DPIE Under Construction Newsletter - December 2020

DPIE masthead with pointsettia

December 2020

Message from the Director

DPIE Director Melinda Bolling

What a year 2020 has been. We’ve been faced with unprecedented challenges and have had to literally change the way we live and work. To face this challenge, DPIE has utilized enhanced technology to continue to perform the tasks and operations you depend on us to do. Our Largo headquarters remains closed to the public, but staff is available in every division to respond to your emails and calls every business day. This month’s “2020 in Review” presents updates on what we’ve been doing all year and helpful tips for residents and business partners alike.

The DPIE family wishes you and yours a safe and happy holiday season and hopes for a healthy and prosperous new year.

Director Melinda Bolling's Signature Block

DPIE on the Job!

Deputy Director Dawit Abraham (top) and Enforcement Inspector Supervisor Donald "Jerry" Green (left) observe mandated safety standards.

AHU Granted Additional Adjudication Powers

Scales of Justice on blue and red background

DPIE’s Administrative Hearing Unit (AHU) is about to begin adjudicating additional citations. As a result of recently-passed legislation, the unit has been empowered to adjudicate citations for unpermitted construction and short-term rental violations, in addition to those for property standards violations.

The AHU is comprised of hearing officers who issue summonses, notices, hearing decisions and default orders. The AHU process has resulted in faster adjudication of property standards violations since Enforcement Division inspectors started issuing citations under the program in August 2018. The new responsibilities will result in more expeditious adjudication of the additional citations.

“The Administrative Hearing Unit has helped immensely in the effort to speed up the adjudication process,” said AHU Administrator Eric Wardford. “Adjudicating these cases in court can take as long as nine months. The addition of the new citations allows the unit to have an even wider impact.” 

Unpermitted construction citations will be issued by the Inspections Division. Fines will vary and could exceed $1,000 per day. Citations for violations of the Short-Term Rental Code will be issued by Enforcement Division inspectors. Penalties will  include a $1,000 fine and possible suspension or revocation of the property owner's Short-Term Rental License. The platform that lists the rental, such as Airbnb, or VRBO, may also be fined under the new process.

Respondents who receive citations may request a hearing within 30 days of the issuance of the citation. The hearings are held within 30 days and the hearing officers generally render their decisions within five days. Final dispositions and orders for abatement will now be issued directly by the AHU hearing officers.

If a decision is unfavorable, a respondent may request reconsideration with the AHU administrator. If the administrator affirms the hearing officer’s decision, the respondent may file an appeal with the Prince George’s County Circuit Court.

For additional information, contact the AHU at 301-636-2023 or AHU@co.pg.md.us.

"Clean It and Lien It!" Takes Owners of Trashy Tracts to Task

Clean It and Lien It, house in violation of code with overgrown weeds - before and after photos

It's frustrating to neighbors and an eyesore to all of us — the trash and debris littering far too many Prince George's County lots, negatively impacting the aesthetic and property values of neighborhoods. Despite repeated demands, the owners of these properties fail to abate the problems, thumbing their nose at DPIE violation notices and court mandates to clean up the trash.

DPIE has a program to address those scofflaws and their trashy yards: Clean It and Lien it! The program is aligned with the County Beautification Initiative.

Under the program, owners of junky properties have their lots cleaned. Then, a lien is placed on the property to recoup the charges. In 2020, 207 properties were cleaned.

"Prince George's County residents deserve to have neighborhoods free from trash and debris," Director Bolling said.  "Clean It and Lien It! addresses problem properties."

Untagged Vehicles Prohibited by Prince George's County Code

Untagged vehicle parked on grass

It is unlawful under Prince George’s County Code to keep or store a vehicle on your property that is not licensed.

Other vehicle-related violations include:

• Parking commercial vehicles in
  driveways or on residential streets

• Performing automotive work on a
  driveway or street

• Parking vehicles on lawns

For information about County code violations, visit the Enforcement FAQs page at dpie.mypgc.us.

Use and Occupancy Permits: Inspections Required

Business changing owners and type of business, building needs Use and Occupancy inspection

Before moving into a new or existing building, changing the use of a building, opening a business or moving into a new home, a County issued Use and Occupancy Permit (U&O) is required (with the exception of structures located within the City of Laurel). The U&O process verifies that a building meets County and State zoning, property maintenance and life safety codes. A straight U&O application prohibits construction. A separate U&O permit is required for construction projects for any interior or exterior construction work on commercial property where there is a change of use, tenant or owner. Once compliance is verified, the U&O is issued.

If a County Business License is required, a business must obtain a U&O prior to issuance. Additional inspections may be required by the Fire/EMS Department or the Health Department if food is going to be handled. Types of businesses that may require additional inspections include day care centers, places of assembly, schools, apartments, health-care facilities, gas stations, etc.

For additional information, visit DPIE.mypgc.us > Inspections > Use & Occupancy.

Repair Your Vehicle Violations

Vexing Vehicle Issues - parked all over the yard with multiple code violations

Prince George’s County Code regulates the proper keeping of vehicles in residential areas, said DPIE Code Enforcement Officer Ronnie Twine, a supervisor in the Enforcement Division.

"Vehicles must be parked appropriately, whether in multi-family dwelling parking lots, in driveways or on the street in neighborhoods comprised mostly of single-family homes," Twine said. "Many communities also have covenants with provisions that address vehicles."

Twine said frequent vehicle-related violations to County Code in residential areas include:

  • Parking larger commercial vehicles in driveways or on the street
  • Parking wrecked or vehicles with flat tires in driveways or on the street
  • Parking unregistered vehicles in driveways or on the street
  • Parking vehicles on grassy, unpaved areas
  • Parking recreational vehicles inappropriately
  • Doing auto maintenance in residential areas — in driveways or on the street

For more information, visit DPIE's website.

DPIE Now Conducting Virtual Inspections

Virtual inspection via tablet, held in hands

DPIE is now offering limited virtual inspections as an alternative to on-site inspections. Virtual inspections allow County inspectors to perform on-demand inspections from remote locations utilizing technology instead of direct interaction with the public.

Virtual inspections are conducted between customers and County inspectors via video call on 4G or higher smart phones or tablets using FaceTime or Skype.

For additional information, visit Virtual Inspections on DPIE's website.

For more information about DPIE's change in operations to continue to serve citizens during the current COVID-19 outbreak, see the main page on DPIE's website.

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

Certain businesses run from homes, like this car business, are illegal in Prince George's County

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 without a Use and Occupancy Permit (U&O).

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.

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.

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.

Unpermitted addition on back of house with bad framing started and ladder on the ground

Buyer Beware!

Unpermitted Construction Hammers Unsuspecting Home Purchasers

It’s the biggest purchase most of us will ever make. We save for years, search for months, secure financing, eagerly await closing and finally move into our dream house.

Then the basement floods after it rains, electrical outlets spark when cords are plugged in and a deck collapses when you invite family over for a socially-distanced housewarming party.

You have been victimized by an unscrupulous flipper.

Hot water heater placed under vent which could lead to carbon monoxide being carried through the house

Each year, untold numbers of unsuspecting home buyers are ripped off by these crooked real estate speculators. They purchase properties cheap, make repairs and/or cosmetic changes without the appropriate permits and inspections, then sell the properties, sometimes at prices below market rates, to unknowing buyers. The unpermitted work is often performed by unqualified unlicensed workers using substandard materials.

“Unfortunately, flippers take advantage of unknowing buyers every day,” said DPIE Director Melinda Bolling. “Buyers must do their due diligence to ensure they don’t become a victim of these scofflaws. Once the sale is done, it is very difficult to help the buyer. They are stuck going to court to try to recoup what they spent on repairs or what they lost because of problems in the house.”

Water line left exposed and uninsulated

To protect yourself from being victimized by a flipper, take the following steps before you buy:

  • Hire a certified independent inspector to evaluate the home, inside and out, and notify you in writing of any problems related to shoddy or illegal construction.
  • Visit the DPIE website and check for any permits that have been pulled for work on the property. If the house has a deck, but no deck permit, you know it was constructed illegally. If a screened-in porch has been erected at the back of the house with no permits, take heed. 
  • Don’t be so enamored of having extra space or additional features in the home that you allow yourself to be taken advantage of by the flipper.
  • If a problem exists, walk away from the deal or make the seller secure the appropriate permits and inspections before you sign on the dotted line. 
  • Notify DPIE so the seller can be held accountable and a less informed buyer may be saved from making a bad purchase down the line.

The Prince George’s County Council recently passed legislation proposed by DPIE to take unscrupulous flippers to task. The legislation strengthens stop work orders, which are imposed by DPIE to force anyone caught doing unpermitted construction to stop work on the projects until the appropriate permits have been obtained and the inspections completed. It imposes additional fines for those caught doing unpermitted construction. 

The legislation also makes each day unpermitted construction is not corrected a separate violation day allowing fines to be imposed over consecutive days. It allows liens to be placed on such properties pending adjudicated appeals. In other words, the bad actors responsible for attempting to palm shoddy construction off on sellers will have to face a judge to plead their case against penalties.

Visit the DPIE website to research permits by address and access the Homeowners’ Guide to Permits.

Mask Up Prince Georgians and wash your hands, photo of hand washing and a mask

Poinsettia with message Have a safe and Happy Holiday Season