Homebuyer protection legislation is endorsed Measure would force developers to reveal neighborhood data

December 28, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County delegation is supporting legislation to help homebuyers who fail to ask enough questions about the neighborhood into which they will be moving. Anne Arundel delegates and senators have been deluged with calls from frantic neighbors who never expected a megamall in North County, an auto racetrack on the Solley Peninsula, or expansions at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Officials say it's time homebuyers became more careful and developers more forthcoming.

"If you're buying a new house and there's a road planned or a landfill being built or a pending zoning change, those things should be disclosed," said state Sen. Philip C. Jimeno. "People have a right to know things that will affect their quality of life or their real estate purchase. It's only reasonable."

Under current law, developers are required to disclose information about the home and the land on which it sits, including the water system, the structural components and whether hazardous wastes have been deposited on the property. The proposed law, which is similar to legislation recently passed in Virginia, would require developers to provide information about proposed zone changes, new roads, plans for nearby developments and county projects.

Del. John R. Leopold has written a draft of the proposed legislation with Dels. Joan Cadden, Mary Rosso and Virginia P. Clagett. Jimeno is considering introducing similar legislation in the Senate.

"I don't think the real estate industry will be happy about this, but it's something that's needed," said Cadden. "It's important that people know that it looks like a nice tree-lined hill behind your home but next year it's going to be a big mall."

Few states have ventured into this area. New Jersey passed a law requiring developers to disclose information to homeowners about nearby land. The action came after 150 homeowners sued a developer after they discovered their new homes were built next to a toxic waste dump. The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1995 that it was reasonable to require real estate professionals and developers to disclose off-site conditions that affect the value and desirability of a new home.

The court, however, did not address the resale of homes by private owners or the sale of commercial property. Jimeno said those details were being worked out in Maryland.

In the past 10 years Maryland legislators have unsuccessfully tried to amend residential property disclosure laws. Those efforts would have forced sellers to reveal things such as whether a mass murderer lived in a home for sale, whether a crime had been commited on the premises, and whether any previous tenants had AIDS.

Jimeno said the proposed legislation requiring developers to disclose certain information stands a much better chance.

"Those previous bills were based on isolated cases," he said. "I mean, how many people live in a home previously owned by a mass murderer? This is a legitimate issue that has and does affect a lot of people, particularly in high-growth areas like this county."

Pub Date: 12/28/98

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