Ohio state lawmakers plan to re-introduce a bill that would expedite the foreclosure process on residential homes and reduce the amount of time properties sit vacant, according to Ohio State Representative Cheryl Grossman.
The bill, known as Ohio HB 223, was originally introduced into the Ohio House by Grossman, a Republican (the bill's primary sponsor), and Representative Michael Curtin, a Democrat, in June 2013. Eight months later, on April 2, it passed by a unanimous vote (93-0) in the Ohio House, and was introduced into the Ohio Senate five days later. Another eight months later, in December, the bill was killed suddenly just as the last general assembly was about to end a few days before Christmas.
Both Grossman and Curtin said they received no explanation as to why the bill was killed. Curtin said he suspects there are Republicans in the Ohio Senate that did not like the fact that he was named as one of the bill's sponsors, which he was because he said he and Grossman felt it was important for the bill to have bipartisan co-sponsors.
"It's a mystery to me," Curtin said. "It could be something as simple as not having the right name on it. Maybe the right approach would be to have companion bills – one in the House and one in the Senate, and have the right sponsors."
Grossman said things tend to move quickly as a general assembly closes.
"We had around 1,200 bills that were introduced in this past general assembly, and it comes down to the last couple of weeks of the general assembly that everything gets compacted and it's very fast and furious," she said.
The original goal of HB 223 was to prevent vacant properties from becoming blighted by shortening the lengthy foreclosure process in Ohio, which currently takes between two to three years on the average. When properties become blighted, they breed more blight in immediate surrounding areas, which in turn lowers property values, invites vandalism and violent crime, and decimates entire communities.
The bill called for eliminating the minimum bid threshold after the first bid for abandoned properties, so that those that are in such bad shape they cannot meet the required minimum bid can still be sold. The properties could be sold at market value to the highest bidder in the second auction. Another provision of the original bill was a five-year pilot program for three Ohio counties that would allow properties to be sold at a sheriff's sale if they meet certain criteria. The Senate amended the bill at the last minute before it was killed to remove the pilot program, however.
Grossman said that passing the bill would have reduced that lengthy foreclosure process down to about six months, and that other organizations were looking to push similar legislation based on HB 223.
"I know that the National Association of Mortgage Bankers was planning to use it for model legislation across the country because they felt it was that good," she said.
When the bill is re-introduced, it will likely include all of the provisions originally in the bill with the exception of the pilot program, Grossman said. Also, according to Curtin, it is possible that he will not be named as one of the sponsors this time around.
"I don't want to be an obstacle," he said. "I'd like to see some legislation get through. I'm worried that my name on it might be a liability."
Something needs to be done, Grossman said, because lengthy foreclosure processes that lead to abandoned, blighted residential properties are not just an Ohio problem.
"I believe that these types of properties are a problem throughout our country with what we just went through with the economy," Grossman said. "Rather than it being such a lengthy and drawn-out process, I feel very strongly we should do whatever we can do to expedite the process."
The 131st General Assembly for the Ohio Senate began on Monday, January 5. Since the bill originally took eight months to go the House for a vote after being introduced, then eight more months to get to the Senate Finance Committee after being introduced in the Senate, the lawmakers realize that passing the bill into law will likely not happen quickly.