Tenants get new rights as Howard revises leasing rules

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Landlords and tenants in Howard County face changes in leasing practices after the County Council passed new landlord-tenant regulations on Monday.

Legislation introduced by Democratic council chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty includes new rules for landlords, such as requiring that they give tenants a 24-hour advance notice before entering an apartment.

The Office of Consumer Protection also gains power to investigate tenant complaints or initiate its own investigations and compel landlords to provide relevant documents.

Howard County has about 30,000 rental households, according to the 2014 Howard County Housing Survey, the most recent year for which data was available.

The legislation will allow tenants to terminate a lease with 60 days notice if they face an involuntary move for their job of more than 100 miles. That portion of the bill, originally introduced with a 30-day notice and a 25-mile move, had drawn criticism from some real estate groups and council members. Republican Greg Fox worried the early termination clause could put too much financial burden on landlords.

The final bill gives an exemption from the clause to landlords whose property includes no more than three units, if it is mutually agreed between the landlord and the tenant. The amendment, Sigaty said, helps provide a “safeguard” for landlords who only own a few properties.

The increased mileage amendment is in line with recommended changes from the Maryland Multi-Housing Association to increase the distance to 100 miles. Sigaty agreed with the change, noting that given Howard County’s proximity to employment hubs including Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Annapolis, a 25-mile drive for a new job could be common.

“The goal here was to recognize very small landlords that didn’t have the ability to necessarily shoulder all of the costs connected with a termination,” she said.

Kelly McLaughlin, executive director of the Howard County-based nonprofit Bridges to Housing Stability Inc., said that while the bill does balance the interests of landlords and tenants, 100 miles is too far for many low-income residents who rely on public transportation to commute and therefore are more likely to need to move to be closer to a job.

McLaughlin said she didn’t have a specific mile radius that she would have preferred.

“If this was meant to protect vulnerable, low-income individuals who have low resources and can’t afford to stay in their lease when their employment has shifted, it seems we’ve taken away some of that protection by requiring the new job to be that far away,” she said.

Alicyn DelZoppo, a real estate agent with Northrop Realty in Clarksville, and a past president of the Howard County Association of Realtors, said she worked with Sigaty on amendments to the early termination clause and is satisfied with the final version of the bill, including that the bill specifies the change in employment must be involuntary to qualify.

“I think we came to a pretty good middle ground,” DelZoppo said, referring to adjustments in the early termination clause. “Not all landlords are corporations, they’re regular homeowners, some of them are trying to just pay their mortgage.”

kmagill@baltsun.com

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