2 bills in Montgomery Co. aim to make apartments safer for residents

Newly elected Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker said in a briefing Monday morning two bills he’s introducing would make apartments in the county safer for residents.

The two measures would require landlords to install window guards to prevent young children from falling out of windows and to take steps to replace equipment that regulates the flow of gas into buildings, which was cited by federal investigators as the probable cause of a deadly 2016 apartment explosion in Silver Spring.

Regarding steps to prevent falls, Hucker referred to the death of a 2-year-old boy from an apartment window in Takoma Park in October, and added, “We’ve had several other falls in the last few years in Montgomery County.”

Hucker said 15 to 20 children each year die as a result of falls from windows, and another 15,000 are injured. He said his proposed legislation is modeled on requirements in New York City, where landlords “must install window guards in apartments where there are families with children under 10 years old.”

The incoming council president is also introducing a bill that would require landlords to schedule the replacement of indoor mercury service regulators, which regulate the flow of gas into buildings. This equipment was cited by federal officials in a report on the 2016 Silver Spring apartment explosion that killed seven people and injured dozens more.

Hucker’s legislation would require landlords to schedule the replacement of their regulators, and inform renters when the replacement is scheduled and completed.

The National Transportation Safety Board listed a mercury service regulator as the probable cause of the Flower Branch complex explosion, a finding initially disputed by Washington Gas, the utility that served the apartment complex.

The Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, a group representing property owners and managers, said in a statement that they didn’t support the proposed bill.

WGL spokesman Brian Edwards said Washington Gas is reviewing Hucker’s bill, adding, “We have been steadily replacing mercury regulators over the last several years and are continuing this process. On March 3, 2020, we filed a plan with the Maryland Public Service Commission to replace all mercury regulators in multifamily buildings in Maryland over a three-year period.”

Edwards added that the utility hopes to complete replacement of any remaining mercury regulators in single-family homes over a five-year period, and referred customers to online information about mercury service regulators from Washington Gas.

In September 2019, the Maryland Public Service Commission, which oversees utilities in the state, called on Washington Gas to respond to questions about its previous commitment to replace more than 66,000 indoor mercury gas regulators by 2013. That commitment was made as Washington Gas sought a rate increase from the commission.

The case is still before the Public Service Commission. Evidentiary hearings were held in September; Tori Leonard, communications director for the Maryland Public Service Commission, said a decision from the commission is still pending.

A lawsuit involving Washington Gas was settled in December 2019.

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