Baltimore County Council approves bill to protect renters using housing vouchers

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announces plans to introduce legislation that will make housing discrimination illegal.

The Baltimore County Council narrowly approved legislation Monday to prohibit landlords from rejecting renters solely because they use federal housing vouchers.

Council’s four Democrats voted for the bill; the three Republicans voted against the proposal.


The bill, known as the Baltimore County HOME Act, aims to ban discrimination based on a person’s source of income. County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. was required to introduce the bill as part of a 2016 county agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“Discrimination in any form is wrong," Olszewski said after Monday night’s vote.


He said implementation of the law, which is similar to others around the country, is straightforward.

“We’re not going to see a dramatic change overnight,” Olszewski added.

Supporters have said the bill will open up more parts of the county to low-income renters who use federal housing vouchers, commonly referred to as Section 8. Currently, nearly 60% of Baltimore County’s 5,600 voucher users live in just seven ZIP codes on the county’s east and west sides. Voucher users in the county say it can be difficult to find a rental.

Opponents have said the bill unfairly forces landlords into the federal program, which requires additional paperwork and inspections and can mean additional time before renters are approved. Some residents have said they’re worried about the bill’s effect on their neighborhoods.

Landlords still would be able to vet potential renters by reviewing criminal history, running credit checks and requesting rental history, among other methods.

The outcome of the vote was unclear before Monday’s meeting. Two members, Julian Jones of Woodstock and Izzy Patoka of Pikeville, had said previously they would support the bill. They were joined in approving the bill by Democratic colleagues Cathy Bevins of Middle River and Tom Quirk of Oella.

Bevins and Quirk voted against the bill when it was last brought up in 2016, and failed on a 6-1 vote. Patoka was elected to the council last year.

Bevins called the HOME Act the most misunderstood bill that the council has ever had in front of them during her time on the council.

“It’s not about forcing a Section 8 mandate in people’s neighborhoods,” Bevins said. Quirk agreed with Bevins.

The three Republicans — Todd Crandell of Dundalk, Wade Kach of Cockeysville and David Marks of Perry Hall — voted against the bill.

Council approved one amendment to the bill that exempts small landlords from the requirements. The amendment, proposed by Bevins, Quirk and Jones, exempts landlords who own three or fewer properties if those properties have four or fewer units, each. The exemption would not apply to landlords with similar properties who hire a management firm or agent to rent their properties.

Quirk said the amendment protects “small mom-and-pop” landlords.


Crandell was the only member who voted against the small landlord exemption amendment. Patoka voted for it, but he said “it doesn’t bode well for the spirit of transparency" when the council fails to give the public time to comment on these amendments.

“I would’ve preferred for this to be a clean bill with no amendments,” Patoka said.

Olszewski said the amendment is consistent with state and federal law.

The bill will go into effect in 45 days.

Council also considered — and withdrew — an amendment that would create a fund to help landlords whose properties were damaged by someone using a voucher, which some landlords said was a concern. Olszewski said the fund idea could come up again as he works with council on the law.

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