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Baltimore City License Law: Important Update September 11, 2018

The new inspection criteria have been published!  Version 3 is dated August 30, 2018, though it was released just yesterday.  Download the New Inspection Checklist

NOTE REGARDING BUILDINGS WITH 3 or MORE DWELLINGS:  Only Single Family Houses and 2-Unit properties must be inspected by December 31, 2018.  Multi-Family Buildings (defined as two-dwelling units plus another use – including a mixed-use property with a store and 2 apartments, for example, or a building with 3 or more dwelling units) continue under the old system of annual inspections by a Baltimore City employee Housing Inspector through December 31, 2018.  If you own or manage a building that has a current multi-family dwelling license, your building will need to be inspected using the new system of private third-party home inspectors sometime in 2019.  Look at your license.  Your building must be inspected before the “EXP DATE” shown on your existing license.  If the “EXP DATE” is before December 31, 2018, the City will inspect your building this fall under the old system.

The original form contained 20 items.   The revised form has 12 items (listed A through L) that are Pass/Fail items plus there are 4 items that the inspector will grade as “Pass” or “Refer”.  “Refer” means that the rental unit will pass the inspection and the housing provider can get a rental license but the issue (cleanliness, insects or rodents, or proper egress for a basement bedroom) will be referred to a Baltimore City Housing Inspector (a City employee) who will check the property and issue citations, warnings, or violations to either the owner or the tenant, as the situation warrants.

Key changes in the revised form:

  1. “All electrical outlets are grounded” is no longer a criterion.
  2. “Gas and electric service is properly installed and ready for service” has been changed to “electric service is metered and active” and “gas service is metered and active”.
  3. Smoke alarms:  The original list required a smoke alarm “inside each sleeping area”.  The revised criteria simply say “smoke alarms are properly installed and in proper working order.”  The required number, type, and location of smoke alarms depend upon when the property was built and/or renovated.  (see below).
  4. Not all windows have to be working and with a lock.  Only those windows that are designed to operate and required for ventilation must operate and have a lock.  A window in a room with heat and air conditioning ducts does not have to work.
  5. The requirement to test a heating system has been simplified to “property has an operable heat supply system”.
  6. Removed:  requirement for the inspector to verify a valid Lead Inspection Certificate.
  7. Removed:  “Interior walls that are free of holes”.
  8. Removed:  Flaking, chipping, and peeling paint.
  9. Removed:  “Adequate water pressure”.
  10. Removed:  “No standing water in the basement”.
  11. Eliminated:  Requirement for the inspector to note anything that does not meet building, fire, and related codes.  This recognized that Home Inspectors are not expected to know every housing, building, and fire code.
  12. Change from “Pass/Fail” to “Refer to Housing”:  Basement bedrooms has been removed as a “Pass/Fail” requirement and changed to a “Refer to Housing” requirement.
  13. Change from “Pass/Fail” to “Refer to Housing”: (a) interior of the property is clean and sanitary, (b) interior is free of infestation by rodents, insects, or pests, and (c) exterior is clean, sanitary, and free of rodent burrows.

When I met with the City, I made the case that “cleanliness” is often a tenant responsibility.  I discussed the position that Home Inspectors are neither licensed to qualified to render opinions as pest infestation.  I presented the position that the definition of a “basement bedroom” is unclear.  Further, the criteria for a proper basement bedroom varies depending upon the date the property was constructed.  My suggestion was accepted that the Home Inspector can pass the Inspection on the Pass/Fail criteria and then report these questionable items to Baltimore City Housing.  A Baltimore City (employee) Housing Inspector can then investigate issues of cleanliness and basement bedrooms and, if needed, issue Citations, Fines, and/or Housing Code Violations as the situation warrants.

The City has produced a document titled: “Inspector Guidance” (click here to download) which gives the Home Inspector clarity as to the scope and extent of what should be “passed” and what should “fail”.  For example, the inspector should “randomly inspect a reasonable number of accessible outlets”.  The inspector is not required to move furniture and not held to inspecting all outlets. Guidance permits ungrounded, two-prong electrical outlets.  Only 3-prong outlets are required to be properly grounded.   GFI outlets are required if they are within 6′ of a water source such as a sink or tub; however, “the absence of GFI receptacles shall not result in a “Fail” if the property was constructed before 1971.

All smoke alarms need to have a 10-year sealed battery or 10-year sealed battery backup.  9-volt battery operated smoke alarms are no longer permitted.  The number, location, and requirement for “interconnected” smoke alarms depend upon the date a property was built or renovated.

Criteria for Basement Bedrooms has been problematic for City policymakers and housing providers alike.  Any basement bedroom that the inspectors’ suspects MAY be non-compliant is not a reason to fail the inspection, but rather refer the matter to City Housing Inspectors for further determination and/or enforcement.  The Inspector can issue a “Pass” on the inspection so that the housing provider can secure a proper rental license.

MULTIFAMILY:  HOW MANY UNITS MUST BE INSPECTED IN A LARGE APARTMENT COMMUNITY?

In buildings containing 9 or fewer apartments, all apartments must be inspected.  Buildings containing more than 9 apartments require only a portion of the units inspected.  For example, in a building with 20 units, only 12 need to be inspected; 15 inspections are required for a building with 60 apartments.

MULTIFAMILY ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS

In addition to the 12 items on the Inspection Checklist, Multifamily inspections require an additional 9 items that relate to secondary egress, proper fire separation, exit signs, proper clearance in the electric meter room, and a requirement that the MFD License is posted in the property.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:

  • City Rental License Inspections are not “Home Inspections” as defined in Maryland Law.  A Rental License Inspection is limited to the 12 items on the checklist.
  • Unlike a “Home Inspection”, photographs are not required and will not be accepted.
  • Inspectors may not make any repairs or recommend anyone to repair an item.
  • If scanning multiple forms, keep them all in one PDF file.

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