Landlords would have to provide information on tenants’ rights under 2 Montgomery Co. proposals

Dozens of loved ones, community members and building residents gathered in front of the Arrive Silver Spring Apartment Complex on Thursday night to honor the life of Melanie Diaz, who was killed in an apartment fire there last weekend.(WTOP/Scott Gelman)

Two bills designed to clarify what rights tenants have are being considered by the Montgomery County Council.

One bill, 8-24, requires landlords to display information about the county’s law regarding when and how landlords can conduct criminal background checks and pull credit reports on potential renters.

Council member Laurie-Anne Sayles said the proposed bill was the result of a conversation with a constituent.

In the council’s March 5 meeting, Sayles told her council colleagues that a resident contacted her office after being denied for a rental application.

That led her office to look into where those complaints are filed and what kind of issues potential renters may be experiencing.

“The problem we’re trying to solve is making sure that renters can stay housed,” Sayles told WTOP in an interview. “And [so] renters don’t encounter any barriers when they are trying to access housing.

Under the county’s “ban the box” law, criminal background checks and credit reports checks can’t be carried out before a landlord makes an offer to rent to a prospective tenant. Bill 8-24 would require landlords to post notice “where applicants are solicited for rental housing,” according to the legislative packet on the bill.

The bill would also require that landlords provide a statement or addendum with each rental application that outlines the process and use of information related to criminal arrest, convictions and credit screenings.

Emergency information

Another bill introduced to the county council would require that landlords provide information to renters on the building’s sprinkler system operations, the emergency safety plan for the property and explanations on renter’s insurance.

Montgomery County Council Vice President Kate Stewart told WTOP in an interview, “We’re really protecting people” with Bill 7-24. She said that the majority of the landlords and management companies operating in Montgomery County “share that goal.”

Stewart said two incidents spurred her to introduce the legislation. The first, a deadly fire in Silver Spring at the Arrive apartments in February 2023, left one woman dead and 15 others injured. Damages were initially estimated at $2 million in that three-alarm fire.

Hundreds were evacuated in that fire and Stewart said those who experienced water and smoke damage “truly lost everything.”

In that fire, Stewart said many renters believed they had renter’s insurance — but did not. Stewart said their belief that they were covered stemmed from a misunderstanding about policies that applied to the landlord’s insurance.

Her bill would require residential leases to include information about renter’s insurance. It would also require the availability of a building representative in emergencies on a 24-hour basis.

Stewart said another incident that prompted her bill was the storm-related power outage that affected the Grand apartment complex in North Bethesda in the summer. In that incident, residents couldn’t use elevators for days.

“There are people who live there who are on oxygen and other medical devices,” said Stewart. The loss of power, said Stewart, caused temperatures inside some apartments to soar to nearly 90 degrees.

Stewart said her bill would require notification by landlords of essential service disruptions and would require an emergency safety plan — and approval of that plan — by the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Both bills were introduced during a council session on March 5. Dates for public hearings for the bills have not been scheduled as of Tuesday, March 12.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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