In case you ever fantasized about making a million or few by house flipping —
There are two avowed official registries of foreclosures that take place in Prince George’s County, Maryland. One is included in the statewide registry maintained by the State of Maryland. The other is maintained by the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE, pronounced “D-Pie,” as in “cherry pie”).
Neither registry is open to the general public. The Maryland Foreclosed Property Registry is, as stated on its website,
an online, password-protected system managed by the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation in the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation (“DLLR”).
DLLR may grant access to the Registry only to State agencies and local jurisdictions, including counties and municipal corporations
to facilitate code enforcement, etc. The DLLR’s registry is not a before-the-fact research tool in any case; it is not a list of properties coming on the market.
Effective October 2012, in accordance with Maryland Code, Real Property Article § 14-126.1, every residential property purchased at a foreclosure sale must be registered in this system.
Purchasers are required to submit an initial registration of the property within 30 days after the foreclosure sale.
The purpose of the Maryland registry is to close the chronological records gap between the date of the foreclosure sale and the date the deed is recorded,
when unoccupied homes may fall into disrepair and it can be difficult to identify or contact the new owner.
The purchaser still has that 30-day grace period between buying a foreclosed property and submitting the registration. And again, the registry is not publicly accessible.
The information contained in the Registry is by law not a public record, and DLLR cannot grant access to the general public.
Prince George’s County
The registry maintained by the Prince George’s County Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE) is also closely held, though apparently in a different sense. DPIE’s public notice, on the agency website, explicitly tells mortgage holders to register foreclosures:
Foreclosure Property Registration Form
The form itself tells lenders to deliver it in person or mail it to the DPIE “Foreclosure Registration Unit” in an office condo at 1220 Caraway Court, Largo, Maryland. The form includes spaces for the name, address and contact information of the property owner; it does not include any statement or certification that the property owner has been contacted about the foreclosure.
Questions have now arisen as to how the Prince George’s County foreclosure registry is used. Like the State of Maryland registry, it is not open to public view. According to a person with close knowledge of the process, “Historically,” the registry kept by DPIE has been “highly restricted.” The County foreclosure list is announced via DPIE website for the purpose of registration, but the list itself is “held very close to the vest.” Access to the registry is applied for through a Maryland Public Information Act request; form linked here. To find out about the foreclosures, you fill out the form and submit it, asking for records. The form then goes up the managerial pipeline through “appropriate channels.” Indications are that even people involved in the MPIA process are not necessarily involved in the resolution of MPIA requests, nor are they necessarily informed about requests granted or denied. The hole in the channels leaves open a realistic possibility that access to the registry may be secretive but may not always be protected. This possibility has been confirmed in interviews and conversations with County officials.
The stated rationale for holding the P. G. County foreclosure registry so closely is the danger of squatting in vacant properties. The County does not release the information on upcoming foreclosures because officials do not want to give advance notice to squatters. “You can read between the lines” as to this claim, this writer was told. I asked whether the list breaks down into foreclosures on abandoned properties and foreclosures on occupied homes. Answer: no.
Asking whether interested parties such as house flippers could access the registry, I was told, “You’re on the right track.” There is no in-house mechanism to prevent exchange of friendly influence or sharing information with flippers. Indeed, the Director of DPIE himself, Haitham Hijazi, is closely connected to more than one house-flipping company through immediate family members as well as through his ownership of property on which his relatives operate their businesses. (Previous blogs on this topic linked here and here, among others.) Dr. Hijazi has not returned messages requesting comment or information. His son Abdullah Hijazi, principal of a house-flipping company who has appeared as party and as attorney in numerous foreclosure cases, has also not replied to request for comment.
The foreclosure registry may be somewhat arcane to the general public. However, as someone with knowledge of the operating structure and the registry has said, “your information is known by a variety of people here”–meaning in the county and in county government. But–“they also know nobody’s doing anything about it.” The problems with foreclosures, the genuine phenomenon of troubled homeowners being pushed out of their homes by people with a vested interest in the houses is “Probably pretty well known among key people in the county,” I was told, but county officials cognizant of the issues seem to be covered by “teflon.”
As previously noted, Hijazi as head of the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement is one of County Executive Rushern Baker’s few holdovers from the previous county administration. Baker’s office has not yet had time to return a call requesting comment.
More to come