NEW LAWS IMPACTING LANDLORDS

Written by Benny L. Kass

While the material in this column relates to issues in Maryland and the District of Columbia, it is presented here because it contains very helpful information that other legislative bodies should consider.

Effective June 12, 2015, if you are a landlord in a community association in Montgomery County, and are delinquent in your association assessments, you may not be able to rent until you pay up.

And effective July 3, landlords in the District of Columbia must provide potential residential tenants a Tenant Bill of Rights.

In Montgomery County, you cannot rent a house or a condominium unit without obtaining a rental license. The Montgomery County Council recently voted that if a landlord is not current in its payments to the community association where the property is located, the County will have the right to deny or revoke an existing license.

The landlord must certify that it is current on the assessments. And the association can file a complaint against the landlord showing proof that there is a delinquency, such as a lien or an unsatisfied judgment.

What are the consequences of not having a license? First, the landlord can be fined up to $500 per day. And equally significant, an unlicensed landlord cannot sue its tenant in the courts for nonpayment of rent.

This is a law that is desperately needed by condominium associations. All too often, landlords collect their rent but fail to pay the condo assessments. Association fees are based on the annual budget prepared and adopted by the Board of Directors. The Board projects and estimates the annual income, but if many owners fail to pay their fair share, the association goes into the red and has to sacrifice services to all owners.

Many associations require landlords and tenants to sign an addendum to the rental lease. This document gives the association the power to take legal action against the tenant if there are violations of the legal documents. The addendum also requires the tenant to pay the rent to the association instead of to the landlord, if the tenant is formally notified that the landlord is in arrears.

But not all associations have enacted such a lease addendum, and in many cases landlords just ignore the matter and collect their rent. This new law will greatly assist associations — at least in Montgomery County.

In the District, before Mayor Vincent Gray left office, he signed into law “The Tenant Bill of Rights Amendment of 2014”. This law directed the DC Office of Tenant Advocate to prepare and publish a bill of rights.

As of July 3rd, if you plan to rent a residential property –house, condominium or cooperative apartment — at the time that the prospective tenant signs a rental application, you must provide your tenant with a copy of the Bill of Rights, and have it signed as received.

This document, according to the DC Tenant Advocate, “is not exhaustive and is intended to provide tenants with an overview of the basic rights of tenancy in the District. Areas covered include:

  1. general information about leases, including that a written lease is not mandatory;
  2. explanation about security deposits, pointing out that they cannot exceed one month’s rent;
  3. unless you pay your rent by personal check, the landlord must provide you with a written receipt;
  4. tenants have the absolute right to organize into a tenant association and the landlord cannot interfere in any way with the right to join such a group,and
  5. evictions: there are only ten ways that a landlord can legally evict you and in every case, it has to be done by a judge in the D.C. Superior Court. Self-help — changing the locks or cutting off your utilities — is not permitted.
  6. When the proposal was pending before the D.C. City Council, the real estate industry expressed concerns that this could increase costs to tenants, but the Council adopted it unanimously.

The document can be located on the web (DC tenants bill of rights).