2018 Legislative Testimony

Housing and renters' rights
 
City Council 18-0185: Rental licensing and inspections
Baltimore City Council, Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee, February 20, 2018
In the Baltimore City Council, the PJC and its allies in the Renters United coalition, including Communities United, Jews United for Justice, Right to Housing Alliance, Baltimore Healthy Start, and many others, are supporting this bill, with amendments, to require licensing and inspections for all rental properties in Baltimore City (not just multi-family dwelling of three or more units, which is the current law). To learn more about this campaign, visit www.rentersunitedmd.org.
 
SB 524: Landlord and Tenant – Repossession for Failure to Pay Rent – Lead Risk Reduction Compliance
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, February 15, 2018
This is one of the PJC’s lead bills this session: it provides that a landlord who seeks to use the court’s machinery to evict tenants must come with “clean hands.” The bill makes dismissal of an eviction action mandatory when the landlord cannot show the court a valid lead certificate for the tenancy. The bill gives judges discretion to postpone a matter for up to seven days (or longer by agreement of the parties), so that the landlord has a second shot at proving their compliance and tenants can demonstrate evidence of non-compliance.
 
HB 852: Landlord and Tenant - Repossession for Failure to Pay Rent – Lead Risk Reduction Compliance
House Environment & Transportation Committee, March 2, 2018
This bill would require landlords to demonstrate their compliance with Maryland lead paint laws before they can use the courts to evict tenants. The PJC is leading a large coalition of tenant advocates on this bill.
 
HB 832/SB 520: Minimum Trial Notice in Baltimore City Rent Court
House Environment and Transportation Committee, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee
SUPPORT: The bill improves notice of trial in Rent Court cases in Baltimore City. The bill intends to prevent short-notice litigation and give renters critical time prepare for court. The PJC is leading on this bill, part of our rent court reform package.
 
SB 520: Landlord and Tenant – Repossession for Failure to Pay Rent Procedures
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, February 15, 2018
SB520, another of the PJC’s lead bills, will establish that service of process must occur at least seven days before the trial date in an eviction case. This gives tenants with at least minimal notice and opportunity to prepare or seek counsel before their trial date.
 
HB 832: Baltimore City – Landlord and Tenant – Repossession for Failure to Pay Rent Procedures
Hearing of the Environment & Transportation Committee, March 13, 2018
The PJC supports HB 832, which improves notice of trial in Rent Court cases in Baltimore City. The bill will prevent short-notice litigation and give renters critical time prepare for court proceedings that have serious consequences: eviction or damaging rental and credit history.
 
SB 493: Labeling extra landlord fees as “additional rent”
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, February 15, 2018
The PJC and its allies opposed SB493, which is an attempt to undo a successful PJC Court of Appeals decision that held that “rent” is the “fixed periodic sum” that is paid for use and occupancy, and does not include other debts between landlord and tenant, including utility charges. The rationale is that the expedited summary eviction proceeding should be used only for real rent, not for all charges. SB493 attempts to reverse that decision, allowing any fee of any sort to be included in the lease as “additional rent” and then the tenant can be summarily evicted for nonpayment of any additional rent. Rent ledgers are often difficult to understand and there are many tricks to hide illegal or unfair charges, which would make tenants even more vulnerable to eviction. For an infographic describing why the bill is a bad deal for tenants, click here.

SB 468: Water and sewer bills
Judicial Proceedings Committee, February 15, 2018
The PJC opposes this bill. Oftentimes the water or other utility is put in the landlord’s name but the tenant is required in the lease to pay it. Typically, the tenant pays it after the landlord has given the tenant the bill. But SB468 puts the burden on the tenant to request each and every water bill instead of requiring the landlord to automatically deliver a timely copy of the water bill to the tenant.
 
HB 942: Real Property — Body Attachments — Debt Related to Residential Tenancy
House Judiciary Committee, February 21, 2018
The PJC supports this bill to provide counsel when a person living in poverty is arrested on a body attachment and taken before the court or a judicial officer. A body attachment is an order to the sheriff or police to arrest a debtor and bring him into court to disclose the debtor’s income and assets. A body attachment may happen after a creditor gets a judgment for a debt owed, and the debtor has failed to show up to disclose their income and assets. When the debtor is picked up by the police or sheriff, the debtor is held in custody and may be required to post a bond or bail.
 
Physical liberty goes to the heart of our basic freedoms, but because a body attachment is a civil rather than a criminal proceeding, a right to counsel is not guaranteed even though the result could be jail time. Counsel is important because there may be good reasons why the debtor did not appear: there are often defects in the various notices, including failure of service of the complaint itself. Furthermore, there may be substantial questions as to the legitimacy of some debts: debt buyers are often provided with minimal or erroneous information from the original debt owner. So a person arrested on a body attachment may not have received notice of the hearings and may not even owe the debt.

HB 580: Landlord and Tenant – Prohibited Lease Provisions – Late Fees for Tenant Receiving Government Benefits
Hearing of the House Environment and Transportation Committee
February 15, 2018
SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENTS: The PJC supports a bill to not allow landlords to charge a late fee if the tenant notifies them that their government assistance is late.

HB 494/SB 555: Safe Neighborhoods Act
Hearing before the Environment and Transportation Committee, February 13, 2018; Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, February 15, 2018
OPPOSE: The PJC opposes because contrary to the bill’s title, the objective of the bill is to strip tenants of due process rights and will increase evictions.

SB 397: Public Utilities – Apartment Houses and Commercial Buildings – Service Charge
Hearing of the Finance Committee, February 6, 2018
OPPOSE: The PJC is opposing a bill that would lift the $1 cap on surcharges that landlords are allowed to charge tenants when the landlord splits the cost of utilities between multiple tenants. 

SB 250: Landlord and Tenant – Prohibited Lease Provisions – Late Fees for Tenant Receiving Government Benefits
Hearing of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, January 30, 2018
SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENTS: The PJC supports requiring that landlords may not charge a 5% late fee if the tenant notifies the landlord that they are on a defined government benefit program and that the benefits have not arrived in time to make the rent payment on time.

HB 635: Courts and Judicial Proceedings – Consumer Contracts
Hearing of the House Economic Matters Committee, February 7, 2018
SUPPORT: HB 635 would provide that “consumer contracts,” including residential leases, are not subject to a 12-year statute of limitations regardless of whether the magic words “under seal” are used. Almost all contracts and causes of action in Maryland are subject to a three-year statute of limitations. This limitation provides certainty to all parties that they are not going to be sued for an issue from many years ago. With a residential lease, a three-year statute of limitations provides a reasonable time in which any landlord or tenant can sue after a breach. 
 
SB 826: Baltimore City - Landlord and Tenant – False Representations and Unlawful Evictions
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, March 1, 2018
The PJC supports SB 826, which adds important protections for Baltimore City renters when facing the threat of eviction. The bill clarifies existing public local law that sets forth criminal consequences for a landlord who make false representations in notices to quit or use utility shut-offs to evict a tenant extrajudicially. The bill also expands the law to cover illegal lock-outs and other common types of constructive eviction, such as removal of the tenant’s personal property.

SB 801: Environment – Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing – Elevated Blood Lead Levels
Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, March 1, 2018
The PJC supports SB 801, which would update Maryland’s Reduction of Lead Risk in Housing Law to meet current public health standards on lead poisoning. There is no safe level of lead exposure, according to public health experts, including the Centers for Disease Control. Yet, our state is still using the 10 micrograms/deciliter (μg/dl) measurement of elevated blood lead level (EBL) as the “action” level” at which the child should be treated for lead poisoning. SB 801 would change the action level to 5 μg/dl. This means that children with a 5 μg/dl EBL will not have to wait until their EBL doubles to benefit from state-mandated environmental investigation and corrective actions, including treatment for the child and abatement of the lead paint.
 
HB 1667: Gas and Electric Companies – Deposit Charges
Hearing of the Economic Matters Committee, March 15, 2018
Position: Support with amendment
The Public Justice Center supports HB 1667 because it will benefit vulnerable populations, many of whom are renting. By reducing the burden of deposit charges, HB 1667 allows elder renters to use their limited incomes for ongoing utility costs so that they can keep the lights on, keep their homes warm, and keep their medications refrigerated.
 
HB 1470: Baltimore City – Landlord and Tenant – Water and Sewer Billing
Hearing of the Environment & Transportation Committee, March13, 2018
The PJC supports HB 1470, which ends water shut-offs at multi-family buildings and provides Baltimore City renters direct access to water and sewer billing information. This is a fundamental consumer protection at a time of rising water rates and unpredictable billing.

MC 15-18: Montgomery County – Residential Leases – Just Cause
Hearing of the Montgomery County Delegation, February 9, 2018
SUPPORT: The PJC supports this bill, which requires a Montgomery County landlord prove just cause to evict a tenant, in part because Maryland retaliation law does not adequately protect tenants.
 
 
Access to the courts
 
HB 1270: Access to Maryland Courts Act
House Judiciary Committee, February 21, 2018
Back for the fifth year, the PJC leads this bill to allow Maryland courts to award reasonable attorney fees to prevailing plaintiffs in claims under Maryland’s Constitution and Declaration of Rights. Currently, when Maryland state or local government violate a person’s rights under the Maryland Constitution, the victim has a dilemma. These cases are complicated and expensive, and most people could not afford a lawyer to vindicate their rights. The victim could bring a case in federal court in Greenbelt or Baltimore, because federal judges can order the losing government to pay the attorney fees if the victim wins. But not in Maryland courts. This bill is important to help Marylanders find lawyers to represent them in local courts in their own communities when important state constitutional rights are involved. PJC Executive Director John Nethercut and Board President Greg Care testified, along with several panels of proponents.


Workers' rights and immigrants' rights

House Bills 1421, 1417, 1314, 1262, 779, and 98: Attempts to undermine the new earned sick and safe leave law
House Economic Matters Committee, March 6, 2018
All of these bills are intended to weaken, delay, kill, or otherwise frustrate the intent of the General Assembly in overriding the Governor’s veto of the Maryland Healthy Working Families Act – the earned sick and safe leave bill that went into effect on February 11th.  The Public Justice Center, the Working Matters Coalition and many others stood in opposition to amending the law before we have seen how it plays out in real life. Indications are that these bills will all die in the House Committee.
 
HB 1243: Prevailing Wage Rates – Public Work Contracts – Suits by Employees
Hearing of the House Economic Matters Committee, February 27, 2018
The PJC supports HB 1243, which would help ensure compliance with our prevailing wage laws by enabling workers whose rights have been violated to seek redress in the courts.
 
SB 526: Protecting internationally recruited workers in Maryland from labor exploitation and trafficking
Senate Finance Committee, February 20, 2018
The PJC supports this bill to require recruiters to provide workers with an employment contract to ensure that workers coming to Maryland are fully informed of the terms of their employment before they decide to take a job. This legislation will better protect internationally recruited workers in Maryland from labor exploitation and trafficking.

SB 304: Amendments to the Healthy Working Families Act
Hearing of the House Economic Matters Committee, February 13, 2018
OPPOSE: This bill would delay the earned sick days bill until July. It went into effect February 11 after we successfully overrode the Governor’s veto.

SB 581: Criminal Procedure – Immigration – U Nonimmigrant Status and Enforcement
Hearing of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, February 14, 2018
SUPPORT: SB 581 would authorize law enforcement officials to process the Form I-918, Supplement B certification within 90 days after receiving a request from a victim or victim’s family for the victim’s U-visa application or within 14 days if the victim is facing deportation. As a simple matter of justice, the PJC supports the bill.
 
 
Education
 
SB 657: Workgroup on Establishing an Independent School Board for the Juvenile Services Education System
Hearing of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, February 28, 2018
The PJC supports SB 657, which would create a workgroup to determine whether Maryland should establish an independent school board to oversee the Juvenile Services Education System of the Maryland State Department of Education.
 
HB 1607: Oversight of Juvenile Services Education System programs
House Ways and Means Committee, March 1, 2018
The PJC supports HB 1607 (with the technical amendments supported by Disability Rights Maryland), which would create program through which, on a pilot basis, one or more local boards of education will take over the operation of three Juvenile Services Education System programs from the Maryland State Department of Education.
 

Debt collection

HB 673: Debt Collection – Exemptions from Attachment
Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, February 14, 2018
SUPPORT: The PJC supports HB 673, which would raise the debt exemption threshold to account for the increasing cost of living. Since low-income families often don't have emergency saving, they often incur debts when unexpected expenses arise. Raising the exemption threshold would allow workers to shield more of their earned wages from being garnished by creditors. HB 673 will make it less difficult for low-wage workers to provide for their basic needs.

SB 22: Debt Collection – Exemptions from Attachment
Hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, February 7, 2018
Hearing of cross filed HB 673, February 14, 2018
SUPPORT:  The PJC supports SB 22, which would raise the debt exemption threshold to account for the increasing cost of living. Since low-income families often don't have emergency saving, they often incur debts when unexpected expenses arise. Raising the exemption threshold would allow workers to shield more of their earned wages from being garnished by creditors. SB 22 will make it less difficult for low-wage workers to provide for their basic needs.

See also HB 942: Real Property — Body Attachments — Debt Related to Residential Tenancy, under Housing and Renters' Rights

 

Voter registration

SB 1048: Secure and Accessible Registration Act
Hearing of the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, March 1, 2018
The PJC supports SB 1048, which would change electronic voter registration already performed by certain state agencies from an opt-in system to an opt-out system, increasing voter registration and voter turnout in Maryland.