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Maryland At Issue - December 2017

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State

Are You Ready for April 1st Carbon Monoxide Alarm Mandate?

AOBA members with Maryland residential rental properties are reminded that Maryland law will require the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in certain rental dwelling units by April 1, 2018. SB 182 and HB 849 of 2016 require the installation of a carbon monoxide alarm in every rental dwelling unit that relies on the combustion of a fossil fuel for heat, ventilation, hot water or clothes dryer operation by April 1, 2018. The alarm may be installed on the wall or ceiling, and must be located outside and in the immediate vicinity of each separate sleeping area, and on every level of the unit, including the basement.  “Sleeping area” means a space that includes one or more sleeping rooms and a hall or common area immediately adjacent to any sleeping room.

The carbon monoxide alarm may be combined with a smoke alarm. There are three options for installing a carbon monoxide alarm, which may be:

  1. Wired into an alternating current (AC) power line with secondary battery backup;
     
  2. Battery-powered, sealed, tamper resistant, and use a long-life battery that has a life of not less than 10 years; or
     
  3. Connected to an on-site control unit that monitors the carbon monoxide alarm remotely so that a responsible party is alerted when the device activates the alarm signal and receives its primary power from a battery or control unit.

In a letter to Local Fire Marshals and Fire Code Officials, Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci stated that carbon monoxide alarms will not be required in rental dwelling units that are powered solely by an electric power supply. He added that the legislation “requires that a carbon monoxide alarm be installed outside of each sleeping area and on every level to include the basement in a building that contains any fuel burning equipment, wood burning appliance or has an enclosed attached garage.” See the letter for more details.

Member Action: AOBA members should review their inventory of Maryland apartment communities to ensure that units using appliances with combustible fossil fuels have carbon monoxide alarms in place by April 1, 2018.

Regional

Regional Leaders Sign Purple Line Growth Agreement

Regional leaders and housing advocates signed an agreement last week designed to guide growth and redevelopment in the areas adjoining the Purple Line. While the document is not legally binding, it should give pause to AOBA members with rental communities in the Purple Line corridor due to the implied development limits and controls that would be necessary to achieve its goals. The agreement will also likely be used as a pretext for the advocacy next year for rent control, inclusionary zoning, and other limits on the rights of property ownership.

The agreement was signed by County Executives Baker and Leggett, University of Maryland President Wallace Loh, Smart Growth Director Gerrit Knaap, Chairs of the Montgomery and Prince George’s County Planning Commissions, Enterprise Community Partners V.P. David Bowers, and CASA President and CEO Gustavo Torres. The agreement was also endorsed by numerous municipalities, housing and advocacy groups.

The agreement calls for pursuit of the following goals:

  • Diverse, locally established businesses prosper both during and after the construction period.
  • Workers in the corridor are well-trained, grow in number, and are well-matched with employers in skills and location.
  • Housing opportunities are available for people of all incomes in communities throughout the corridor, especially current low, middle-income, and transit-dependent residents.
  • Vibrant and sustainable communities enhance health, culture, and a sense of place.

WSSC Proposes Legislation for Rate Classes

AOBA Maryland VP Ron Wineholt testified against legislation earlier this week at Delegation hearings in Montgomery and Prince George’s County that would enable WSSC to vary water and sewer rates based on customer classes. The Commission has requested that state legislation (PG/MC 112-18) be reintroduced at the 2018 session of the Maryland General Assembly granting this authority. AOBA’s testimony stated that the bill is not needed for implementation of the alternate rate structures currently under consideration by the Commission, and would be used to increase water and sewer rates for business customers. Similar legislation was defeated on a close vote at the 2017 Maryland General Assembly session.

Montgomery County

Towing Litigation Targets Property Owners

A pending lawsuit originally filed in 2015 against a Montgomery County towing company now places several property owners, including AOBA members, at risk for potential claims. The plaintiffs settled with the towing company in December 2015 and are now proceeding with a class action lawsuit against those owners which contracted with the towing company. The underlying lawsuit alleged in part that the towing company defendant failed to comply with several provisions in state and county law pertaining to towing. Specifically, the plaintiff asserted that the towing company violated these laws  sometime between April 16, 2012 and June 23, 2017 (settlement period) by: (1) requiring payment for the tow as a condition for recovery by the owner and in doing so subjecting vehicles involuntarily towed from private parking lots to a lien; (2) failing to secure and record information regarding the authorization and requests for towing for towing of vehicles; and (3) overcharging vehicle owners, by for example, including a credit card fee.

Procedurally, the named owner/manager companies have until December 15 to opt out of the proposed settlement agreement.  The remaining companies will be subject to specific damages determined in part by the final number of named defendants and released from claims that occurred during the settlement period. The components will include: (1) a per tow charge for tows during the settlement period (ex. 100 tows X $/per tow); (2) representative fee; and (3) attorney’s fees. The greatest risk is for those companies with a significant number of tows conducted during the settlement period. For more information, contact Nicola Whiteman.

Changes Begin with New Council Leadership for 2018

Councilmember Hans Riemer was officially sworn in as council president on Dec. 5, succeeding Councilmember Roger Berliner. The Council also elected Councilmember Nancy Navarro as vice-president. Council officers serve a one-year term and with the elevation Navarro will serve as the 2019 council president. Navarro and Riemer, both up for reelection in 2018, will lead the Council during a period when many of their colleagues are, due to term limits, not seeking another public office (Councilmember Nancy Floreen) or running for county executive (Councilmembers Berliner, Marc Elrich, and George Leventhal). For Navarro, she could potentially lead a 2019 Council that includes many new members with implications for committee leadership and composition. Consider, for example, that Floreen who currently serves as the chair of the Committee on Planning, Housing and Economic Development, will not return to the Council in 2019.

Montgomery County Faces Budget Shortfall

Montgomery County is facing an estimated $120 million shortfall for the current fiscal year, forcing proposed reductions to the FY 2018 budget with more expected in FY19. County Executive Ike Leggett notified the Council that he directed agencies to reduce their FY18 budgets by 2% coupled with other savings measures and asked legislative and judicial branch departments to consider a similar reduction. In a second memorandum, Chief Administrative Officer Tim Firestine advised all departments to incorporate additional reductions in their FY19 budgets. Leggett will also submit a detailed savings plan to the Council for addressing the budget needs. With the start of the Council’s winter recess fast approaching, action on the plan is expected in January. The shortfall is primarily attributed to a 30% decline in income tax revenues for tax year 2016. Leggett also noted that the County is not the only local jurisdiction in the state facing similar reductions. The County will have to wrestle with difficult budget choices in an election year during which most of the Council will face the voters in the June primary.

Prince George's County

Glaros and Turner Elected as Council Leaders

Council Member Dannielle M. Glaros (D, District-3) was unanimously elected to serve as Chair of the Prince George’s County Council at the Council’s Dec. 5 meeting. Council Member Todd M. Turner (D, District-4) was also unanimously elected to serve as Vice Chair of the Council. Glaros and Turner are completing their third year on the Council and will serve in their leadership positions until Dec. 4, 2018. The Council will be in recess until Jan. 9.

Council Passes Bills at Final Sessions

At its final sessions for the 2017 legislative year, the Prince George’s County Council enacted several bills of interest to AOBA members.

  • Occupancy Standards - Housing and Property Standards (CB-37-2017) largely adopts occupancy standards from the 2015 International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) for bedroom, living room and dining room sizes.  Minimum occupancy standards are stated per “occupant.” AOBA was successful in getting the Council to adopt the definition of “occupant” as used in Montgomery County, so that it only includes a person over the age of one. AOBA also successfully argued for a more liberal occupancy standard for efficiency units than allowed under the current IPMC. Efficiency units will require a clear floor area of 120 square feet for one occupant, at least 170 square feet for 2 occupants, and at least 220 square feet for 3 occupants. The bill is effective Dec. 29, 2017.
  • Nonconforming Uses - Nonconforming Uses - Certification - Approval Requirements (CB-49-2017) was one of AOBA’s most hard-fought battles in the Council this year. At the final Council session, amendments were adopted that removed the most damaging parts of the bill. As enacted, the bill expands and lengthens notification procedures for U & O permits for nonconforming use properties and precludes the approval of such permits if the property has any outstanding Code violations with DPIE (other than failure to have a current U & O). The bill became effective on Nov. 14, 2017.
     
  • Housing Code Citations - Administrative Hearings (CB-64-2017) establishes a new and expedited method for DPIE to issue citations for violation of the County Housing Code. DPIE has traditionally issued a notice of violation with a reasonable period to comply when a code violation is discovered. In addition to that procedure, DPIE will now have the option of using the expedited procedures of CB-64, in which Housing Code citations will be issued similar to traffic tickets. Recipients of such citations will have to remedy the violation and pay or appeal the citation fine, which will start at $300 per violation. AOBA was able to obtain amendments guaranteeing that both owners and managers of multifamily properties will receive copies of any citations. Citations may be appealed to an administrative hearing officer, and ultimately the Nuisance Abatement Board and the Circuit Court. The bill is effective April 2, 2018.
     
  • Recycling Chutes - Multifamily Rental Facilities - Recycling (CB-78-2017) will require that when new multifamily rental construction is constructed with a trash chute, it must also have a separate recycling chute. The bill will be effective in mid-January 2018.
     
  • Retaliatory Evictions - Landlord Tenant - Retaliatory Actions (CB-85-2017) duplicates and expands state law governing retaliatory evictions. In addition to retaliatory acts prohibited by a rental property owner under state law, this bill also will prohibit:
     
    • Harassment, intimidation, threats, or other interference with a tenant’s exercise of their legal rights; or
    • Retaliatory actions because a tenant has consulted an attorney on any matter involving tenant’s rights or specific housing violations, or assisted another tenant in the exercise of their rights.

    The bill retains the standard from state law of damages of up to three month’s rent, attorney fees and court costs, as well as the presumption that any act occurring at least six months after the tenant’s action is not retaliation. The bill will be effective in mid-January 2018.
     
  • Sick and Safe Leave - Earned Sick and Safe Leave (CB-87-2017) will require employers doing business in Prince George’s County to provide specified amounts of sick and safe leave to employees due to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. If Governor Hogan’s veto of HB 1 at the state level is overridden in January, it will preempt CB-87. ABOA was successful in obtaining an amendment to the bill ensuring that its effective date will be 45 days after the General Assembly session ends in 2018, and likely avoiding potential conflicts in the laws. In the unlikely event that CB-87 becomes law, it would take effect in late May of 2018.
     
  • Housing Code Fines - Multifamily Rental Facilities - Civil Fines (CB-91-2017) will provide DPIE a third and largely duplicative means of imposing civil fines for violations of the County Housing Code. The bill will be effective in mid-January 2018.

Evictions Suspended for Holidays

The Prince George’s County Sheriff’s office has announced that no residential evictions will be conducted from Dec. 20 through Jan. 1. Evictions will resume on Tuesday, Jan. 2, weather permitting. Residential evictions are postponed when the predicted forecast for the entire day will not exceed 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Sheriff’s Office maintains a weather line at 301-780-7392, which is updated any day the weather may be in question. Also the County is closed on Jan. 15, and Feb. 19, 2018 for County holidays. There are no evictions on those days.