COVID-19 Information Update
The COVID-19 Renter Relief Act prohibits landlords in Montgomery County from increasing existing tenants’ rent by more than 2.6% after April 24 and during the COVID-19 catastrophic health emergency signed by the Governor of Maryland on March 5, 2020.
This applies to all licensed residential rentals in Montgomery County, including rental units in multifamily buildings, houses, townhouses, individual condo units, and accessory dwelling units.
Landlords who previously notified tenants of a rent increase in excess of 2.6% that comes into effect after April 24 and during the catastrophic health emergency or, who gave tenants notice of a rent increase of more than 2.6% since the start of the March 5 emergency, must either notify them to disregard that notice or notify them that the rent amount under the notice will be an amount representing an increase of no greater than 2.6%.
In March 2017, Montgomery County law changed to include more responsibilities for landlords. This article summarizes the changes. In this article, “you” means the landlord.
Include a Lease Summary with the Lease
When you give a lease to a tenant, you must include a Lease Summary. The Lease Summary is a form document created by the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA). The summary includes certain key terms of the lease, such as the time covered by the lease, the amount of rent, the date on which rent is due, and the tenant’s responsibility for utilities, if any. It also explains tenant rights and the services available to tenants from DHCA. You can find the lease summary here. You may create your own form summary so long as it contains the required information. You should also include a new Lease Summary for every lease renewal after the first term.
Provide a copy of the DHCA Handbook Copy and Post Information
The DHCA handbook is a guide to the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. You must now provide a copy of the DHCA Handbook (found here) with each lease unless the tenant signs a statement declining your copy and accepting a referral to a copy, which can be found on Montgomery County’s website here.
You must also clearly display an information sign in the lobby, vestibule, rental office or other prominent public place on the property. The sign must tell how a tenant can file a complaint with DHCA, and must list prohibited retaliatory practices. Your sign must be displayed in the following languages: English, Spanish, French, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.
Disclose Utility Billing Information
If you operate a multi-family building built before July 1, 1978, and the units in the building are not individually metered for gas and/or electric billing, you must give each tenant all the information required by the Public Utilities Article of the Maryland Code and by the COMAR provisions governing electric and gas sub-meters and energy allocation systems.
Offer a Two Year Lease at Initial Term and Renewal
In the past, you were only required to offer a two year lease to the tenant during the first term. Now, you must offer your tenant a two year lease for the first term and at renewal. In order to offer a term less than two years you must have reasonable cause and include a statement of reasonable cause with the lease. You must also advise the tenant of the right to challenge your cause by submitting a complaint to DHCA.
New Ways for a Tenant to Terminate the Lease Early
Tenants now have more options to terminate their leases early when circumstances beyond their control require them to move. New reasons that allow a tenant to terminate the lease early include: (1) the tenant or the tenant’s child is a domestic violence victim; (2) the tenant or the tenant’s spouse is at least 62 years old, can no longer live independently and must move to a nursing home or senior citizen housing; (3) the tenant becomes incarcerated or declared mentally incompetent; and (4) the housing provider harasses the tenant or violates the tenant’s privacy.
Provide Notice for Rent Increases and Lease Terminations
You must provide the tenant with 90 days’ notice if you intend to increase the rent.
In the past, if the tenant stayed in the property after the lease expired, becoming a month-to-month tenant, you could at any time give the tenant 60 days’ notice and terminate the lease. Now, in order to terminate the lease, you have to give the 60 days’ notice a full 60 days before the lease expires.
In other words, sixty days before the lease expires, you must either give the tenant a 60-day nonrenewal notice or offer a two-year lease. If you choose to offer a two-year lease the tenant might reject your two-year lease offer and choose to remain in the property as a month-to-month tenant. If that happens, and you wish to keep the tenant on a month-to-month basis, it would be wise to get the rejection of your two-year lease offer in writing, signed by the tenant.
However, if the tenant is in breach of the lease, the 60 days’ notice is not required, and you can choose to terminate the tenancy with 30 days’ notice instead.
Allow Tenant Organizations to use available Meeting Space
You must allow tenant organizations to meet for free, at least once each month, in any available meeting rooms at the property. If the tenant organization meets more than once per month, you may charge a reasonable fee for using the space after the first free meeting.
Cooperate with housing inspections and Give tenants advance notice
All multifamily properties in Montgomery County will be inspected at least once every three years by DHCA. Once inspected, and depending on the result of the inspection, DHCA may decide to inspect the property more frequently. Inspection results that may trigger more frequent inspections include: (1) rodent or insect infestation affecting at least 20% of the units at the property; (2) extensive and visible mold growth in exposed areas; (3) defective windows that prevent safe entry and exit; (4) pervasive and recurring water leaks in more than one unit at the property; (5) lack of one or more working utilities such as gas, electricity, water or sewage disposal (not caused by tenant’s failure to pay the utility); and (6) if the DHCA identifies the property as a trouble property due to severe and frequent violations.
If DHCA determines that annual inspections are necessary, you will be required to submit to DHCA all maintenance complaints you receive from tenants at the property.
Whether the inspections occur every three years or annually, any time an inspection is scheduled for the property, the landlord must provide your tenants with 72 hours’ advance notice.
Additional Remedies When Defective property conditions Exist
The Montgomery County Commission on Landlord Tenant Affairs (the “Commission”) is the department in Montgomery County that investigates property conditions. In addition to the other remedies it can issue, the Commission can now issue an order to (1) allow a tenant fix a defective condition in the unit, and (2) pay reduced rent to cover the reasonable costs of correcting the defect.