Home owner and buyer consumer protection exists at all levels of government. For example, the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (consumerfinance.gov) in 2010 brought together in one department oversight and enforcement for federal consumer financial laws. Likewise, Maryland has a Consumer Protection Division housed within the Office of the Attorney General (www.oag.state.md.us/Consumer); which provides information to assist consumers in making educated decisions, as well as offering mediation services to resolve consumer complaints. Some of the housing related consumer advocacy offered by the CPD includes: the administration of the Home Builder Registration Unit; and education about the Maryland Foreclosure Counseling Services Law, as well as “flipping scams.”
Many local governments also have a number of specific protections for home owners and buyers. An advantage of living in Montgomery County MD is the availability of housing related services and assistance with specific housing issues to home owners, buyers, renters and landlords.
To assist home buyers in understanding the associated costs of home ownership, Montgomery County requires sellers to disclose utility and estimated property tax information. Enacted in 2007, Bill 24-07 requires home sellers to provide an accurate estimate of what the property tax would be for the first full year of ownership. Home sellers and real estate agents access the estimated property tax information from the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection website (montgomerycountymd.gov/ocp).
The OCP also enforces the County’s utility bill disclosure law that requires home sellers to provide a history of the prior 12 months of electric, gas, and heating oil bills for a property, or a usage history for the same time period. Additionally, the seller must provide Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection approved information to help the buyer with energy conservation choices and options. If you’re selling your home, your listing agent can provide you with the approved Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors® forms to fulfill these obligations.
County residents finding themselves at odds with their Home Owners or Condo Association can ask for help from the Office of Common Ownership Communities. Housed within the OCP, the OCOC offers information and a dispute resolution program for home owners, boards, management companies, and managers. The OCOC pledges transparency, integrity, and a commitment to the highest ethical standards.
If you’re buying a new home in Montgomery County, you are provided with an extra layer of protection through Montgomery County Code Chapter 31C, which requires new home builders to be licensed by the Montgomery County OCP as well as provide a new home warranty that meets specific criteria.
If you own rental property or are a tenant within the County, you’ll find the Office of Landlord – Tenant Affairs (housed within the Department of Housing and Community Affairs) a resource of valuable information. Besides publishing a Landlord – Tenant Handbook, the commission provides information on licensing, security deposits, evictions, leases, and rent increases. Besides informing of general rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, it offers a free and quick avenue for tenants to seek amicable dispute resolution (http://montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA/housing/landlordtenant).
Home owners and tenants who have issues with their cable TV provider can seek assistance from the Office of Cable and Broadband Services (montgomerycountymd.gov/cable). Housed within the Office of Technology Services, the “Cable Office” administers the County’s cable TV franchise agreements; the office investigates and resolves subscriber complaints.
Check with your real estate agent about local home owner and buyer protections. Many consumer protection agencies (such as those listed above) have websites where information is posted to educate consumers.
Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. This article was originally published the week of May 19, 2014 (Montgomery County Sentinel). Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws. Copyright © Dan Krell.