2019 | Government

County Clamping Down on ‘Troubled’ Rental Properties

New regulations require faster repairs, greater oversight

share this

The Montgomery County Council set a new regulation on Tuesday to speed up improvements to multifamily housing complexes.

Caitlynn Peetz

Montgomery County leaders on Tuesday laid the groundwork to require expedited improvements at nearly 100 county apartment properties.

A regulation enacted by the council establishes guidelines for multifamily housing complexes cited by county housing inspectors and requires landlords to implement an “action plan” to correct serious violations that adversely affect renters’ health or safety in a timely manner.

Housing developments on a county “troubled property” list will be required to have at least an annual inspection to ensure safety of tenants, while other properties are to be inspected every three years.

Some serious violations that put apartments on the list are persistent rodent or insect infestations, mold, water leaks and lack of utilities not related to tenants with overdue bills.

“We are serious about protecting the safety and well-being of tenants, so we need to ensure that we scrutinize properties that have a history of housing code violations, and we have to make sure that the violations are corrected in a timely fashion,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement. “Creating a Troubled Property List and making it available to the public in a clear and concise manner is the first step in achieving our goals.”

After being sworn in as county executive in December, Elrich vowed to crack down on multifamily housing complexes with multiple housing code violations.

Housing Director Tim Goetzinger, appointed by Elrich, wrote a report last year that said 78 percent of almost 700 properties had been inspected in the last two years. The county’s deadline for inspecting all of the properties is July 1.

Ninety-three properties have been designated as “troubled,” according to county data.

Once a property is designated as troubled, it will remain on the list for at least a year and then until its next annual inspection shows it is below acceptable violation thresholds set by the county.

A property is designated as troubled based on a comparison of its most recent inspection results, calculating how many violations the property incurred and the severity of those violations, with the results of all other properties inspected during the same time period, according to County Council documents.

Troubled properties will be required by the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs to create a plan to remediate violations and prevent future issues, and provide county officials with a quarterly log of on-site maintenance work.

The Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, a nonprofit trade group, provided written comment on the property regulation last month.

AOBA supports the commitment to safe and quality housing, but disagreed with the council’s terminology, AOBA Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Nicola Whiteman said.

“AOBA supports the vigorous and even-handed enforcement of the county housing code to ensure a quality of life for all residents living in rental communities,” Whiteman said. “However, AOBA remains concerned about the use of the phrase ‘troubled property’ and recommends that the council rename the regulations “properties subject to more frequent inspections.”

Whiteman said the designation could negatively impact the property owner as well as residents and communities, with the association’s proposal more “consistent with the intent of the program.”

The committee considered AOBA’s comments but declined to change the wording, deciding the phrase “may actually verify tenant concerns and support their efforts to improve conditions.”

Council member Tom Hucker on Tuesday also introduced legislation that would allow renters to terminate their leases if their landlords fail to correct unsafe conditions, such as mold, mouse and roach infestations, within 30 days after being directed to do so by county inspectors.

“County residents shouldn’t have to live in unsafe conditions,” Hucker said.

The legislation was drafted in part due to a recent inspection at a Silver Spring apartment complex that uncovered nearly 2,600 housing code violations, 16 percent of which were considered health and safety issues.

All eight other Council members signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

District 1 Councilman Andrew Friedson, who represents Bethesda, said the majority of landlords in Montgomery County are “good,” but the legislation creates a safety net for residents who find themselves renting from “bad” landlords.

“For the small number of folks who don’t do things the right way … we ought to do everything we possibly can to protect tenants,” Friedson said.