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Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has pledged to step up code enforcement, citing poor living conditions for many low-income renters in the County.
Elrich has previously said that the Department of Housing and Community Affairs had failed to adequately enforce the County’s numerous housing codes, which regulate apartment building in the County.
When Elrich was on the County Council, he was the lead sponsor of Bill 19-15, which requires more-frequent inspections for apartment building and gives tenants more rights. Elrich said even after the passing the bill, the DHCA has failed to adequately enforce housing regulations.
“Unfortunately, two years after passage of that legislation, I am hearing similar concerns at my listening sessions,” Elrich said in a statement. “This cannot continue. That is why we are launching a housing code enforcement campaign. We are serious about protecting the safety and well-being of tenants, so we need to ensure that we scrutinize properties that have a history of housing code violations.”
On Dec. 19, the County sent out a notice to property owners letting them know about the updates to the enforcement regime. The notice lists housing regulations the County Council had recently passed, indicating that the new regulations will now be enforced more strictly with a new County Executive.
Under County law, rental properties are supposed to be inspected once every two years. Properties that are considered problem properties — which are frequently out of code — will be inspected on an annual basis. So far, DHCA officials have inspected 538 multifamily rental properties in Montgomery County since the passage of Elrich’s tenants’ rights bill in 2016.
“We are on target to complete the intensive inspection program on time,” said Acting DHCA Director Tim Goetzinger. “But that is not enough. We need to do more. Increased inspections are a staple of the updated law, but we need to do a better job of getting the word out. We need to do a better job of educating our landlords and tenants about rights and responsibilities.”
Elrich has made code enforcement an early priority of his administration. During his listening sessions around the County, residents told Elrich that they live in apartments out of code with landlords who won’t correct housing code violation.
During a listening session in Silver Spring, a woman told Elrich about her apartment, which is filled with black mold that has made her sick. She told Elrich she reached out to the County, warning them of the housing code violations, but to no avail.
“This is one of the reasons why the housing department needs new leadership,” Elrich told her.
New Montgomery County Chief Administrative Officer Andre Kleine has promised to provide that new leadership, saying that better code enforcement will be a priority for him.
“We’ve heard a lot in Mark’s listening sessions from people who are living in conditions that should not exist in this County,” Kleine said. “Also, I have seen from the residents’ survey that code enforcement get low marks.”
A tragic fire in Silver Spring helped bring tenants’ rights issues to light. In 2016, the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring caught fire after an explosion in which seven people died.
The fire brought new-found attention to housing code enforcement, as the Flower Branch apartment building with hundreds of code violations — including mice, mold, mildew and broken lights, which Kay Management did not fix even though they were cited by the County.
The poor conditions for the mostly low-income immigrants who were living in Flower Branch prompted new political pressure for the County Council to pass Elrich’s proposed Bill 19-15.