Montgomery Co.’s plan for vacant properties: ‘Slap them with more tickets’

WASHINGTON — It is now going to cost homeowners much more to keep their vacant Montgomery County, Maryland, houses in disrepair.

The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to pass a bill that would impose fines on homeowners who don’t maintain their vacant properties.

The aim of the measure is to get ride of neighborhood eyesores that attract crime and reduce property values.

There are hundreds of vacant, dilapidated homes in Montgomery County, according to Councilmember Tom Hucker, who sponsored the bill that gives the housing department the power to identify vacant, dilapidated homes, issue fines and frequently inspect the homes to ensure those repairs are made.

On social media, Hucker asked people for the addresses of vacant properties. He received more than 100.

“You’d think a lot of these people have a strong financial incentive to rent or sell the house. But a lot [of vacant homeowners] just never get around to it or are feuding with a sibling over an inheritance or something else,” Hucker said.

Before, all the county could do was cut the grass and fine the owner.

“If there’s a gutter hanging off, if there’s broken windows, if there’s boarded up doors and windows … you know, you go out there more frequently and slap them with more tickets, they’re gonna (SIC) be forced to either clean up the property and fix it up or to sell it,” Hucker said.

The bill applies to condominium owners as well.

Hucker had written the bill placing the onus on the homeowners to register their vacant properties, but the council’s agenda states, “the Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee recommended enacting the bill, but to remove the requirement for a registry. The committee recommended that instead, DHCA provide annual reports on the department’s activities related to unmaintained vacant dwellings.”

Council members Roger Berliner, Marc Elrich, Nancy Navarro, Craig Rice, Hans Riemer, Nancy Floreen and George Leventhal  co-sponsored the measure.

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