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Anonymity of Requestor for Housing Code Enforcement Complaints

The issue of a confidential source came out of a case here in Montgomery County in 2000 (Bowen v. Davison) in which a housing code complaint was filed with DHCA against a neighbor. A DHCA inspector investigated and did not find a housing violation, and later, the neighbor that was the subject of the complaint filed a Public Information Act (PIA) request. DHCA, through its Director, Elizabeth Davison, refused to divulge the source of the complaint saying that to divulge DHCA's sources would dramatically decrease a person's desire to complain and would restrict the flow of valuable information to DHCA.

In brief summary of the court's findings:

DHCA is an investigative body that undertakes investigations of housing and code violations as required under the Montgomery County Code. As an investigative agency, DHCA may maintain the confidentiality of its sources for housing and code violations provided that the information is given under an express or implied assurance of confidentiality. Confidential sources are an exception to disclosure under the PIA because the primary purpose of the confidential source exception is to help prevent the loss of information and to ensure the willingness of informants to come forward.

However, in order to insure that we do not have to reveal a complaining party?s identify under a Public Information Act (because it is VERY difficult to prove that confidentiality is implied), the complaining party must indicate that he or she wishes for his or her complaint to remain confidential; or, similarly, that he or she as the complaining party wishes to remain anonymous.

Complaining parties may be assured that their identification will not be revealed under a PIA request unless the complaining party waives his or her right to confidentiality or anonymity.

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