As we enter the new year, we see new laws being passed at the local level that will affect our Prince George's County and Montgomery County clients.
Prince George's County Updates
Recently, the Prince George's County Council voted unanimously to adopt CB-49-2015, CB 50-2015, and CB-58-2015, a trio of new bills affecting common ownership communities located in Prince George's County, which will become effective February 1, 2016. Through this legislation, Prince George's County has established a Commission on Common Ownership Communities (PGCCOC) that will be composed of nine (9) members appointed by the County Executive. Five (5) of the members will be selected from unit or lot owners who reside in a common ownership community, and four (4) of the members will be selected from professionals associated with common ownership communities, such as property managers and attorneys. The PGCCOC will, among other things, provide alternative dispute resolution for communities that are involved in disputes with individual owners if the dispute resolution mechanism already in place within the association has been exhausted without success. In that case, a homeowner may elect to have the dispute heard by the PGCCOC. Though the actual language of the statute is somewhat unclear, it is our opinion that it is reasonable to interpret it as permitting the homeowner to file a complaint with the PGCCOC within thirty (30) days after the community renders its final decision. If a complaint is filed with the PGCCOC, the community is prevented from implementing any action to enforce its decision until the PGCCOC has held a hearing and rendered its own decision, which will be issued within sixty (60) days after the hearing. Even if the homeowner does not file a claim with the PGCCOC, the community cannot implement any action until the expiration of the thirty (30) day filing period. The new law applies only to certain disputes involving the rights and responsibilities of the governing body of the community and owners, respectively, such as the enforcement of provisions of a community's Declaration and Bylaws, The law does not apply, however, to disputes concerning the collection of an assessment validly levied against an owner.
The new Prince George's County law also requires that every common ownership community within the County register with the Office of Community Relations by December 31st of each year, identifying at that time, among other things, the association's appointed officers, budget information, contact information, and the community's grievance procedure. If the community fails to register, the community will be deemed to have committed a civil violation and be subject to serious ramifications, such as a temporary suspension of the community's registration status, as well as the suspension of the association's right to file legal actions in Prince George's County. Though the statute does not provide information on how communities should register, we expect that information to be forthcoming soon from the County's Office of Community Relations. Finally, the new law allows Prince George's County to impose a fee to be paid by members of common ownership communities in order to finance the operations of the PGCCOC. Unfortunately, there is no indication of what the fee will be, but we will continue to monitor the changes in the law and update you as we learn more.
Montgomery County Updates
As our Montgomery County clients may recall from our April 1, 2015 newsletter, the Montgomery County Council recently passed Montgomery County Bill 45-14, which affects all community associations within Montgomery County, excluding the City of Gaithersburg. The new law mandates that all members elected or reelected to a community association's board of directors after January 1, 2016 complete a free, online training program within ninety (90) days of their election or reelection. The training course is based on both Montgomery County and Maryland laws, and includes information related to best practices for association management, operation and governance. The training is estimated to take approximately two (2) hours to complete, and, upon successful completion of the training, the Board member will receive an online certificate of completion, which must be provided to the association's management agent or other person charged with maintaining the association's records. A copy of the same certificate must also be furnished to the Montgomery County CCOC to verify completion of the required course. The link for the online training can be found here: http://www2.montgomerycountymd.gov/ccoc-training.
Finally, a reminder to our Montgomery County clients that Montgomery County Bill 17-15, a bill aimed at eliminating predatory towing practices, took effect on November 30, 2015. With limited exceptions, community associations must expressly authorize in writing each individual tow from an association's parking lot. The exceptions are: (1) the towing of vehicles between 2:00 a.m. and 9 a.m.; and, (2) the towing of vehicles blocking either fire lanes or access to property or a building on the property. Under either of those circumstances, express authorization would NOT be required. Otherwise, prior to authorizing the tow, the association must obtain photographic evidence of the violation. Additionally, the law mandates that tow signs summarizing all parking restrictions must be posted permanently, so that at least one sign is clearly readable from each parking area and each vehicle entrance to the property. For parking lots with more than forty-five (45) spaces, at least one (1) sign must be posted in a conspicuous place for each 45 spaces. Accordingly, we recommend that associations located in Montgomery County adopt a Towing Resolution that tracks the new law, which will give Board members, Management, and Unit Owners clear direction regarding the association's towing. Please contact us should you need our assistance in drafting or reviewing such a Resolution for you.
We are happy to guide our clients through the understanding of any of the aforementioned new laws. Should you have any questions or would like to discuss how these laws will affect your community, please do not hesitate to contact us.