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Council Passes Bill to Allow Tenants to Terminate Lease In Case of Uncorrected Violations

June 26, 2019

The Montgomery County Council unanimously passed Bill 6-19, Landlord-Tenant Relations – Termination of Lease – Tenant Health and Safety, which requires each lease for rental housing in the County to allow the tenant to terminate the lease without penalty if the landlord does not correct a violation that adversely affects the immediate health and safety of the tenant within 30 days of being ordered to do so by the Department of Housing and Community Affairs (DHCA). This bill applies to both the tenant’s unit and common areas available for use by the tenant.

   Councilmember Tom Hucker was the lead sponsor of this legislation, and all other Councilmembers signed on as cosponsors.

   “No one should have to live with roaches, mice or mold, or without access to electricity, water or heat,” said Councilmember Hucker, who serves on the Public Safety Committee and chairs the Transportation and Environment Committee. “Unfortunately, too many renters face these and similar challenges affecting their fundamental well-being and safety. This bill extends needed protections to renters who, through no fault of their own, face unsafe conditions that have been ignored by their landlords.”

   Under the bill, which was approved by the County Council on Tuesday, June 25, a tenant could terminate a lease if DHCA orders a landlord to correct certain violations of law and the landlord fails to correct those violations. This tenant protection is triggered when DHCA finds health and safety violations including the following:

   • rodent or insect infestation affecting 20 percent or more units in a building;

   • extensive and visible mold growth on interior walls or surfaces exposed to the occupied space;

   • windows that do not permit a safe means of egress;

   • pervasive and recurring water leaks that result in chronic dampness or mold growth;

   • personal property damage in more than one unit; or

   • lack of one or more working utilities that was not shut off due to tenant non-payment.

   This bill was inspired by residents of The Enclave apartments, which had over 2,600 housing code violations by DHCA this past winter. “The Enclave tried to use bullying tactics to intimidate me into staying in my apartment,” said Ignacia Joyner, a former resident. “They denied that the mold was the cause of my family’s health problems, they demanded two months’ rent and they threatened to report me to the credit bureaus if I broke my lease.”

   “The Council is firmly committed to protecting the rights of our growing community of renters and their families to healthy and safe housing,” said Councilmember Hucker. “Our recent legislation demonstrates that commitment, and our work continues in this vital area.”

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