2019 | Government

Tenants Gain New Rights To Break Leases Early

Delays in fixing health and safety code violations at apartments were catalyst for county legislation

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Tenants will soon be allowed to terminate their leases when their landlord fails to correct health and safety violations within 30 days of being ordered to do so by Montgomery County officials.

The County Council unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that gives the Department of Housing and Community Affairs the authority to institute the measure.

The legislation was inspired by revelations in February that more than 2,500 housing code violations had been found at a White Oak apartment complex, known as the Enclave, according to Tom Hucker, the council member who sponsored the bill.

Tenants may terminate their lease for violations that include rodent or insect infestation, mold growth, water leaks and lack of at least one working utility among other reasons.

“Unfortunately, too many renters face these and similar challenges affecting their fundamental well-being and safety. This bill extends needed protections to renters who, through no fault of their own, face unsafe conditions that have been ignored by their landlords,” Hucker wrote in a statement.

Hucker’s bill  follows an unsuccessful effort in the state legislature this year to pass legislation requiring that landlords state a “just cause” for evicting a tenant. The bill, sponsored by Silver Spring Democratic Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, was voted down in committee in March.

Later this summer, the council will discuss another tenants’ rights bill sponsored by council member Will Jawando, which would require landlords to reimburse tenants up to three months’ rent for moving expenses for properties deemed “unfit for human habitation.” A public hearing for that bill is scheduled for July 16.

County Executive Marc Elrich, who made affordable housing a key issue in his campaign last year, has promised to step up housing code enforcement by requiring additional inspections for properties with a history of health and safety issues.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com