DPIE Under Construction Newsletter, August 2020

DPIE Under Construction masthead with Permitting, Plan Review, Licensing, Inspections and Enforcement visuals, and DPIE logo

August 2020

Fall 2020 Community Partners' Meeting to Go Virtual

DPIE Director Melinda Bolling greets crowd at last year's Community Partners' Meeting.

For the first time in its history, the Community Partners’ Meeting is going virtual. Instead of the usual two-hour information session, social distancing mandates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic have forced us to "attend" this event from the comfort of our homes or offices. The Fall 2020 Community Partners’ Meeting will be comprised of a PowerPoint presentation with reports from DPIE, the Department of the Environment (DoE) and the Department of Public Works & Transportation (DPW&T).

“The COVID-19 health crisis has forced us to change the way we share information, and this fall’s Community Partners’ Meeting will be held virtually to ensure the safety of our partners and our staff,” said DPIE Director Melinda Bolling. “We will miss the opportunity to share information and fellowship in person with our partners, but we want to make sure that we offer details about our newest initiatives and updates on established operations.”

The PowerPoint presentation will be posted on the DPIE website by 10 a.m. on Thursday, September 24, 2020. Each agency will offer a welcome by the department director, news about current projects and information about upcoming programs. The presentation will also feature a Q&A section with questions from citizens answered by authorities from each of the agencies. Citizens are invited to submit a Community Partners' Meeting Question Form (sample shown below) by August 24.

Community Partners' Meeting Question form

The DPIE presentation will cover:

• New online service enhancements
• Momentum, the new online system for permitting, licensing, etc.
• Illegal home-based businesses
• New legislation related to DPIE
• Unpermitted construction
• Short-term rentals
• Farmers’ market operations
• Special DPIE contacts to address your inquiries

“We are working hard to produce a PowerPoint that will be informative. We have a lot of new and exciting things going on to help us deliver even better service to our customers,” Director Bolling said. “Though you may miss seeing us on September 24, you won’t miss out on the details of the work we are doing for you.”

Illegal Home-Based Business Owners Violate Code, May Endanger Families

Illegal car repair business being run from a homeowners carport.

A Beltsville town house resident sells imported yard goods and art out of her garage. A woman and her teenage daughter prepare and sell breakfast and lunch plates out of their Hyattsville apartment.

A Clinton man fixes cars in his unpaved backyard. A Fort Washington homeowner runs a barber shop out of his dining room while his wife and sister-in-law run a hair salon and nail business, respectively, in the basement of their ranch-style house.

Such home-based businesses are illegal in Prince George’s County. They violate County code and operating one can result in fines of up to $2,300 and possibly additional consequences, said DPIE Deputy Director Gary Cunningham.

“Operating a business out of your home is a bad idea for a number of reasons, many of them related to health,” said Deputy Director Cunningham, who retired as a career Prince George’s County Police Department administrator before coming to DPIE. “There are health concerns from fire hazards, potential carbon monoxide poisoning and breathing noxious fumes from nail and hair care products in locations not equipped with proper ventilation. There are issues with vermin infestation, which can bring disease.”

The businesses may draw hazards of the two-legged variety, as well.

“People who operate illegal businesses out of their homes are also collecting money and you can believe the people who are in there notice that there is cash flowing,” Deputy Director Cunningham said. “People who come once may come back uninvited or they may mention the money to someone else.”

Prince George’s County authorities said there has been an uptick in illegal home-based businesses in the wake of the COVID-19 health emergency that started in March. Some residents who have lost jobs and income in the economic slowdown that resulted from social distancing mandates have turned to home-based operations.

Such businesses also pose threats to the customers who patronize them. People who operate businesses under the table are often unlicensed and inadequately trained. Preparing food for sale legally requires adherence to certain safety standards that someone operating an illegal restaurant at home won’t follow. Administering chemicals to hair and nails requires training and licensure, authorities said.

Illegal home-based businesses are investigated by DPIE, the Prince George’s County Fire Marshall, the police department and other agencies.

“We are sympathetic to the fact that people may be out of work and need money, but they cannot operate illegal businesses out of their homes,” said DPIE Enforcement Division Associate Director Val Cary. “Doing so poses dangers that may far outweigh the income. People really need to think about the potential dangers before they get involved in this kind of activity.”

For more information about illegal home-based businesses, visit DPIE's website. Report illegal home-based businesses to 311.

Operating a Restaurant and selling food from your home is illegal, side-by-side flyers in English and Spanish

Taking Action May Help Mitigate Storm Damage

Storm preparations include clear storm drains and downspouts and make sure sump pumps work.

The following steps may help you prevent damage to your property from heavy rains and high winds during storms:

• Make sure your storm drains are debris free.

• Make sure your gutters are cleared.

• Make sure your downspouts are open.

• Make sure limbs are removed from your rooftops and in front of your windows.

• Secure yard furniture, tents or coverings and large toys to prevent them from causing damage and potential injury if swept away by strong winds.

• Check your sump pumps regularly to ensure they are operational.

• Periodically check to see if water is entering your home during heavy rains and take steps to remove it before it accumulates, such as using a wet vacuum.

• Sandbags may be used to prevent water from entering low-lying areas on your property.

Remember, you may not mitigate water in your yard by
diverting it onto your neighbor’s property!

Basement flooded due to malfunction of a sump pump

County Council Restricts Evictions, Rental Increases During COVID-19 Emergency

The Prince George’s County Council has amended the Landlord–Tenant Code to place prohibitions on some rent increases, evictions and the imposition of late fees during the current COVID-19 health emergency. The Code was amended in Council Bill CB-016-2020, an Emergency Bill introduced May 18, 2020. The legislation was introduced to assist tenants who can provide documentation or otherwise verify that they lost their jobs and their ability to pay rent as a result of the COVID-19 emergency. The provisions of CB-016-2020 will remain in effect until 90 days after the termination of the Maryland State of Emergency declared March 5, 2020, by Governor Hogan. The County legislation aligns with Governor Hogan's Executive Order # 20-04-03-01.

Zoning Enforcement Team Helps County Adjust to COVID-19 Mandates

Zoning team discuss findings after a restaurant inspection.

One of the main functions of the DPIE Zoning Enforcement team is investigating suspected zoning code violations at commercial and industrial properties. They also work to ensure businesses are operating within the scope of their use and occupancy permits. They even issue temporary U&Os for special events.

They are the scourge of anyone operating a dance club in the basement of their house, selling meals out of their kitchen or operating auto repair shops in their driveways.

The team is currently responding to complaints about suspected illegal home-based businesses and helping farmers’ markets implement changes to allow vendors to offer their fresh-from-the-farm products while following social distancing mandates, said Zoning Supervisor Bill Edelen.

Edelen said the farmer’s market operations are especially important because vendors offer an additional way for County residents to access affordable healthy food.

Q: What is DPIE's role with farmer's markets?

Edelen:  To ensure that all appropriate permits, including an approved site plan, are obtained and all required inspections have been conducted and approved prior to the issuance of the Temporary Use and Occupancy Permit by DPIE Enforcement.  DPIE works with our Permitting Office, the Health Department, the Fire Marshal's Office and the onsite farmers’ market manager to help ensure that the vendors, participants and the general public have a safe and successful event.

Q: What are the two biggest challenges faced by vendors preparing to sell their food at outdoor markets?

Edelen:  With the current COVID-19 pandemic, special care has to be taken where social distancing is observed, including wearing face masks, having hand sanitizer available and having to work in a more impersonal environment to display and sell their products.

Q: What are the biggest obstacles you and your team face?

Edelen:  Being able to conduct our onsite inspections and work through potential problems in a safe manner for all the involved parties.

Q: What advice would you give a farmers' market vendor from the perspective of your team’s work?

Edelen:  DPIE will gladly assist the potential vendors with their concerns. Farmers’ markets bring fresh fruits and vegetables to areas that may not have direct access to these products.  All the guidelines that we’ve all been following during the past several months, such as wearing face masks, social distancing, using hand sanitizer and frequent washing of our hands, need to be observed.  Those things have changed the way farmers’ markets work. Being able to describe your products, provide samples and demonstrations and respond to customers’ questions present new challenges to vendors.

Zoning Supervisor Bill Edelen working at his desk.

DPIE Offers Information in Spanish

DPIE is now working to publish pages in other languages on our website.  We are beginning with Spanish.  Visit DPIE's main page, and select the Resources tab at the bottom of the left column.  Be sure to check back on a regular basis as we continue to convert and add additional DPIE documents, County notices and COVID-19 emergency-related updates.

View the step-by-step email graphic for instructions on changing an email into another language.

View the step-by-step web page graphic for instructions on changing a web page into another language.

DPIE ofrece información en español

Information please, in a word bubble in Spanish

DPIE ahora está trabajando para publicar páginas en otros idiomas en nuestro sitio web.  Empezamos con el español.  Visite la página principal de DPIE y seleccione la pestaña Recursos en la parte inferior de la columna izquierda.  Asegúrese de revisar de forma regular a medida que continuamos convirtiendo y agregando documentos adicionales de DPIE, avisos del Condado y actualizaciones relacionadas con emergencias COVID-19.

Consulta el gráfico de correo electrónico paso a paso para obtener instrucciones sobre cómo cambiar un correo electrónico a otro idioma.

Vea el gráfico de página web paso a paso para obtener instrucciones sobre cómo cambiar una página web a otro idioma.

Business Development Section Presentations Available for Viewing

Business Development Section's flyer from their July webinar featuring Peer Review Program.

The Business Development Section recently held a webinar on the Peer Review Program, an optional program offered to allow permit applicants to hire approved peer reviewers to review their plans in lieu of having the plans evaluated by DPIE personnel. The program reduces the review time associated with construction plan approval. To view the presentation and videos, visit DPIE’s PowerPoint Presentations.

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New Hires

DPIE welcomes its new hires and congratulates them on joining the team!

Nikole Bennett, new hire

Nikole Bennett, Enforcement Division — Administrative Aide III, 7/19/2020

I have had the pleasure of working for Prince George’s County for two years. Prior to working with DPIE, I worked with the Board of License Commissioners. Most of my prior work experience has been in customer service. I have an 11-year-old shepherd/spitz mix and enjoy reading, cooking, watching Netflix and going to theme parks.

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Employee of the Month

Employee of the Month Marcia Pendergrass

DPIE congratulates July 2020 Employee of the Month Marcia Pendergrass!

Marcia is an Administrative Aide IV in the Building Plan Review Division. Since the start of COVID-19, she has taken on additional responsibilities and shown great leadership serving as the bridge between customers and division engineers. Her work ensures smooth transitions between the multitude of existing projects and new projects. She has gone above and beyond and has helped DPIE continue its commitment to getting the job done during the current emergency.

DPIE commends Marcia for her exceptional performance!

Business Safety Protocols English

2020 Census

By law, every 10 years the U.S. Census counts every resident in the United States. Your participation determines representation and how billions in federal funds are distributed. If our community is undercounted, friends and neighbors miss out on an estimated $18,250 per person over a 10-year period. Statewide, that’s a total of $26.6 billion over a 10-year period.