Victory For Racial Equity In Maryland Real Property Law

Gilbert LLP is pleased to report that legislation we actively supported to promote racial equity in real property law was passed by the Maryland legislature last week.  Gilbert LLP partner Richard Shore and associate Rachel Jennings have been building coalitions to support the bill’s enactment for more than a year and testified in favor of the bill in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates.

This legislation, the Real Property – Partition of Property Act, modifies existing partition law to protect owners of tenancy-in-common property from forced court-ordered sales of the property, which are used by real estate speculators to acquire homes and land at below-market prices.  Often, the targeted owners are from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and lack access to lawyers and real estate professionals.  This includes in significant measure African-American and other minority owners with limited financial resources.  The targeted properties are often family-owned and passed down through generations of inheritance.  The legislation’s protections will preserve family-owned generational real estate wealth for owners that often lack any other significant assets and will unlock educational and financial resources to help property owners protect, cultivate, and economically benefit from their land.

The bill’s passage in the legislature was secured by the co-sponsors of the bill and the legislative committees’ favorable reports:  Senator Malcolm Augustine and Delegates Sandy Rosenberg and Dana Stein, and the House of Delegates Environment and Transportation and Judiciary Committees and Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee.  The bill is now on Governor Hogan’s desk for his signature.

The Maryland legislation is a version of the Uniform Partition of Heirs Property Act, and the state is positioned to become the 19th jurisdiction to enact a version of the UPHPA.  A similar bill is being considered in the District of Columbia, where Richard and Rachel also have focused on enactment efforts.  The District of Columbia bill (B24-0156) is expected to be reported favorably out of the DC Council’s Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety this Spring.

Along ith Richard and Rachel, several key stakeholders testified in support of the bill, including Thomas Mitchell, the original drafter of the UPHPA; Ben Orzeske, the Uniform Law Commission’s Chief Legal Counsel and sponsor of the UPHPA; Bill O’Connell, the Maryland State Bar Association Real Property Section’s Legislative Committee Chair; Lisa May, the Maryland REALTORS Director of Housing and Consumer Affairs; Josh Hastings, the Forever Maryland Program and Policy Director; Ebonie Alexander, the Black Family Land Trust Executive Director; a coalition of conservation organizations led by the Chesapeake Conservatory’s Conservation Partnership Program Manager John Griffin and intern Amelia Lowe; Reverend Dr. Ruby Brown-Thomas; and others.

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