From Harford County Councilman Dion Guthrie:
First, I want to thank all those here tonight in attendance regardless of which side of the issue you are supporting, who have taken time from their busy schedules who wanted to address the issues of Bill 12-02, the Livability Code. I want to thank my colleagues who shared their meaningful input as well on this Bill and the Task Force who dedicated countless hours of their time to assist in updating a section of the Code which has not been meaningfully amended since its enactment in 1988.
Recently, on February 8th, the General Assembly heard HB 644 (entitled “Environment – Reducing the Incidence of Lead Poisoning” which alters the application of the Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing law to apply to specified property constructed before 1978. Previously only residences built prior to 1950 were subject to this law. This Bill also requires the Department of the Environment or a local health department to order lead abatement in any residential property. Of the 161 rental properties in Harford County already subject to this law, this Bill would now compel approximately 305 more rentals to comply with this change. Additionally, this Bill would increase an annual registration fee for affected rental property from $15 to $30 per year, per property. This Bill has huge fiscal notes for Harford County, if passed, because it affects every landlord with a property built prior to 1978. If I am not mistaken, it would require a certified inspection for lead upon each vacancy in the property no matter how close to the previous inspection’s date. Each inspection can cost anywhere between $150-$250. And the cost is borne by the property owner.
Also, back on January 20th, the General Assembly heard SB 196 (entitled “Public Safety – Building Codes – Balcony Inspections (“Jonathan’s Law”) which requires a political subdivision to conduct inspections of specified multifamily dwellings with balconies at least once every 5 years to ensure that each balcony meets the requirements of the applicable local housing code or the Minimum Livability Code. It also authorizes a political subdivision to authorize a third party to conduct the periodic inspections or charge a fee for a periodic inspection. This Bill is in the Assembly now following the tragic loss of a young boy who fell to his death after the balcony he was standing on gave way. This Bill has very good intentions. But it is piece of legislation that like HB 644 has incredible ramifications for our multi-family dwelling property owners, like our Apartment complex owners who have 100’s of units that this Bill would include.
These Bills are a problem for our County if they pass. They are a detriment to our rental property owners who fall into these categories and because they are so poorly drafted, the FINANCIAL impact is greater to the County, to the public, and to our employees who would be responsible for handling some of the aspects of these laws. Aside from the fiscal considerations of these Bills, they also weigh on the necessity of having a registration procedure within our Livability Code. One of the major changes to Chapter 162 is the registration procedure. With the uncertainty of the potential passage of these Bills, and to avoid duplicative efforts of having to return to this issue, it is prudent to simply await the results of the Assembly and address this item at a future date.
Further, Section 162-18 on page 29 of Bill 12-02 refers to an International Property Maintenance Code as establishing the property standards for rentals within Harford County. Unfortunately, we received word today that Harford County may seek to exempt itself from certain portions of that Code. If this occurs, Section 162-18 will not appropriately reflect those distinctions and will not fall subject to any changes made to the International Property Maintenance Code by the Administration or the Council. For these reasons, it is best to withdraw this Bill at this time.
When the Task Force convened to update Chapter 162 of the Livability Code, we did so with the sincerest desire to draft legislation which reflected the collective input of the Community, the Administration and the Council. In light of HB 644, SB 196 and the impact of changes from the International Property Maintenance Code in November there is a concern that this Bill may not be consistent with those intentions. I believe, therefore, it is my duty as the Sponsor to withdraw this Bill until the General Assembly moves on HB644 and SB 196 and the changes made to the International Property Maintenance Code are fully realized. Hopefully these Bills will be defeated or substantially amended. Thank you.