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Baltimore County councilman wants to close loophole to address over-renting issues

The Baltimore County Council is considering legislation aimed at closing a loophole through which some landlords may be renting properties to more people than the law is meant to allow.

It’s currently illegal in the county for landlords to rent to three or more adults who are not related by blood, marriage, or adoption unless a permit is issued by the county’s Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections.

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However, residents in some neighborhoods are concerned that some landlords may be skirting the occupancy limit by letting some tenants live in a house or apartment without cost. They worry about over-renting in areas such as Towson, where the availability of college on-campus housing has struggled to keep up with the growing body of students.

Republican County Councilman David Marks, who represents Towson, drafted a bill to amend the definition of a “boarding-rooming house,” which is the term the county uses to describe homes permitted to rent to three or more unrelated people. The amendment would make clear that landlords are “technically renting” to unrelated people who spend over 30 days in a property regardless of whether they’re paying rent, Marks said.

It remains to be seen if the bill will face opposition. Aaron Greenfield of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, which represents owners and managers of rental housing, said they have been reviewing the proposal, and they’re hoping to have determined their stance on the bill soon.

Marks said so far this “peculiar” concern about landlords over-renting a home has been reported only at a townhouse in the Loch Raven Village neighborhood. Residents have complained that a landlord is renting to four college students without a permit to do so.

The complaint was sent to County Code Enforcement and officials approached the landlord about the issue, said Paul Hartman, a member and former president of the Towson Communities Alliance.

Officials told the landlord renting to more than two unrelated adults would require a permit, which is obtained after inspections, paperwork and a public hearing. The landlord’s attorney eventually got involved, Hartman said, and the landlord told the county the townhouse was exempt from the occupancy limitations because no one residing there pays rent.

Hartman is skeptical that people would be living in a house rent free — “It doesn’t make sense to me,” he said — but is glad Marks has introduced legislation to cover the possibility.

Despite the law requiring a permit if three or more unrelated people share a home, Hartman says it’s not unusual for students to pursue splitting the costs four ways to save money. Residents, however, complain this is impacting traffic, street parking, and other quality-of-life issues.

Efforts to address concerns about renting to students came up as recently as 2016. The council enacted a law to allow judges to order people to pay fines of up to $1,000 with the possibility of community service if more than four people in a home near Towson University or the University of Maryland Baltimore County engage in “conduct that disturbs the peace.”

Hartman says he supports having students live in his Towson neighborhood. However, he’s worried some longtime residents will move away because they don’t want to deal with the over-renting they suspect is happening. Code enforcement officials lack the ability to verify if more than two people live in a home unless they are invited inside by the landlord or the tenants.

Marks’ bill would require landlords and tenants to prove that an unrelated person in a home is staying there as a guest and not a rent-free occupant. It would also make lying to code officials about living arrangements a $1,000 misdemeanor fine with the possibility of 30 days in jail.

Hartman hopes the threat of a misdemeanor will be enough to force landlords to obey the law.

“Landlords as it is – even without the compensation loophole – typically over-rent to students all the time," he said. “We just want to coexist with the students and it’s only when there’s a disruptive or nuisance home that we’ll go after them for that,” he said.

The council will discuss the details of the bill on Tuesday, and they are expected to vote on it Dec. 16. If approved, the law would take effect Dec. 30.

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