Firm Attorney Rachel Jennings Testifies in Support of Bill to Protect African-American Land Ownership

Gilbert LLP associate Rachel Jennings recently testified before the Judicial Proceedings Committee of the Maryland Senate in support of Senate Bill 92, the Maryland Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act. The Act would protect African-American and other disadvantaged groups from abusive tactics permitted by current real property law that allow real estate speculators to acquire family-owned property at below market values, depriving those families of substantial generational wealth.

Rachel, whose testimony can be found here, and firm partner Richard Shore have been working for the past year on a pro bono basis to assemble coalitions and build grassroots, stakeholder, and legislative support for the enactment of the UPHPA in Maryland and the District of Columbia.

The UPHPA, originally drafted by legal scholar and MacArthur Foundation Award (“Genius Grant”) recipient Professor Thomas Mitchell, was introduced by Maryland State Senator Malcolm Augustine; a companion bill has been introduced in the Maryland House of Delegates by State Delegate Samuel “Sandy” Rosenberg.

The UPHPA would reform provisions of real property law, common nationwide, that permit real estate speculators to acquire a single share of tenancy in common property and then acquire the entire property through auction on the courthouse steps for well below fair market value. A common form of tenancy in common property is heirs property, which passes from generation to generation through intestacy—that is, inheritance by operation of law rather than a bequest in a will or trust. Because intestacy is most common amongst African-American and other economically disadvantaged groups, the abusive tactics by which real estate speculators use existing partition law to acquire real property at below market values most severely impacts these groups, depriving them of generational family wealth. This is one reason why African-American land ownership in particular has plummeted over the last 100 years, and why African-American net worth lags so far behind their white counterparts.

Gilbert LLP is proud to be playing a leading role in pursuing enactment of this important legal reform in Maryland and the District of Columbia. More information on the UPHPA can be found here. The full hearing on the UPHPA can be found here.

Gilbert LLP is a Washington-based law firm specializing in litigation and strategic risk management, insurance recovery and complex dispute resolution.