A bill set to be heard in an Indiana House committee hearing Tuesday morning would eliminate the requirement that notice of sheriff's sales on foreclosed properties be published in a daily newspaper.
Such foreclosure notices often serve as the last line of defense for those least likely to protect themselves — the elderly, the disabled and those who are out of the country, such as members of our armed forces.
They may believe their financial affairs are being handled by trusted family members or advisers, such as property taxes being paid timely, when sometimes that is not the case.
Illinois resident Lynne Lance discovered through a foreclosure notice published in a local newspaper that the home her elderly mother owned and was living in was about to be sold in a mortgage foreclosure sale. Her mother, living in the South, was suffering from dementia and was relying on her new husband to handle her finances. Had Lance's friends living near her mother not seen the public notice and contacted Lance, her mother's home would have been sold in a sheriff's sale.
Similarly, a 100-year-old woman living in a small condo in Monterey County, California, likely would have lost her home as well. But Sydney Henderson's friend, Margee Bennett, saw a newspaper notice and contacted a local attorney on Henderson's behalf the day before her condo was to go up for a sheriff's sale. The attorney helped Henderson straighten out her unpaid tax bills, which she thought the mortgage company was paying for her, and negotiate new terms so she could stay in her condo.
Neither of these women's homes likely would have been saved had the notices been placed online on an obscure government website, instead of a print newspaper. They were noticed by people who regularly read their newspaper and were alarmed to recognize a familiar name.
House Bill 1212 favors professional house-flippers, the banking industry and attorneys who handle foreclosures over Hoosiers who, through circumstances beyond their control, are about to lose their homes.
By running these notices in newspapers, many more people will see them and widen the pool of prospective bidders — including those who may not be able to afford a home but could purchase a lower-cost home at a tax sale.
If the sheriff's sale is known only by a few professionals, they likely will get the home at a lower cost and be able to resell at a higher profit.
But that sale price is what is applied to help pay off the mortgage obligation. Expanding the group of buyers helps the person losing his or her home, by hopefully driving the price higher than if the sale were known only to a few possibly predatory insiders.
Hoosiers repeatedly have said they prefer notices in local newspapers. Public-notice advertising is well-read in Indiana, with 85 percent of adults saying such public ads are an important role for government agencies.
A 2017 survey showed 64 percent of adults said those agencies should be required by law to publish them; 63 percent said they wanted public notices in a local newspaper even when told government notices could cost the public agency thousands of dollars.
In this case, notice is not paid by taxpayer funds but by successful bidders who must reimburse the sheriff for costs of the sale.
The Times urges lawmakers not to consider House Bill 1212. When public sheriff's sale notices are in the newspaper, they are easy to find and can be quickly scanned to identify relevant information.
It is not an onerous government cost.
That cost is far outweighed by the public benefit.