This story was updated at 4:25 p.m. Nov. 2, 2022, to include comments from County Executive Marc Elrich.
County Council Members unanimously passed legislation Tuesday that requires landlords to test for radon in single-family and multifamily rental housing countywide.
Council Member Craig Rice, who was lead sponsor of the bill, said the legislation provides greater protections for renters, many of whom may be on the lower level of the socioeconomic ladder. The bill, given it is signed by County Executive Marc Elrich, would take effect July 1.
Elrich told reporters during a news briefing Wednesday that he would sign the bill.
Radon is a radioactive gas that forms when uranium, thorium or radium break down in rocks, soil and groundwater — and it is the second leading cause of lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since Rice’s bill was introduced earlier this year, it has been amended multiple times. Instead of requiring radon testing below the third floor as initially proposed, the bill now requires testing on ground or below-ground rental units in single-family or multifamily buildings.
It also states that action must be taken if a radon test shows a level of 4 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) or greater, per the Environmental Protection Agency’s recommendations. Council staff said the previously proposed level of 2 pCi/L is difficult to achieve and can be cost-prohibitive.
Landlords must conduct a radon test before offering a lease to any prospective tenant, and the test must be performed less than three years before the starting date of the lease, according to the bill. EPA guidance must also be provided to each tenant on how to conduct radon tests if they wish to do so.
During the term of their lease, tenants can either hire a professional or conduct radon tests on their own, according to the bill and council staff reports. If radon is detected at 4 pCi/L or higher, they must notify the landlord within 14 days.
The landlord then has 14 days after receiving the notice to conduct a follow-up test — and within 90 days of receiving those test results, to take action to reduce radon levels to below 4 pCi/L. Landlords also must provide tenants with the final test results showing that radon has dipped below that level.
Also on Tuesday, Council Member Hans Riemer introduced an amendment to the radon bill that states that tenants have the ability to terminate their leases, if radon is found and not mitigated, without losing their security deposit or other financial penalty. The tenant must notify the landlord in writing, and the notice would be effective upon the landlord’s receipt, “or as agreed upon by both parties, to allow the tenant to find alternative housing,” according to the bill. The council passed that amendment 9-0.
Council introduces bill amending building demolition permit requirements
Council members Tom Hucker and Hans Riemer introduced a bill that is less than three pages long, but is intended to close a loophole that allows the near demolition of a building without a county permit because a small portion of the original structure is left standing.
According to the bill, county law would be changed to define “demolish” as “[to] tear down or destroy an entire building or structure, or sixty-seven (67) percent or more of first story exterior walls of a one-family or two-family dwelling unit. Demolish includes the conversion of an exterior wall into an interior wall. Basement and cellar walls are not considered exterior walls.”
The bill also defines the removal of a building — which also requires a permit — as “to move a building or structure substantially intact from or within a site.”
Hucker said in an interview Tuesday that his office first heard of the loophole problem from the county’s Office of Consumer Protection. He said he doesn’t know how much money the county may not be collecting annually because of the loophole. A demolition permit for a one- or two-family residential structure or related accessory unit is about $157.
Hucker said he would like more people to be aware of the Office of Consumer Protection and said he worked with the office on a number of consumer bills when he was a state delegate. It’s one of two consumer protection offices in Maryland, alongside one in Howard County.
The county’s Office of Consumer Protection doesn’t have much regulatory authority, but it is a valuable resource to elected officials and the public, Hucker said. The office’s heads-up about the need for a bill to close the permitting loophole is one example, he added.
“I think they’re great. They punch above their weight,” Hucker said of the office.