve noticed that most of the “We’ll never do business in Baltimore if this happens” crowd is primarily made up of the very people who have caused the vacant housing situation in Baltimore in the first place — “investors” who came to Baltimore to make a fast buck and then abandoned ship when they realized it wasn’t going to happen.

Question: Doesn’t the city own most of these vacant properties?  The city can’t tax itself!

Answer: While it is true that the city owns many vacant properties (approximately 1/3 of the 30,000+ vacant properties), two-thirds of these properties are owned by banks, individuals, partnerships, corporations, and LLC’s.  Many of these owners are speculators who are hoping for another housing boom and thus are sitting on these properties without regard for their neighbors who are adversely affected by the horrible condition of these properties.

Question: I moved out of Baltimore City, but so far I have not been able to find a buyer or renter for my property.  Why should I be punished for having a vacant property?

Answer: This bill does not target owners of vacant, but habitable properties; it targets owners of vacant and uninhabitable properties.  As long as your house is properly maintained, you will not be penalized by this law.

Question: Aren’t many of these properties located in neighborhoods that are less than desirable?  If the property’s tax lien is worth more than the property itself, then why would the owner pay the additional tax?  It seems to me that the owner would just give up and let the city take ownership through the tax-sale foreclosure process- leaving the city owning thousands of more properties that they cannot sell.

Answer: Yes, the city could possibly end up owning many of these “undesirable” properties; however, there are solutions to this problem.  The city could revive the “Dollar Home Program”- where people agree to buy these houses from the city for $1 under the condition that renovate the home within two years and agree to live in the home for a specific amount of time.  Another option would be to donate these homes to a non-profit developer, such as Habitat for Humanity or St. Ambrose’s Housing Aid Center.  Also, the city could explore bundling lots and selling them to a commercial developer or tear down any structures that are beyond repair and create additional green space.