ATLANTA — A Senate committee has approved a bill that establishes statewide guidelines for foreclosure registries and would cap the fees cities and counties charge owners of foreclosed properties.
The Banking and Finance Committee voted 5-2 in favor of sending the substitute to House Bill 110 to a full vote, which could happen as soon as this week.
According to the proposal, the bill would authorize cities and counties to create foreclosure registries that would have statewide requirements. The fee to register a property would not exceed $175, and the penalties for failing to register properties would be limited to $500 a month and $2,000 total.
The proposal does not preempt city or county ordinances requiring registration of foreclosed properties for repeated violations that remain uncorrected for at least 60 days, but would it would stop any other local foreclosure registries currently in existence.
Banking Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Murphy said such a law is needed to prevent cities and counties from treating fees associated with foreclosures and vacant properties as a cash cow.
"It can't become a revenue source," Murphy said. "That's a tax. We need something standardized that everybody has to go by. That will keep abuse from occurring."
Murphy cited reports that DeKalb County raked in more than $550,000 in fees in less than a year. The original legislation was sponsored by state Rep. Mike Jacobs, a Republican lawmaker whose district includes DeKalb County.
The bill is a carryover from last year, when it stalled as lobbyists for cities and counties raised concerns that the bill could have unintended consequences. Several people representing groups who opposed the original version remarked that they had not seen the updated proposal until Monday's committee hearing and were still evaluating whether it is an improvement.
"County and city elected officials are hearing a lot from the public about this," said Clint Mueller, a spokesman for the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. "There are a lot of foreclosed and properties that are not being taken care of. We have no idea where to even begin to find out who is responsible."
Still, Mueller said it is important to ensure that municipalities are not punished in an effort to address the issue through state legislation.
"It could have far-reaching effects if it's not done right," he said.
If approved, the law would take effect July 1.