A County Council proposal to require real estate agents to share information about the county's long-range land use plans with prospective buyers could carry a $250 to $500 penalty for violators.
A story published Jan. 20 in The Howard County Sun ("Maps could be required reading for home buyers") noted that the proposal contains no penalty clause.
A penalty would exist, however, under the county code, said Mary Lorsung, an aide to County Councilman Paul R. Farragut.
According to a proposal they fear could become an "administrative nightmare," local real estate agents would be required to give prospective buyers maps depicting the county's long-range land use plans.
The bill,which is expected to be put on the county council agenda later this month, requires real estate agents to notify prospective buyers of plans for capital road improvements and land use in Howard County at least three days before the final contract is signed. The requirement does not apply to homeowners selling property without the aid of a real estate agent.
Vivian Feen, president of the Howard County Board of Realtors, shared the draft bill with brokers and managers at a meeting Friday morning.
"They plan to look at it and make recommendations, but overall, it appears to be an administrative nightmare for both the county and the seller," Feen said.
Agents would be required to provide buyers with copies of three maps -- the 1990 General Plan, the land use 2010 map, and the highways 2010 map.
Also required is a "conspicuous notice" alerting buyers that the maps may be out of date and to call the county planning office with their questions or for more detailed information. Buyers would be required to sign an affidavit that they received the maps.
The purpose of the bill, according to its joint sponsors -- council members Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Paul R. Farragut, D-3rd -- is to inform buyers about highway projects and land-use patterns that could affect the property they plan to buy.
However, the bill provides no penalty for withholdingthe information. Quite the reverse -- failure to comply with the requirement would not invalidate the sale.
Pendergrass said she assumes that if the bill were to become law, people would naturally obey it. The threat of law suits would be enough to make people comply, Pendergrass said.
Real estate agents worry that buyers might file suits against them regardless. If an agent is not up on the latest change in county or state plans, or if a change occurs between the time abuyer signs a contract and the time of settlement, a buyer might sue, Fein said. Keeping abreast of state and local planning changes would be difficult, she said.
Pendergrass said that while the draft bill only requires copies of the maps, she assumes real estate agents will not make copies on their own but will buy official 60-by-40 inch versions from the county planning office and give them free of chargeto clients. The county planning office would print all three maps ona single sheet and sell them for less than $5.
In a press release, Farragut and Pendergrass said one of their aims was to "avoid to the degree possible, individuals and communities being caught by surprise as construction nears" on roadways included in the General Plan.
Historically, roadway hearings are the most volatile and vituperative of all public hearings. On Monday before Christmas, for example, the council stayed in session until 1:45 a.m., primarily because of citizen unrest regarding proposed highway changes in the Montgomery Road area.
Residents in the Gray Rock Drive area, meanwhile, have spent thousands of dollars in attorney fees and besieged the council for more than five years to delete from the General Plan the planned connection of Gray Rock Drive.
The road remains on the General Plan but is still unconnected. Preventing "additional delays and costs to developers and the county" was cited by Farragut and Pendergrass in their press release as one of their objectives.
When Board of Realtors president Feen was asked how many customers have complained to her about buying a house in a neighborhood that later became embroiled in a road controversy, she said, "None."
Feen has been a real estate agent here for 14 years. She said that to her knowledge, none of her colleagues had received such a complaint either.