A Maryland delegate aims to protect tenants in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties by ensuring landlords have a rental license before they try to evict them.
House Bill 524, sponsored by Del. Mary Lehman, a Democrat who represents parts of both counties, would require a landlord who files a failure to pay rent judgment — the first step in an eviction process — to first prove their property is licensed and inspected, firmly placing the burden of proof with the landlord to show that the property is in compliance with the law throughout the eviction process.
It would only apply to Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties as both already have in place laws requiring landlords to hold rental licenses.
“Residential rental property licenses provide a level of assurance that a property is safe and habitable,” Lehman said at Friday’s Anne Arundel County Delegation meeting. “A temporary or provisional license that’s typically issued before there is an inspection may never actually trigger an inspection or the issuance of the actual license. And without an inspection, there’s no assurance that any given property will meet your local health and safety standards.”
The bill does not create any new licensing requirements, Lehman added, but it would make it so that provisional or temporary licenses aren’t enough to comply with existing law when bringing an eviction case. Such licenses are more specific to Prince George’s County and do not require an inspection for a landlord to receive one.
The bill clarifies a process that is often opaque and is sometimes applied inconsistently, said Lisa Sarro, general counsel for Arundel Community Development Services, the nonprofit arm of the county government. Sarro has decades of housing law experience and litigated a 2011 case, McDaniel v. Baranowski, that required landlords to be licensed before they could file an eviction judgment.
“I know the judiciary can’t submit bills, but this would be something that the judiciary probably would want because it provides that clarity,” Sarro told the delegation Friday. “You would have to have that license when you file your case. You’d have to have it as a landlord when you’re pursuing your case.”
Sarro has also successfully argued for the dismissal of hundreds of failure to pay rent cases against Annapolis public housing residents. Judge John McKenna, administrative judge for the district courts in Anne Arundel County, found that the Annapolis housing authority could not seek expedited evictions because its properties were not inspected and licensed like every other landlord in the city.
The bill is “virtually identical” to one passed for Baltimore City last year and ensures that landlords have “clean hands” throughout the eviction process, said Zafar Shah, an attorney with the Public Justice Center, who testified at Friday’s meeting.
Currently, there is nothing in the law that provides a check on landlords to ensure their license is valid and in compliance. And in Baltimore, there was a high percentage of landlords who used outdated or fake licensing information, Shah said.
The bill does not yet have a hearing date. It will next go before the House Public Health Subcommittee, chaired by Del. Shaneka Henson, D-Annapolis, at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 3.