At the end of January, 2019, the Baltimore City Council introduced a bill calling for licensing and inspection of all residential rental properties throughout the city. City officials have declared the new law “the most significant update” to rental housing regulations written in the last 50 years. Bill Henry, the Councilmen responsible for crafting the bill, stated that the legislation would provide a better quality of rentals across Baltimore City.
What Does This Mean?
The recent overhaul of regulations requires all rental buildings to pass a safety inspection before being granted a license. The new program will separate attentive landlords from negligent property owners. Landlords will either be rewarded with longer, three-year licenses, or penalized with more frequent inspections and additional fees.
In Baltimore City, 53 percent of all properties are rentals, ranking far above the 37 percent national average. Unfortunately, many of the city’s rental properties break multiple housing violations. The city hopes to locate and maintain properties that do not provide their tenants with livable conditions.
Why is the Bill Necessary?
In 2017, the Baltimore Sun conducted a yearlong investigation of law enforcement of rental housing codes. State lawmakers introduced a new tool intended to compel property owners to address significant problems. However, the Sun’s investigators discovered that the new process worked routinely against tenants, and in many cases failed to hold landlords accountable. An analysis of more than 5,500 complaints filed by Baltimore tenants over the course of 6 years revealed that judges in rent escrow consistently favored landlords, even when inspectors reported code violations such as leaking roofs, infestations, lead paint hazards, and more.
As a result of the investigation, Henry introduced the legislation to establish the new program as soon as possible.
Will Residents Lose Their Homes?
Unfortunately for many residents in Baltimore City, the new bill will force them to relocate. The City Council rejected measures to assist tenants with relocation costs, but Public Justice Center and Baltimore Renters United are continuing to fight for funding. Some residents are being forced out of their homes due to uninhabitable conditions. Others had to leave because their landlords could not meet the city deadline.
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