Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has signed a bill into law to reduce from 12 years to three the time debt collectors have to pursue homeowners in court for fore­closure debt.

Lawmakers and consumer advocates argued that a shorter window would help homeowners rebuild their lives after foreclosure rather than be forced into bankruptcy because of old debts. The new law, which takes effect July 1, will impact 214,000 homeowners who are underwater on their mortgages in the event of foreclosure, said Marceline White, executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition.

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