What Does Baltimore’s New Inspection Law Mean for Smaller Landlords?

A new law in Baltimore is requiring landlords of smaller rental properties to get their apartments inspected. The uncertainty of these inspections is concerning to some smaller landlords, although many still support it. The law is aimed at improving housing conditions in Baltimore’s lower-income areas, according to the Baltimore Sun. Owners of rental properties with one or two bedrooms have until Jan. 1, 2019, to pass a 20-point inspection before they can obtain a license to rent their properties. This is a new requirement for Baltimore’s smaller landlords—previously, only the owners of multifamily properties with three or more units were required to be registered, inspected, and licensed. However, the Sun reports that most of the city’s violations for problems such as rodents, mold, and lack of heat come from these one- and two-unit properties that make up half of Baltimore’s rental market. The inspection must be performed by a licensed third-party inspector, whom the landlord must hire himself. More than 200 state-licensed inspectors have registered with Baltimore’s housing authority to perform assessments under the new law. That number is expected to grow. This is expected to free up city inspectors to focus on “the tens of thousands of complaints reported through 311 and emergencies such as lack of heat reported through 911,” according to the Sun article. “Most of the city’s approximately 220,000 annual inspections are spurred by such complaints.”

Specifics of the law include:

  • Registration fees: Fees were already in place for smaller properties—$30 per “dwelling unit” for one- or two-unit properties; $35 per “dwelling unit” for buildings with at least three units, with an additional $25 per “rooming unit.”
  • Penalties: Each offense is subject to a $500 penalty if a landlord is convicted of a misdemeanor violation.
  • License renewals: Under the new law, how often a landlord has to renew their license depends on how quickly he corrects violations. A landlord with a strong inspection record, who corrects violations within 60 days of notice, can get a three-year license. But a landlord who takes between 61 and 90 days to correct a violation can only get a two-year license. And if he takes longer than 90 days, he can only get a one-year license.
  • Inspections: If a property has nine units or fewer, each one must be inspected. If a property has 10 units or more, a “representative sample” must be inspected.
The law went into effect in August, leaving just five months for landlords to comply with the new inspection requirements. The timeframe has some landlords worried. “It’s going to be tight,” Adam Skolnik of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association told the Sun. But “it’s great that they’re going to inspect the smaller [landlords],” he said. City officials are also applauding the law. Baltimore’s Department of Housing and Community Development are calling it “a major step forward toward improving the overall quality of the housing stock,” praising the city for “working to ensure that tenants have healthier, safer places to live.” One possible concern has arisen that may result from the new law: forced displacement when a property is found to be in violation. The new law does not specifically address where a tenant is supposed to go when a landlord fails inspection. It remains to be seen how this situation might play out for tenants after a failed inspection, though other states with similar laws have found reasonable solutions to accommodate the needs of displaced residents. Lusk Law, LLC, represents landlords and property owners, including handling compliance with landlord-tenant regulations and laws. If you’re a landlord, get the legal advice you need to successfully operate your business. Contact Lusk Law, LLC, to set up a consultation.