Municipal infraction and your home

municipal infraction
Municipal infractions result from neglect repairs and maintenance (infographic from census.gov)

A common home buyer preference is to buy a home that is not within the confines of a HOA or condo association.  Maybe the home buyer’s impression is that HOAs and condo associations bully home owners.  But the truth is that HOA and condo association rules are created for a number of reasons, which include health and safety.  If you don’t comply with the community rules, they can compel you do so.  But even if you don’t live in an association managed community, it’s your civic duty to comply with county and/or municipal ordinances to maintain your home. Disregard for civic responsibility may result in a municipal infraction.

Believe it or not, regardless of where your home is located, your home has to satisfy health and safety standards that are enforced by your municipality (e.g., Montgomery County, City of Rockville, City of Gaithersburg, etc.).  Deferred home maintenance can surely affect the value of your home.  However, if it is found that your home doesn’t meet code standards, you can receive a notice of a municipal infractions.

Municipal infractions are also another name for code enforcement.  In his manual Municipal Infractions and Code Enforcement, Practice and Procedure for Municipalities in the State of Maryland, Frank M. Johnson stated the need for having such procedures by saying:

“Most persons will follow the law voluntarily, but the reality is that when a law isn’t enforced, it becomes less effective for everyone. Even those who voluntarily comply are less likely to take a law seriously when it’s known the law won’t be enforced. In addition, steps to enforce the law often involve the most serious violations which, if not corrected, can lead to results which have a significant community and neighborhood impact.”

Mr. Johnson’s manual was originally written for the City of Gaithersburg, but was also adopted by the Maryland Municipal League (mdmunicipal.org), which is a statewide non-profit association that promotes municipal administration.  What started as a local handbook describing the entire process of municipal infractions (from complaint to enforcement), became a statewide template in code enforcement.

Municipal infraction and your home

If you ever received a notice of municipal infraction, or just wondered how the process works, check put the manual.  The manual describes why you’re receiving the citation, and how it can be enforced. It also describes the appeal process, as well as what can happen if you don’t comply.

Typically, the municipal infraction process begins by a complaint that triggers an investigation.  The investigator will inspect and witness any code violations.  If there are violations, the investigator will notify you and attempt to resolve the issue(s).  Most home owners resolve the issue(s) with the first notice.  However, if you don’t comply (or attempt to comply) with the first notice, you will likely be fined.  The court can also order you to correct the issue(s), which is called an “abatement order.”  If you don’t comply with the abatement order, your municipality can go on your property (and inside the home if necessary) to fix the issue(s) and send you the bill!  If you don’t pay, a lien will be placed against your home, while collection actions are implemented.

What Caused You to Get Cited For a Municipal Infraction?

Montgomery County’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs (montgomerycountymd.gov/DHCA) also publishes valuable information about the process.  The Housing Code Enforcement Handbook, is written for the public to understand housing code enforcement in the county.  The DHCA states that seasonal issues are the most common code violations reported, such as overgrown grass and weeds, dead trees and snow-covered walkways.

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2018/11/09/municipal-infraction-home

Copyright© Dan Krell
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Air conditioning maintenance

air conditioning
Home Cooling (infographic from energy.gov)

Did you know that the first commercial application of air conditioning was in 1902?  And yet, residential central A/C didn’t come into its own until the 1960’s.  According to the US Department of Energy’s History of Air Conditioning, A/C use skyrocketed in the 1970’s.  Since then, systems have become more efficient, such that new air conditioners use fifty percent less energy than units from the 1990’s.  Additionally, new technologies are making A/C units increasingly environmentally friendly.  New developments in air conditioning include non-vapor compression technology, which will be fifty percent more efficient and doesn’t use Hydrofluorocarbons (energy.gov).

Summer is around the corner.  But I would venture to say that many of you already have your air conditioning running.  We take for granted that our home’s air conditioning runs without fail.  But proactive care of your A/C unit will keep it running efficiently while you stay cool through the hottest summer days.  Here are some air conditioning maintenance tips from the US Department of Energy (energy.gov):

Regular maintenance of your home’s air conditioning system will ensure air flow.  Regularly changing air filters can keep your system clean and keep the air flowing.  A clean filter can reduce energy consumption by five to fifteen percent.  Filter change requirements can vary from home to home, due to home conditions.

Over time, the A/C unit’s coils can become dirty, which will reduce its efficiency.  Dirt on the coils can reduce airflow and prevent it from absorbing heat.  The outside condenser coils will likely become dirty from being exposed to the elements.  It’s recommended that the area around the outdoor unit be clear of debris, leaves, and have about two feet of clearance for ideal airflow.  Make sure that the air conditioner condenser drains are not blocked.  A clogged drain can create excess humidity, which can create conditions for mold growth in basements and utility closets.

Window A/C units require maintenance too.  You should inspect the seal between the unit and the window to ensure there are no air leaks.  Window A/C units should be covered during the winter to prevent dirt and debris from penetrating the unit.

Some maintenance requires a qualified HVAC technician.  If you hire a HVAC tech to clean and service your air conditioning, make sure they have a current HVAC license.  Hiring a professional doesn’t have to be expensive, as many HVAC companies run maintenance specials this time of year.  Besides checking the refrigerant in the system, the tech will run a number of diagnostics as well as clean the system if needed.  They will also make necessary repairs, such as sealing leaks.

Air conditioning maintenance assistance programs

If you’re on a modest income and cannot afford to service or upgrade your air conditioning, you may qualify for Montgomery County’s Homeowner Energy Efficiency Program.  The program is in partnership with Habitat for Humanity Metro Maryland, Inc to assess applicants’ eligibility and identify their needs.  According to a Tuesday county press release, “homeowners benefitting from the program will receive free energy-efficiency upgrades to their home which may include attic insulation, upgraded furnace and air conditioning units, water heater replacement, LED light bulbs, a solar-powered attic fan, a programmable thermostat and new appliances.”

The program is open to all Montgomery County homeowners.  Eligibility requirements include; owning and occupying the Montgomery County home for which they are requesting services; they must be a PEPCO customer; and meet income criteria.  For more information see the program website (habitatmm.org/montgomery-county-energy-efficiency-program).

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Maintenance free homes

I talk about home maintenance quite a bit. And there is a reason. Maintaining your home is important, not just to keep you comfortable but to also preserve your investment. But many people loath the idea of spending their weekend checking their home’s systems, replacing air filters, mowing the yard, washing the siding, cleaning appliances, ad nauseum. They are called chores for a reason. But maybe sometime in the near future we will eliminate the chores and live in maintenance free homes.

Rapid technological advances are certainly making our lives easier. We can do many things in our homes, even when we’re not home! Our homes can even do things while we’re not home.  So how about increasing the quality of our lives by reducing the time spent maintaining our homes?

Maintenance free homes

maintenance free homes
Home Maintenance (infographic from sunlife.com)

Home design and materials tech are leading us to a home where maintenance is minimal or non-existent. Tech innovations has brought us new materials to enhance our homes’ appearance and decrease maintenance. Many of the new materials not only look good, but they are also green which makes our homes more efficient. Many material improvements have been primarily for your home’s exterior. For example, new no-maintenance or minimal maintenance materials for siding, decking and roofs are aesthetically pleasing and can last decades. However, low or no maintenance materials for your home’s interior are increasing in popularity too. Examples include quartz for counters, and prefinished wood for flooring.

The desire for maintenance free homes is not a new phenomenon and can be directly observed by housing choices. New home buyers like the idea that there will be minimal maintenance for the first year. They like feeling confident that everything in the home will work as expected without spending money on service calls, or expensive emergency repairs. Condo buyers like the idea of not having to deal with exterior home maintenance, especially lawn care. Additionally, active adult communities are designed with low maintenance in mind to make living easy and increase quality of life.

Unfortunately, because of their design, some mechanical systems still require care. For example, experts recommend that HVAC systems be serviced twice a year. The service not only checks and tunes the system to operate efficiently, it can identify potential hazards as well. However, to help keep maintenance at a minimum, many homeowners decide to sign up for a service contract. The service contract may also schedule the maintenance for you, which can also help you with time management. Not all service contracts are the same, and due diligence is recommended before you sign any agreement.

I am not dissing those homeowners who love to work on and around their homes. Don’t get me wrong, there is a satisfaction from doing chores and repairs. But there are many who don’t care for it. And not to mention that there are many homeowners who don’t maintain their homes, because of cost and/or inability. A major benefit to living in maintenance free homes is reducing the value-reducing effects of deferred maintenance.

Tech advances in home design and building materials have eliminated a great deal of the maintenance requirements that was necessary in the past. And although some systems in the home require regular care, newer systems increase in reliability. It’s fascinating that because of maintenance free exteriors many homeowners today don’t know what it’s like to paint the exterior of the house every two to three years. Likewise, maybe sometime in the near future, we won’t remember what it’s like changing air filters.

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Keeping New Year’s home resolution

home resolution
New Year’s home resolution (infographic from lightstream.com)

Your home is an extension of your persona. The condition of your home impacts how you feel. So, what better way to start the new year than making a New Year’s home resolution to improving your living space?

There is disagreement about the need for and impact of New Year’s resolutions.  Many believe that making a conscious and purposeful declaration to better your life can get you on the right path.  However, many mental health professionals believe that making resolutions can be a set up for failure and disappointment if your expectations are too high.

Making a New Year’s home resolution can be achievable if you make it sensible  and meaningful.  Decide on the goal and make a plan detailing how you will accomplish it.  Ask yourself how the project will improve your life.  Sensory prompts, such as a picture of a clutter free family room or a carpet sample, can help you stay focused on the goal and keep you motivated.  You don’t have to go it alone either.  Consider hiring a professional.  If you decide to go the Do-It-Yourself route, make it a bonding opportunity by enlisting friends and/or family to assist you.

Whether you hire a professional or not, you need a plan on how you will actualize your home project.  It’s good to be ambitious with your New Year’s home resolution, but don’t fall into the trap deciding the project can be completed in one or two days.  Instead, be realistic.  After all, your daily routine is probably busy, if not hectic.  Decide on how much time you can realistically devote to the project, and put in on your calendar.

Whatever your New Year’s home resolution is, start with one room.  If need be, break the room down in sections to help organize where in the room you will begin and where to go next.  Collect and organize the materials you need for the project before you begin.  The greatest distraction from achieving your resolution is a trip to the store for extra supplies.

The most likely number one New Year’s resolution for the home is decluttering.  This makes sense because we all lead busy lives and collect stuff throughout the year.  But reducing the clutter in your home doesn’t only improve its appearance, it can also make you more comfortable.  Decluttering may also give a boost to your mental health.  Consider consulting with a professional organizer to help plan the project.

A home makeover is another popular New Year’s resolution project.  Fresh and new is always in.  Whether it’s painting a room or two, or installing new flooring, giving your home a new look can improve its appearance.  A new look can also affect how we feel.  Choose your color scheme carefully, because various colors elicit different responses.  For example, a blue-grays may seem relaxing, while reds are invigorating and exciting.

Catching up on deferred maintenance seems to be the New Year’s resolution that can get overwhelming.  Despite our best intentions, we all have put off some repair or regular upkeep at one time or another.  But repairs and maintenance are not static.  Meaning that over time, issues can get worse, and neglected systems can break down.  Instead of putting off repairs and maintenance, consider hiring a licensed contractor.

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Home remodeling to stay or sell

home remodeling
Home remodeling (infographic from census.gov)

The Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University predicts expanded growth of home remodeling and renovations through most of 2018.  That’s a good indication that the economy has picked up and the many homes that fell in disrepair after the Great recession are getting the much-needed attention to extend their functionality.

It wasn’t that long ago when Kermit Baker wrote about a crisis of the declining housing stock due to extensive deferred maintenance (The Return of Substandard Housing; housingperspectives.blogspot.com; February 27, 2013).  The article written for the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University highlighted the considerable reduction of home maintenance as measured by home owner “maintenance spending” during the Great Recession.  This seemed to be a low point for the country’s housing stock.  The 28 percent decrease in maintenance spending between 2007 and 2011 essentially nullified the renovation spending during the housing boom.

Home remodeling activity
Home remodeling activity Q3-2017 (graph from jchs.harvard.edu)

The Remodeling Futures Program releases a quarterly data for Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA). The LIRA is a “a short-term outlook of national home improvement and repair spending to owner-occupied homes.”  The most recent data indicates that home remodeling and repair spending will escalate from the fourth quarter of 2017 into the third quarter of 2018, estimating an increase from 6.3 percent to 7.7 percent.  The significant increase in home improvement spending is attributed to a strengthening economy, home equity gains, and low home re-sale inventory.  Chris Herbert, Managing Director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies is optimistic about maintenance spending.  Herbert said:

“Recent strengthening of the US economy, tight for-sale housing inventories, and healthy home equity gains are all working to boost home improvement activity…Over the coming year, owners are projected to spend in excess of $330 billion on home upgrades and replacements, as well as routine maintenance.

The current LIRA data doesn’t include the effects of recent hurricanes.  It is expected that those recent disasters will significantly increase the anticipated projected maintenance spending.

Home owners really have no choice but to spend on renovations, remodeling and repairs, especially if they are planning on selling their home.  Most home buyers want a turnkey home, where the home is fresh and new and offers minimal maintenance during the first year of ownership.  The desire for a turnkey home is probably why new home sales are at a ten-year high.  This week, the US Census Bureau (census.gov) released new home sale data that indicates a month-over-month increase of 6.2 percent, and a year-over-year increase of 18.7 percent!  To compete with other re-sales and new homes, home sellers must factor in the cost of home renovations.

There are many home owners who still can’t afford to move.  The fact that many are still priced out of the move-up market has been a major issue holding back the housing market.  This phenomenon is also responsible for continued low home re-sale inventories.  As a result, many home owners are staying in their homes much longer than anticipated.  The National Association of Realtors indicated in the Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report 2017 (nar.realtor) that home buyers anticipate staying in a home about twelve years.  This is an increase of about five years compared to a decade ago.

Although many home owners still can’t move, they are deciding to do home “make overs.”  The make overs will give their homes a fresh look, that typically include new floors and paint schemes.  Additionally, kitchen and bathroom renovations modernize the home.  However, home owners needing more room, are opting to expand their homes to give them larger spaces.  Some home owners are going beyond the basics and creating different spaces by moving walls.

Regardless of your reasons for home renovations and repairs, home improvement experts recommend to create a budget and stick to it, and always hire licensed contractors.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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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. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.