2014 General Assembly Session Ends With Several Victories
The Maryland General Assembly ended its 90 day session with several wins for AOBA members. Much of AOBA’s legislative effort is directed to stopping the enactment of legislation that would harm our members. Here is a recap of some of the important issues that AOBA fought for and against, and their outcomes. A more comprehensive summary will follow as soon as bills are reprinted.
Dog Liability – SB 247 and HB 73 - AOBA had worked for the past two years with other rental housing providers and dog advocates to convince legislators of the need to establish rational, breed neutral standards for dog liability. The bills will restore rental housing owners to the common law standard of liability for injuries or death caused by a dog that existed prior to the 2012 Tracey v. Solesky decision of the Court of Appeals. The Court’s Solesky decision declared pure bred pit bulls to be inherently dangerous and imposed strict liability on dog owners and rental housing owners for their damages.
Under SB 247 and HB 73 there will be a rebuttable presumption that a dog owner knew or should have known of the dangerous propensities of their dog. The dog owner will also be strictly liable, with certain exceptions, for death or injuries caused when their dog is running at large. Liability will be imposed on rental housing owners if it could be proven that they had knowledge of the dog’s presence on the leased premises, knowledge of its vicious propensities, and maintained control over the leased premises.
Interest on Security Deposits - HB 249 and SB 345 will replace the 3% interest rate on security deposits with a floating rate with a floor of 1.5 percent. Effective prospectively on January 1, 2015, interest payable on residential security deposits will be the greater of (1) the U.S. Treasury yield curve rate as of the first day of the year; or (2) 1.5 percent. Rental property owners will be entitled to rely on the rate calculator posted on the website of the State Department of Housing and Community Development. AOBA had long supported the enactment of legislation to provide a more reasonable, market-based interest rate.
Minimum Wage – HB 295 will phase-in an increase to the state minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by July of 2018. Although AOBA opposed the legislation, higher local minimum wage laws in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, effective October 1, will supersede the scheduled state rate increases.
Retaliatory Actions – AOBA had opposed SB 800 , which will enable tenants to bring retaliatory action claims notwithstanding having more than 3 judgments for possession filed for late payment of rent within the past 12 months. Currently such an action is barred if there have been 3 judgments for possession filed within the past 12 months.
Balcony Inspections – AOBA had opposed SB 401 and supported HB 947 with amendments. As enacted, the bills will require local governments to establish programs for the inspection of balconies that are primarily constructed of wood at least every 5 years to ensure that the balcony railings meet the requirements of the local housing code or the minimum livability code.
Bills That Failed
- Rent Control - AOBA led the opposition to SB 904 , which would have imposed statewide rent control, required just cause in order to not renew a tenant’s lease and established an Office of Tenant Advocate. Over $1.2 billion in new fees would have been imposed on owners of rental housing.
- Disclosure of Smart Meter Data – AOBA opposed several bills (HB 331 and HB 332) (SB 280 and SB 880) that could have allowed the disclosure of smart meter data without a customer’s consent for purposes of supporting customer choice.
- Court Fee Surcharge - SB 32 and HB 108 would have imposed another surcharge on court filing fees, including $3 for each summary ejectment, costing rental housing providers over $1.6 million, and were successfully opposed by AOBA.
- Source of Income – AOBA opposed HB 366, which would have made it a discriminatory practice for a rental housing provider to refuse to rent to an individual based on the source of their income and forced all rental housing providers to participate in the federal Section 8 voucher program.
- LLC Company Representative – AOBA led the opposition to HB 268, which would have required every LLC doing business in Maryland to appoint a company representative, and include the individual’s name, address, telephone number and email address in the articles of organization.
- False Claims – AOBA successfully opposed HB 867, which would have increased lawsuit liability for any company doing business with the state or a county government.
- Criminal Records Shielding - HB 1166 and SB 1056 would have enabled persons convicted of certain misdemeanors to shield those criminal records from public access, an issue opposed by AOBA.
- Municipal Tax Authority – AOBA supported HB 492 , which would have limited the authority of municipalities to place burdensome property taxes on narrowly-drawn classes of real property. Although an amended version of the bill passed the House unanimously, it became entangled in film tax credit politics in the Senate and subsequently died.
- Rent Control Studies - SB 595 and HB 1407, bills supported by AOBA, would have required a state fiscal and economic impact study before a local government could enact a rent control ordinance.
- Commercial Lease Breach - HB 408 , supported by AOBA, would have granted commercial property owners more flexibility in negotiating breach of lease notice terms in leases. Although the bill passed the House unanimously, the issue met its demise when the Senate cross-filed bill, SB 268, was defeated on a close vote in the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.
- Sick Leave Mandate - SB 753 and HB 968 , opposed by AOBA, would have established detailed requirements for every employer with more than 9 employees to provide sick leave as a fringe benefit.
- Split Property Tax Rates – AOBA successfully led the opposition to SB 627 and HB 1279, which would have granted counties unlimited discretion to set property tax classes and tax rates in special tax districts created to underwrite the cost of transportation operating and capital costs.