City Council Bill Enhances Requirements for Baltimore Landlords

Baltimore City Councilman Bill Henry introduced a bill this year that would require licensing and inspection of all private rental properties. Currently, landlords with one- and two-unit rental properties are exempt from those requirements, but those are the properties that most often are the subject of tenant complaints. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the legislation on May 7, so the new law becomes effective in 2019.

Provisions of the Law

The new law establishes a three-tier licensing structure: Landlords whose properties pass initial inspections or who promptly repair violations may be licensed for three years and subject to inspection every three years. Landlords whose properties have lingering violations may be required to submit to inspection every year or every two years (depending on the severity and nature of the violations) in order to renew their licenses.

Pros and Cons of the New Law

Supporters of the legislation say it’s a long-overdue update to rental housing rules that will help protect tenants from negligent landlords. Historically, landlords have faced few repercussions when their properties are deemed to be hazardous to tenants’ health or safety. But an opinion piece written by Renters United says the new legislation could actually be harmful for tenants. The new licensing structure allows the city to revoke licenses from negligent landlords; if a property is found to be uninhabitable, tenants could end up homeless. Renters United says it advised the City Council to include language in the bill that creates a fund to assist displaced tenants with relocation, but no such language was included.

Effects on Landlords

For landlords who take good care of their properties and repair defects within a reasonable amount of time, the new law shouldn’t have much of an impact on business or income stream. The annual registration base fee will be $30 per dwelling unit, for one- and two-unit properties, and $35 per unit for multi-family properties. Landlords will need to cover the cost of a private inspector when they apply for a new or renewal license. Landlords who promptly respond to tenants’ requests for repairs are better able to maintain a positive relationship with renters. If tenants feel their landlord is acting negligently, they may petition the court for a rent escrow account (paying rent to the court, instead of the landlord), and some tenants may try to sue landlords, in cases of extreme negligence. Lusk Law, LLC, has advised Baltimore City landlords on their rights and responsibilities, and we have represented landlords in Frederick County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Washington County, and Anne Arundel County. Our goal is always to resolve legal matters outside the courtroom, but when litigation becomes necessary, we are ready to represent our clients and work diligently for the best possible outcome. If you’re a landlord, or aspire to be one, get the legal advice you need to successfully operate your business. Contact Lusk Law, LLC, to set up a consultation.