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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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.

Basic home repair

basic home repair
Basic home repair tools (infographic from visual.ly)

I often preach about regular home maintenance.  However, home owners should also have basic home repair skills.  Basic repairs are those items that you can do safely, and usually don’t require a professional.  Basic home repair skills are sometimes useful as an emergency stopgap before the licensed contractor can make it to your home.

Basic home repair requires a few tools.  Keep a toolbox well stocked and know where it is so you can easily find it when necessary.  Besides the standard hammer, Philips and flathead screwdriver, your toolbox will need more items depending on your skill level.  If you’re in doubt about your ability to make a basic home repair, call a licensed contractor (you can do more damage if you don’t know what you’re doing).  As a precaution and in case of emergency, you should know where the emergency shutoffs are in your home for water, electric and gas.

One of the first repair skills that I learned as a home owner is how to “snake a drain.”  Bathroom drains, specifically, get clogged with hair and soap.  Chemical products are a common solution, however you should always follow the directions and read the “cautions and dangers.”  Chemicals don’t always work well, however.  If used improperly, chemical drain products can also damage basins and pipes.  Following the instructions, you can easily clear most clogs with a drain snake.  A small drain snake should be part of your tool box. These are cheap to purchase and readily available at the hardware store.

Have you ever needed to change your door locks quickly?  I have, once when a lock failed (the mechanism broke), and another time when someone stole our keys.  Although most locks can be changed out easily with a screwdriver, specialized locks require a locksmith.  Most locksets are designed as components that easily install. However, you should note that standards change over time, so make sure the lockset you purchase is the same size as the one being replaced.

Patching drywall is one of those repairs that is so basic that you can find “how-to” tutorials everywhere.  Basic drywall patching requires a few basic tools, such as a “spackling tool,” utility knife, sand paper and spackle.  Spackling tiny pinholes is easy. However, a larger hole may require some time for the repair as well as the clean-up.  Damage to large areas of drywall will most likely require sections to be replaced.

Can’t find the leak from your sink or tub?  There’s a good chance it’s coming from water that is seeping through old caulking.  Caulk is used as a sealant in plumbing applications.  It seals the fixtures and perimeter of sinks, tubs and shower stalls, which prevents water from trickling through.  As it ages, caulk shrinks and can become brittle, which allows water penetration and leaking.  A tube of caulk should be in your toolbox in case you need it for an emergency repair.  You don’t need a large caulking gun, as caulk is available in many forms, such as squeezable tubes and even tape.

Plastic sheathing and duct tape are both good to have in your toolbox in case of an emergency.  Duct tape, specifically, has many uses and is widely used as an adhesive and sealant.  These two items are useful as a short-term repair for broken windows and doors.  Plastic sheathing and duct tape can easily cover the affected areas until they are replaced, as well as help maintain cooling or heating in the interim.

 

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Insurance claim after storm

insurance claim
Storm safety guide (infographic from ameriprise.com)

After enduring the recent twenty-four hours of near hurricane winds, many home owners are making repairs to their homes.  Many are reporting storm damage claims to their insurance companies.  Anyone who has made an insurance claim to repair their home knows that it can be ordeal.  But you can make the process easier if you know what to do.

When making an insurance claim, the Maryland Insurance Administration recommends that you contact your insurance agent or company immediately to report damage.  Prepare a detailed inventory of all damaged or destroyed property, to provide to the adjuster and for your records.  It is recommended that you take pictures or video of the damage for documentation and to help the insurance company’s investigation.  If emergency repairs are required, keep all receipts.  It’s important to only make necessary repairs, and to contact your insurance company before making permanent repairs.  You can view the Maryland Insurance Commissioner’s video on “Filing a Weather-Related Claim” for additional information and tips about your homeowners insurance (youtu.be/XywD4mdU1q8).

Before you make a claim, check with your insurance company about your deductible, policy coverage, and how they will pay-out the claim.  If total cost of the repair is approximately, or slightly more than, your deductible, making a claim may not be worth the trouble.  Your homeowners policy may also limit repairs to only the damaged areas, resulting in mismatched roof or siding.  If your mortgage company has to endorse the insurance check, contact the mortgage company to engage the process and expect a delay in reimbursement or contractor payment.

Making an insurance claim may also have consequences on your insurance premiums and future applications.  Much like credit reports that help creditors make decisions about extending credit, there are reports that provide the same to insurers.  These reports help underwrite insurance policies.  The “CLUE” report is a history of your insurance claims for the last seven years.  A CLUE report can exist for you personally, as well as your home.  Although the CLUE report has taken the public spotlight over the last decade, the A-PLUS property loss report is also popular with insurers.

Much like checking your credit report annually, the Maryland Insurance Administration recommends that you annually review your CLUE and A-PLUS reports.  The reports contain a detailed history of insurance claims for you and your property, as well as details about damage to your home.  Knowing what is contained in the reports may help you understand how an insurance company views your and your home’s insurance risk.  This can affect your insurance policy acceptance, limitations, and/or premiums.  And like credit reports, you can dispute any errors on the CLUE and A-PLUS reports.  The MIA website offers a list of contacts to help you obtain these reports (insurance.maryland.gov/Consumer/Pages/CreditandPropertyLossHistoryReports.aspx).

It’s not uncommon to hear from contractors after the storm (verify contractor license).

The MIA issued a consumer advisory regarding what contractors can and cannot do:

What contractors can do:
-Prepare an estimate of the loss.
-Discuss the estimate with their customer.
-Answer questions the insurance company has about the estimates.

What contractors cannot do, unless they are licensed as a public adjuster by the Maryland Insurance Administration:
-Investigate, appraise, evaluate, give advice or assist their customer in adjusting a claim.
-Prepare the insurance claim for their customer.
-Negotiate the claim with the insurance company on their customer’s behalf.
-Advise their customer on the insurance policy’s coverage.
-Advertise or provide written materials that they can negotiate or investigate a claim on their customer’s behalf.

If the hassle of filing a claim is too much for you, you might consider hiring a Public Adjuster.  The MIA describes the Public Adjuster as, “…an insurance claim adjuster who, for compensation, acts as an advocate for the policyholder in appraising and negotiating a first party property insurance claim under a property and casualty policy that insures the policyholder’s real or personal property…”  The Public Adjuster must be licensed by the MIA and enter into a contract with the policy holder, as well as provide disclosures.   Although a convenience, your insurance company is not obligated to accept the Public Adjuster’s claim.

The MIA states that a Public Adjuster must:

-be licensed by the Maryland Insurance Administration;
-prior to entering a contract with the policyholder, provide the policyholder with an explanation of the types of adjusters involved in the claims process and the insured’s rights to communicate directly with the insurer or its agents about settlement of the claims process and obtain the policyholder’s signature on the form;
-keep financial and business records and establish a separate escrow account for the policyholder’s proceeds.
-provide the policyholder with a written contract disclosing:

a.the terms of the contract;
b. the right to rescind or cancel the contract within 3 business days of signing;
c. that out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the Public Adjuster and approved by the insured will be reimbursed out of the insurance proceeds;
d. any compensation the Public Adjuster is to receive for services; and
e. the disclosure of any direct or indirect financial interest that the Public Adjuster or any immediate family member has with any other party who is involved in any aspect of the claim, including but not limited to the ownership of, or any compensation expected to be received from, any construction firm, salvage firm, building appraisal firm, motor vehicle repair shop, or any other firm that provides estimates for work or performs any work in conjunction with damages caused by the insured loss on which the public adjuster is engaged; and
f. the insured’s rights under the Maryland Consumer Protection Act.

 

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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.

Copyright© Dan Krell
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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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