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Prince George’s County Council member Wala Blegay speaks during a weekly session on Feb. 14. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

10.31.23 – Washington Post

Prince George’s County Council requires owners of high-occupancy buildings or age-restricted senior residences to establish video surveillance of properties

Owners of high-occupancy buildings or age-restricted senior residences will be required to establish video surveillance of properties under a bill the Prince George’s County Council passed Tuesday, billed by proponents as an attempt to boost resident safety amid rising crime.

The council voted 9-2 to direct owners of qualifying properties to deploy surveillance cameras in areas such as parking lots, sidewalks and trash enclosures, and to retain footage for no less than 30 days. Footage must be kept no less than 180 days from the request date of law enforcement or a tenant.

The effort, led by Council member Wala Blegay (D-District 6), builds on previous legislation that required landlords to keep tenants reasonably safe, but did not detail how that should occur. Council members Mel Franklin (D-At Large) and Sydney J. Harrison (D-District 9) abstained on Tuesday, citing concerns over costs and efficacy.

Public safety has been top of mind for residents and lawmakers, with stolen vehicle crimes up 173 percent compared to the same time last year and property crime up 50 percent, according to data from the Prince George’s County Police Department. Violent crime is up by 8 percent, according to the data.

The council in March passed a security camera rebate bill for home and business owners following the death of a 13-year-old boy, Jayz Agnew, who was killed while raking leaves last November. The Private Security Camera Incentive Program, which is also known as the Jayz Agnew Law, aimed to strengthen surveillance and discourage illegal dumping as the county grappled with crime.

The newly passed bill specifies a minimum resolution for all cameras to be at 1080p and sets a civil fine for noncompliance of up to $500. If a landlord doesn’t make changes to ineffective equipment, a tenant can bring a complaint to the Director of the Department of Permitting, Inspections, and Enforcement (DPIE).

That structure gave Franklin pause for supporting the bill, he said.

“The idea that DPIE is going to be going out and doing these inspections is unrealistic. We don’t fund them enough to do that. The only thing DPIE can do is respond to complaints. So it’s a complaint-driven enforcement,” Franklin said. “That’s what it will likely continue to be unless we come up with a pot of gold, which we don’t have, and we fund DPIE to be something different than they are.”

Harrison echoed some of his concerns as there appeared to be too many unknowns for him to vote aye. Instead, he abstained.

“Whether it’s the cost to our county, whether it’s the cost to the renter, the consumer is very problematic for me. I still don’t know what those numbers are and how that’s going to be passed down to somebody else,” Harrison said. “I believe in the premise of this bill, but I just don’t know how this gets enforced.”

Ryan Washington, Maryland government affairs manager for the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, said the council had not solicited necessary input from law enforcement and landlords before taking the vote. Noting the bill follows legislation that capped rent increases, he warned it would lead property owners to choose between cameras and tending to urgent issues.

“[The cost] will only further cause more deterioration to necessary improvements to the property, and you lose your affordable housing stock members that have been operating for decades,” Washington said.

The bill defines a high-occupancy dwelling facility as “any apartment building or group of buildings on the same parcel, lot, tract, block of land, or group of buildings” with the same name comprising more than 100 units with one or more owners in common.

Blegay said there are too many areas in the county where cameras have been available but not working properly.

“We would want people to at least be able to inspect and look at any of the facilities that don’t have cameras,” she said. “But we do believe putting this provision into place at least pushes our apartment buildings to have working security cameras.”

When it comes to the costs of the bill, she said, the benefits outweigh the costs and she pointed to assistance available to single-family residents to place cameras on their property.

“We’re saying the single-family homes, townhouses or everybody else can get a simple small amenity, but apartment buildings don’t deserve that,” she said. “And that’s not fair. And it gets to the point that residents themselves have come here and say that they themselves are getting their own cameras.

Cheryl Cornish is among them.

Cornish, a resident at a senior building in Largo, said she has had to install a camera above her unit because the ones at her building are not adequately working. In the four years she’s been a resident at her senior-apartment building, she’s had both of her cars vandalized, she said.

“I leave out early in the morning now … I’m afraid to walk down the stairways, quite honestly, because we have unhoused people that have taken up home in the stairwells,” she said. “I’m also afraid to come in late because I don’t want to get banged in my head in the parking lot trying to get from my car inside.”