A common home buyer preference is to buy a home that is not within the confines of a HOA or condo association. Maybe the home buyer’s impression is that HOAs and condo associations bully home owners. But the truth is that HOA and condo association rules are created for a number of reasons, which include health and safety. If you don’t comply with the community rules, they can compel you do so. But even if you don’t live in an association managed community, it’s your civic duty to comply with county and/or municipal ordinances to maintain your home.
Believe it or not, regardless of where your home is located, your home has to satisfy health and safety standards that are enforced by your municipality (e.g., Montgomery County, City of Rockville, City of Gaithersburg, etc.). Deferred home maintenance can surely affect the value of your home. However, if it is found that your home doesn’t meet code standards, you can receive a notice of a municipal infraction.
Municipal infractions are also another name for code enforcement. In his manual Municipal Infractions and Code Enforcement, Practice and Procedure for Municipalities in the State of Maryland, Frank M. Johnson stated the need for having such procedures by saying “Most persons will follow the law voluntarily, but the reality is that when a law isn’t enforced, it becomes less effective for everyone. Even those who voluntarily comply are less likely to take a law seriously when it’s known the law won’t be enforced. In addition, steps to enforce the law often involve the most serious violations which, if not corrected, can lead to results which have a significant community and neighborhood impact.”
Mr. Johnson’s manual was originally written for the City of Gaithersburg, but was also adopted by the Maryland Municipal League (http://www.mdmunicipal.org/), which is a statewide non-profit association that promotes municipal administration. What started as a local handbook describing the entire process of municipal infractions (from complaint to enforcement), became a statewide template in code enforcement.
If you ever received a notice of municipal infraction, or just wondered how the process works, check put the manual. The manual describes why you’re receiving the citation, and how it can be enforced. It also describes the appeal process, as well as what can happen if you don’t comply.
Typically, the municipal infraction process begins by a complaint that triggers an investigation. The investigator will inspect and witness any code violations. If there are violations, the investigator will notify you and attempt to resolve the issue(s). Most home owners resolve the issue(s) with the first notice. However, if you don’t comply (or attempt to comply) with the first notice, you will likely be fined. The court can also order you to correct the issue(s), which is called an “abatement order.” If you don’t comply with the abatement order, your municipality can go on your property (and inside the home if necessary) to fix the issue(s) and send you the bill! If you don’t pay, a lien will be placed against your home, while collection actions are implemented.
Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs (montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA) also publishes valuable information about the process. The Housing Code Enforcement Handbook, is written for the public to understand housing code enforcement in the county. The DHCA states that seasonal issues are the most common code violations reported, such as overgrown grass and weeds, dead trees and snow-covered walkways.
Dan Krell is a Realtor® with RE/MAX Success in Potomac, MD. You can access more information at DanKrell.com