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Legislative Update: 2017 Maryland General Assembly

Every winter the Maryland General Assembly meets for a period of 90 days to consider laws.  Landlords and rental property owners and developers can breathe a sigh of relief about these favorable outcomes:

HB172, named “The Home Act”, would have made it illegal to refuse to rent to a tenant because of their “source of income”.  Proponents believe this legislation would force ALL landlords to accept Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers.  Currently, it is voluntary whether or not a rental property owner choses to participate in this program.  This bill did NOT pass.

HB1346, “Definition of Rent”.  Currently, State Law does not define the meaning of the word “Rent”.  Historically, courts have allowed anything in the lease defined as “Rent” to be chargeable in Rent Court as “Rent”.  This Bill sought to define “Rent” as only the “monthly periodic payment”…in other words, it would have prohibited a landlord from going to Rent Court to claim charges such as water, repairs, fines and citations, etc.  This bill did NOT pass.

HB1487.  This was the “Rent Court” bill.  I participated in the Rent Court Summer Study Group.  This bill was labelled the “consensus bill” that came out of the summer study group; however, the group was quite contentious and my judgment is that this bill was anything but consensus.  The bill would have required notice to a tenant before filing a failure to pay rent, it would have made an invalid lead certificate a reason to dismiss a case, it would have opened the door for discovery and postponements for lack of discovery, required that the tenant have 7 days advance notice of the trial date and if the tenant did not receive notice, the trial would be delayed further.  Remarkably, this Bill did get out of the House and, thankfully, the Senate declined to take it on.

The following bills did pass:

HB261 – allows utilities to offer “3rd party notification” before they turn off the power.  In this way, a landlord can receive notice that a tenant is having trouble paying utilities and take action before a tenant uses unsafe methods (candles, gas heaters) to provide light and heat in a rental unit.

HB1 – Paid Sick Leave – employers with 15 or more employees have to offer 1 hour of paid sick leave benefits for every 30 hours an employee works.  This law preempts local governments (counties and cities) from implementing their own paid sick leave laws.

HB851 – Lease Termination for Military – when a person in the Military gets a change of assignment that (a) provides permanent change of station, (b) temporary duty lasting more than 90 days, (c) an order requiring a person to move into quarters located on a military base, and (d) a release from active duty, the tenant can terminate the lease on 30 days notice (notice begins on the day the military person received orders) and the landlord cannot charge a lease-break penalty of more than 30 days rent.

HB133 – Blood Lead Levels – when MDE receives notice that a child or person-at-risk has an EBL (Elevated Blood Lead Level) of 10 or more, MDE or the local health department will notify (a) the child’s parent or guardian, and (b) the owner of the rental dwelling where the child lives.  The threshold used to be 15.

I am a member of the Legislative Committee at Maryland Multi Housing Association and the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors. During the legislative session, I meet weekly with both of these groups to review legislation and take positions on matters important to our industry.   During this year’s session, I spent a day in Annapolis testifying against HB172, HB1346, and HB1487.

I encourage rental property owners, developers, and landlords to join the Maryland Multi-Housing Association so our voice can be heard on these issues critical to our business.