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Fatal fall prompts push for Md. balcony inspection law

Friday - 2/10/2012, 6:00am  ET


ANNAPOLIS — A New Market woman whose son died in 2008 after falling through a rotting second-story railing urged state lawmakers Thursday to require balcony inspections in apartments and other multi-family dwellings.

If legislators pass the bill sponsored by Sen. Ron Young, balconies on apartments, hotels, motels and condominiums would need inspection every five years.

"We personally know what it's like to lose someone in something that could've been totally avoided," Jennifer Mykytyn said at the Senate committee hearing Thursday.

Her son fell about six weeks after he moved with his fianc?e into a rental property in Massachusetts, Mykytyn told the committee. Jonathan Train likely slipped as he stepped outside onto a second-story balcony; instead of catching him, the railing gave way, she said. Train, 32, died from the fall.

Mykytyn said she and her husband were sleeping when they got the call that their son had fallen. Minutes later, they got another call from an emergency room doctor who told them he had died.

"I just felt like a lightning bolt went through my body in hearing the words every parent dreads," Mykytyn told the Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee.

She later learned that previous tenants had warned Train's landlord the railings were rotting and dangerous, she said. The railing posts had never been re-secured to the floor after the patio surface was replaced.

Unsafe balconies cause injuries and deaths every year, Young said.

"There are, unfortunately, landlords and property owners that fail consumers by not taking care of these -- even sometimes when reported to them," he told the committee.

Mykytyn said she first fought to pass a balcony inspection bill in Massachusetts. Her friendship with Young's wife, Karen Young, led to the Maryland proposal, called "Jonathan's Law." Karen Young said she calls Mykytyn her "bat sister," since the two prepared together for their adult bat mitzvahs.

Local jurisdictions would have to require balcony inspections under Young's bill and could send their own employees to verify the structures' safety. To lessen the financial burden on cities and counties, the bill allows building owners to hire private inspectors to do the checks.

An amendment to the original legislation would allow a municipality to deny rental licenses to property owners that do not get the inspections and those that fail the safety review.

The Maryland Association of Counties has concerns that the bill could strain local budgets.

Leslie Knapp, associate director of MACO, said many counties do not have the staff to do the inspections. The association is not against the spirit of the bill, Knapp said, but he would like to see clearer language permitting local governments to rely on private companies to do the checks.

Differences between jurisdictions could pose additional difficulties, Knapp told legislators.

"There are some counties that do not even have access to the locations ... covered by the bill and would have to construct a database of which buildings would fall under the bill," he said.

Some jurisdictions, including Prince George's and Montgomery counties, already check balconies, Ron Young said during the committee hearing.

Eric Soter, Frederick County's director of community development, said the county is aware of the bill and believes it would increase local costs. However, he said, the county review of the legislation is still under way.