SALEM — Public notices for foreclosed homes must be published in newspapers if lawmakers approve a bill discussed Thursday before a state legislative committee.
At the heart of House Bill 2822 is the question of how to best notify the public.
“As I think about the purpose of a notice of sale, the purpose of that is to inform. It’s to educate. It’s to notify. And to me, I’m struggling with who better to do that than newspapers of general circulation,” said Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, during a committee hearing Thursday where lawmakers discussed the legislation.
Tom Gallagher, a registered lobbyist for the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association, told lawmakers that eight years ago, newspapers and the state sheriff’s association struck a deal, which gave the association the ability to post foreclosure notices on a website if the home went through a judicial foreclosure process.
Until recently, the bulk of foreclosures on homes were done nonjudicially, outside of courtrooms, and notices of sales were placed in newspapers.
The combination of a change in law and a court ruling has pushed banks to start foreclosing judicially. The switch has called into question how well the public notice system is working.
The move has also meant newspapers have lost revenue. Nonjudicial foreclosures have screeched to a halt, meaning the postings have also dried up.
As it’s drafted now, the bill would mandate that foreclosure postings be placed in newspapers, no matter the route the foreclosure takes. Darrell Fuller, a lobbyist for the Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, told lawmakers that he plans to introduce an amendment that would mandate that notices be posted both on the sheriffs’ websites and in newspapers.
“We think it’s important as many people as possible have the information they need on foreclosures,” Fuller said.
Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, was quick to ask if that means double the cost. The answer was yes.
Pat Ehlers, a lawyer and member of the Oregon State Bar, said he’s been looking at the issue of how to best serve the public when it comes to notices. He spoke in favor of a centralized notification system for the sale of property.
“If you’ve ever had an item, a personal property item in the last five years that you’ve wanted to sell ... I would wager a guess you have not placed an ad in a newspaper,” he said to lawmakers.
Rep. Smith, however, countered with, “Well, I live in Heppner, so be careful.”
Ehlers said it’s more likely an ad would be posted on Craigslist, “which is a centralized notification system for the sale of property.”
Later, Rep. Smith made his position clear when he tweeted, “Call me old fashion(ed) but newspapers of general circulation provide a valuable service in notifying the citizenry. Not ready to give this up.”
Tim Gleason, the dean of journalism at the University of Oregon, said there is still value in posting notices in newspapers, particularly for rural communities.
“There is no question we are moving more and more online; however, at the same time there is fairly significant evidence of the continued importance of print as a news and information medium, especially in rural communities,” Gleason said.
There is also the question of who is vetting the content of notices. Newspapers, he said, are a neutral third party. And, of course, the issue affects both sheriffs’ and newspapers’ bottom lines.
“It is a cost and revenue question,” Gleason said. “The sheriffs are interested in revenue as the newspapers are interested in revenue, but if you go back to the fundamental question of public notice, it’s there to inform the public and where people (go) to see the notices.”