LLC Member Liable under Municipal Law for Violations of Housing Code. Allen v. DackMan (Md. 2010)

In Allen v. Dackman, 991 A.2d 1216 (Md. 2010), an LLC owned rental property in Baltimore that did not comply with the provisions of the Baltimore City Housing Code regarding lead-based paint.  A resident sued the LLC and the member who managed the LLC.  The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the member on the basis that members of LLCs are not liable for LLC obligations.  The Court of Appeals reversed on the grounds that the Housing Code, imposed liability on “owners,” defined that term broadly:

… the City Council intended to expand the meaning of the term “owner” so that it referred not only to those who own the title to a dwelling, but also to a wider group of individuals who hold or control the title.

The parties agree that Respondent did not own or hold the title to the property, so we therefore determine whether he controlled the title to the property. We have never defined the term “control” as it was used in the Housing Code, but we agree with the Court of Special Appeals that it “carries with it a requirement that the entity in question have an ability to change or affect the” interest being controlled. This definition is consistent with the common definition of the term “control.” Black’s Law Dictionary 353 (8th Ed. 2004) (defining “control” as having the ability to “exercise power or influence over” property).

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We recognize a number of ways in which a reasonable trier of fact could determine that Respondent had the “ability to change or affect” the title to the property. Respondent … that he was responsible for running the day-to-day affairs of [the LLC] during the time period when [it] both acquired and sold [the property.]  Respondent also executed the deed certification when [the LLC] acquired the property, signed the complaint seeking to remove Petitioners from the property, and signed the deed when [the LLC] sold the property. These facts are sufficient evidence for a jury to find that Respondent may have changed or affected the title. For example, the trier of fact could find that Respondent directed the acquisition of the property, the legal action that led to the ejection of Petitioners from the property, or the sale of the property. Furthermore, even if Respondent did not actually direct these actions, the trier of fact could find that he had the “ability” to do so. This would have also been sufficient to establish that he controlled the title to the property. Finally, there is no evidence that anyone other than Respondent was responsible for the day-to-day management of [the LLC] or for decisions affecting the title to the property, which supports the conclusion that Respondent was the person who made decisions affecting the title to the property.

Slip Op., at 17-19 (emphasis added)(citations and footnote omitted).

Earlier this month, Dackman was discussed on LNET-LLC.

posted by Gary Rosin

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