Kane v. Board of Appeals

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James Kane, Jr. and Realty Development Group, Inc. v. The Board of Appeals of Prince George s County , Sitting as the B oard of A dministrativ e Appea ls No. 29, September Term, 2005 Headnote: Section 11-16 2 of the P rince Geo rge s Cou nty Code pro vides that no tice shall be served upon the owner, operator, occupant, agent or other p erson responsible for a violation of the statute. Pursuant to this section, the County, throu gh the Fire D epartmen t, may cite the (1) ow ner, (2) oper ator, (3) occu pant, (4) age nt, or (5) other pers on respon sible for the violation. The statute does n ot require tha t the owne r, operator, oc cupant, or a gent, be responsible fo r the violation . Citation of th e owne r or agent do es not viola te those individuals rights to due process or equal protection under the law. Circuit Co urt for Prince George s County Case # CAL00-18995 IN THE COURT OF APPEALS OF MARYLAND No. 29 September Term, 2005 James Kane, Jr. and Realty Development Group, Inc. v. The Board o f Appeals of P rince George s County, Sitting as the Board of Admin istrative App eals Bell, C. J. Raker Wilner Cathell Harrell Battaglia Greene, JJ. Opinion by Cathell, J. Filed: December 12, 2005 This case concerns the interpretation and applic ation of the Prince G eorge s C ounty Code, Title 17, Su btitle 11 Fire S afety ( County Code ). 1 At issue are citations issued by the fire departme nt to a landlo rd and its m anagem ent agent, pursuant to § 11-162, for violations of § 11-161.2 Petitioners (Realty Development Group, Inc. and James L. Kane, Jr.) appealed 1 All citations and all statutory references, unless otherwise provided, are to the 1999 Prince George s County Code, which was in effect at the time of final administrative action. Any relevant subsequent amendments will be noted. 2 These sections provide: Sec. 11-162. Service of orders and notices generally. Except as otherwise provided , any order or no tice issued pu rsuant to this Subtitle shall be serv ed upon the owne r, operator, occupant, agent or other person responsib le for the condition or violation, either by personal service or by delivering the same to an d leaving it with some p erson of responsib ility upon the premises, or by affixing a copy thereof in a conspicuous place at or near the entrance to such premises, or by mailing a copy thereof to such person by registered or certified mail to the last known address with return receipt reques ted. (E mpha sis adde d.) Sec. 11-161. Orders to abate dangerou s conditions. (a) Ordering dangerous materials or conditions removed. Whenever the Fire Chief or his authorized representative shall find any building or other structure which, for want of repairs, lacks sufficient fire escapes, automatic or other fire alarm apparatus or fire suppression equipment or, by reason of age or dilapidated conditions or from any other cause, is liable to fire so as to endanger other property or the occupants thereof, and, whenever he shall find in a ny building co mbustible o r explosive matter or flam mable conditions dangerous to the safety of such building or the occupants thereof, he shall order such dangerous conditions or materials to be remedied or removed immediately. Such conditions or materials shall include, but are not limited to: (1) Dangerous conditions which are liable to cause or contribute to the spread of fire in or on said premises, building, or structure, or endanger the (contin ued...) the citations to the Board of Appeals for Prince George s Co unty, sitting as the Board of Administrative Appeals; the Circuit Court for Prince George s County; and the Court of Special Appeals. The Board, the Circuit Court, and the Court of Special Appeals found that the citations we re properly issue d. Petitioners f iled a Petition f or Writ of Certiorari on May 3, 2005, and we granted certiora ri on Jun e 16, 20 05. Kane v. B d. of Appe als, 387 Md. 465, 875 A.2d 769 (2005). Petitioners present three questions for our review: A) [W]heth er the plain language of the Prince George s County Code precludes issuing Correction Orders to and otherwise penalizing the owners of the leased premises for the conduct of their renters involving the renters pers onal property; B) whether the County Fire Code, as applied in this case, violates the Petitioners rights to due process; and C) whether the County Fire Code, as applied in this case, violates the Petition ers righ ts to equ al protec tion un der the la w. We hold that the plain language of the County Code allows the fire department to issue citations solely to the owners of the properties. Furthermore, we hold that the County Code 2 (...continued) occupants thereof; ... (3) Obstruction to or on fire escapes, stairs, passageways, exit ways, doors, or window s liable to interfere with the egress of occupants or the operations of the Fire Depa rtment in case of fire; [or] ... (6) Dangerous accumulations of rubbish, waste, paper, boxes, shavings, or other co mbust ible ma terials; . . . -2- sections in question, as applied here, did not violate the petitioners rights to due process or equal protection. I. Facts and Procedural History Realty Development Group, Inc., ( RDG ), owns three rental properties located at 4204, 4205, and 4206 Knox Road, College Park, Maryland. James L. Kane, Jr., an agent of RDG, manages the properties (Mr. Kane is sometimes hereafter refe rred to as petitioner). As required by the County Code, th e Prince G eorge s C ounty Fire D epartmen t conducts regular inspections of the properties.3 On March 30, 2000, Captain Steven Hess, a fire department employee, inspected the buildings. The tenant of unit 7, at 4204 Knox Road, allowed Captain Hess to inspect the apartment. Captain Hess determined that the unit was unsafe and later stated: The dangerous accumulations of trash and rubbish that I observed during my inspection was such that there was approximately a three foot pile high [of] newspaper, magazin es, pizza bo xes, other fo od type containers strewn throughout this [tenant s] unit to the point that he could open his door 3 Section 13-181 of the County Code prohibits the rental of any residential unit without a license. In order to obtain and maintain a license t o rent, u nder § 1 3-181 , a landlord is subject to inspections as p rovided by § 11-159(b ): Sec. 11-159. Inspections. (b) Implied consen t. Any application for or acceptance of any permit or license requested or issued p ursuan t to this Su btitle, constitutes agreement and consent by the person making application or accepting the permit to allow fire officials to enter the premises to conduct such inspections as requ ired to en force th is Subtitl e. (Em phasis a dded.) -3- approxim ately a foot and a half to allow us entry to check the smok e detector, and in the event th at [the tenan t is] in his room and there is a fire in his unit the likelihood is that not only will the abundan t accumu lation of this combus tible material not a llow him to exit his unit pro perly, it will probably facilitate the fire to spread more quickly. I found that to be a dangerous accumulation not only for h im but a lso for th e tenan ts that res ide in tha t buildin g. Captain Hess found that the conditions of the apartment violated § 11-161(a)(1). He also found that a room in 4205 Knox Road, used by a tenant as a storage closet, also contained the building s boiler and water heater. Captain Hess determined that the tenant s use of the storage room was a violation of § 11-161(a)(1) as it created [d]angerous conditions which are liable to cause or contribute to the spread of fire in or on said premises, building, or structure, or endanger the occupants thereof. As a result of these findings, Captain Hess issued a Correction Order, pursuant to § 11-161. The order named James L. Kane as the owner a nd it stated tha t: All storage rooms must be locked, supervised by fire sprinklers or be 100% empty and have a smoke detector. In ad dition, access must be p rovided to officials of the Prince G eorge s C ounty Fire/EMS Department to inspect these common areas of the property for hazards or appliances as the Fire C hief or his authorized representative may designate. The tenant in 42 04 Kno x Road #7 must im mediately clean all trash and d ebris from the unit in ord er to eliminate the dange rous cond itions found in the room. The form stated that both conditions were cited pursuant to § 11-161(a)(1). The order also provided that it was the 1 st Notice and that the owner/manager must act immedia tely to correct the listed issues, p rior to the next sc hedule d appo intmen t, which was set for May 1, -4- 2000. Captain Hess gave the order to a rental manager who refused to sign, acknowledging receipt of it. 4 After his second visit on May 1, 2000, Captain Hess issued a 2nd Notice to Mr. Kane stating that the c onditio ns desc ribed o n the fir st notice had no t been c orrecte d. In addition, this notice stated that [f]ailure to c omply could resu lt in a $1000 .00 fine an d/or 180 d ays in jail upon conviction 5 and that the next scheduled appointment would take place on May 17, 2000. The manager again refused to sign the order. Finally, after inspecting the buildings a third time, Captain Hess issued a THIRD and FINAL notice on June 12, 2000. The final 4 There appear to be two rental managers. Mr. Kane and a woma n, who a ccording to Captain Hess, told him that she had been directed no t to speak to him and refused to sign the correction order. 5 Section 11-114. Criminal penalty for violations provides: A violation of any provision of this Subtitle shall constitute a misdemeanor and any person, upon conviction thereof, shall be fined not less than One Hundred Dollars ($100) and not more than One Tho usand Dollars ($1,000), or se ntenced to not more than six (6) m onths in jail, or both. Each day that such violation continues shall be d eemed a separ ate off ense. (Emp hasis ad ded.) In addition, § 11-161(h) relating to correction orders states: Failure to obey order. After any order of the Fire Chief or his authorized representative or the Board of Appeals made pursuant to this Section shall have become final, no person to w hom any su ch order is d irected shall fa il, neglect, or refuse to obey any such order. Any such perso n who f ails to comp ly with an y such or der is gu ilty of a mis deme anor. -5- notice provided that the conditions found in the previous two occasions had not been corrected.6 Captain H ess gave th e notice to M r. Kane w ho refuse d to sign it. Petitioner Kane filed a notice of appeal to the Board of Appeals of P rince George s County (the Board )7 on May 10, 2000, challenging the Correction Order dated May 1, 2000. In his notice of a ppeal, petitioner Kane argued that he was incorrectly identified as the owner, he denied the existence of any storage rooms in the buildings in question, and stated that [a]ny recommendation to a tenant in any building (4204 Knox Road, #7) which concerns that tenant s particular personal habits should be directed to that tenant. Any correction order to a tenant should specifically describe the offending conditions and the alleged violatio n(s). 6 Petitioners co mplain that this third notice provided that the deficiencies violated § 11-161(a)(6) as opposed to (a)(1) as stated in the previous two occasions. Petitioners argue that this discrepancy denied them proper notice and violated their due process rights. This argument lacks merit. First, § 11-161(a) require s that the Fire Chief order the removal of dangerous materials or c onditions w hich inclu de, but are n ot limited to th ose listed in sections (1) through (12). As a result, all the conditions are included in such citations. Second, section (1) provides: Dangerous conditions which are liable to cause or contribute to the spread of fire in or on said premises, building, or structure, or endanger the occupan ts thereof. Section (6) provides: Dangerous accumulations of rubbish, waste, paper, boxes, shavings, or other combustible materials. Both sections provide for the removal of items or conditions which may pose a fire hazard. The combination of the previous notices and the close relationship between the two subsections provided sufficient notice to the petitione rs as to wh at they needed to do in ord er to comply wit h the requirements of the County Code. 7 The Board o f Appeals for P rince George s County is composed o f three membe rs appointed by the County Council. The Board sits as either the Board of Administrative Appea ls or the B oard of Zonin g App eals. W hen sitting as the Board of Administrative Appeals, the Board hears app eals from th e decisions of admin istrative agen cies including, as in this case, the Fire Chief. -6- On June 20, 2000, petitioner Kane filed a notice of appeal to the Board, challenging the Correc tion ord er dated June 1 2, 2000 . In the notice , petitioner K ane again denied being the owner of the property. He also denied the existence of any storage rooms in the building. He acknowledged, however, the existence of the small room in which the furnace and hot water heater were located, but denied that the tenants had access to the room. He maintained his position that any complaints regarding the leased premises should be addressed to the tenants. The Board h eld hearing s on petitione rs appeals on June 7 and July 12, 2000. At the hearing on June 7, only petitioner Kane was present and he denied being the owner of the properties. The Board decided to postpone the hearing until the prope rty owners were properly identified, notified and represented. On July 12, satisfied that all parties in interest were properly represented, the Board the n condu cted a hear ing on the m erits of the ap peal. Petitioners (both RDG and Mr. Ka ne) were represented by the same counsel. Petitioners and the Cou nty stipulated that they had come to an agreement as to most of the violations for which the petitioners had been cite d. Both parties asked for the Board to make a determination on whether the owners and agent of the leased properties alone can be cited for the violations created by the tenants.8 The Board heard evidence from petitioners including petitioner Kane explaining the situation in 4204 Knox Road #7: 8 From this point ownership does not appear to have been an issue. The matter of who (or what) owns the premises is not presen ted in the issue s stated in the b riefs in this Court. -7- That s a single sleeping room. I have no control over it. It s just basically . . . a roomin g house building. I have no control over, in my view, the tenant so long as the tenant does not disturb other tenants, the tenant[ ]s matters do not spill over in the common areas, what the tenant does behind that door, as far as I m concerned, is the tenant s business. Others don t like that then I th ink they sh ould di rectly add ress thei r conce rn to the tenant. The Board heard evidence from the fire department and made the following findings: 1. James Kane, Jr. has a legal interest in the properties at issue. 2. The owner of the property located at 4204 Knox Road #7, College Park, Maryland, is responsible for removing all trash and debris from the unit in order to abate a dangerous condition a nd bring th e unit into co mpliance with Prince George s County Code Section 11-161(a)(1) and 11-159. 3. The room in dispute at the premises located at 4205 Knox Road, College Park, Maryland, constitutes a storage room and must be in compliance with P rince G eorge s Cou nty Cod e Sectio ns 11-1 61(a)(1 ) and 11 -159. The Board did n ot assess an y fines against th e petitioners a t that time. Follo wing that decision, petitioners appealed to the Circuit Court for Princ e George s C ounty. In the Circuit Court, petitioners argued that the Board s reading of the County Code was erroneous and, as applied, viol ated the p etitio ners righ ts to d ue proce ss an d equal p rotection . Finally, petitioners argued that the statute was void for vagueness. On Augus t 13, 2001, th e Circuit Court remande d the case to the Board and ORDERED that given the equal protection concerns raised by the Petitioners, the Board of Appeals of Prince George s County, sitting as the Board of Administrative Appeals shall determine why the tenants were not cited for the viola tions at is sue in th is matter . On remand, the Board held meetings concerning this issue on three different dates October 3, 10, a nd 24, 2001. Petitioners were not advised of the dates and times of the -8- meetings and we re not given an oppo rtunity to be heard. After the October 24 meeting the Board issued an Order of the Board on Remand from the Circuit Court for Prince George s County, Maryland stating: After reviewing the O rder of the Circuit Cou rt, the members of the Board m et in executive session with counsel to the Board to discuss the law. At the Board s regular meeting on October 24, 2001, the matter was discussed in open session. The members agreed that this matter involved a rational basis test, versus strict scrutiny, and there was no violation of equal prote ction in declining to cite the tena nts for the v iolations at issue landlords have the ability to control their tenants, whether they do or not cannot hinder the local government from fulf illing its duty to protect the c itizenry s health, saf ety and welfare, and it would require a Registry of Landlord-Tenant Agreements to make tenants anywhere near as susceptible to enforcement as landowners are by virtue of the Coun ty tax records. Under the law, the d ecision by the Board to uphold the determinations of the County Fire Inspector withstands an equal protecti on ana lysis. The Board determined that their prior decision met a rational basis inquiry and affirmed the correction orders. The Circ uit Court, unsatisfied with the Board s explanation, remanded the case once again with specific instructions to determine why the tenants were not cited; whether there is a County policy to charge landlords rather than tenants where, as here, the tenant is equally or more acc essible to cod e enforce ment off icers than the landlord; a nd if such policy did exist e xplain the rationale behind it. Furthermore, the Circuit Court directed the Board to give petitioners notice of the new hearing and an opportunity to be heard and particip ate fully. -9- The Board h eld a rema nd hearing on July 17, 2002, in which the Fire Department and petitioners were allow ed to present their arguments. Following the hearing, the Board issued a decision answering the Circuit Court s questions, which stated: The inspectors in this case are hereby determined, as a matter of credibility, to have cited th e properties in question fo r the legitimate reasons set forth in the violation notice(s), a nd the land lord was s erved in go od faith inasmuch as the law gives landlords ultimate responsibility for the condition of their real property (including the improve ments thereon). As fo r a polic y, this B oard find s that ther e is no po licy in terms of the government desiring to impose upon or inconvenience land lords as opposed to ten ants; the County s inspectors simply follow the common sense of using the tax records and similar readily-available sources of information to enforce the County Code as efficiently and e ffectively as po ssible. (As state d previou sly in these proceedings, there is no tenant registry readily-available to government employees, so there is no way a government employee can be sure the person answering the door of a rental unit is the actual tenant conversely, the tax records pro vide a fairly reliab le indication of who the landlord is, and in this case Mr. Kane has not seriously contended that there w as error in that regard here with respect to the K nox Road u nit(s) in question.) The Board then determined: In sum, this Board concludes that the landlord/owner was cited rather than the tenant(s) because this method of serving the citation is m ost likely to cause the correctiv e actions to be carried out as directed; to the extent that this manner of serving violation notices is a policy, it comports with all laws, including the equal protection clause. The actions of the inspector(s) are hereby a ffirme d in all re spects, o n all gro unds. 9 9 In support of its finding, the Board sta ted that under well-settled principles of nuisance law, a landlord is responsible for dangerous conditions created by a tenan t. This is not entirely correct. The Board quoted Owin gs v. Jones, 9 Md. 108, 117 -18 (1856): [W]here the owner leases premises which are a nuisance, or must, in the nature of things, become so by their user, and receives rent for them, then, whether in or out of possession, he is liable. This assertion is taken out of context as the entire passage actually states: (contin ued...) -10- 9 (...continued) [W]e understand the court to deduce, at least the two following principles from the numerous adjudications to which reference is had: First. That where property is demised, and at the time of the demise it is not a nuisance, and becomes so only by the act of the tenant while in his possession, and injury happen[ed] during such possession, the owner is not liable; but, Second. That where the owner leases premises which are a nuisance, or must in the nature of things become so by their user, and receives rent, then, whether in or out of p ossessio n, he is lia ble. Id. (Bolding and un derline added.) There is no evidence that the apartment was a nuisance at the time it was leased to the tenant. It became a nuisance only by the act of the tenant and, as a resu lt, the landlo rd would not be liable for any damages caused by it at least not under this doc trine. See Matthews v. Amberwo od Assocs., 351 Md. 544, 556-57, 719 A.2d 119, 125 (1998); Smith v. Walsh, 92 Md. 518, 52 8-29, 48 A. 92, 92 -93 (1901). Under Maryland s landlord tenant common law, when a landlord has turned over control of a leased prem ises to a tenan t, it ordinarily has no obligation to maintain the leased premises for the safety of the tenant. Hemmings v. Pelham Wood Ltd. Liab. Ltd. P ship, 375 Md. 522, 537, 826 A.2d 443, 452 (2003) (second emphasis added) (citing Matthews, 351 Md. at 556-57, 7 19 A.2d at 125); Rhaney v. Univ. of Md. Eastern Shore, 388 Md. 585, 598, 880 A.2d 3 57, 364 (2005 ). As illustrated in Matthews, the Court has recognized that there are exceptions to the principle that the landlord is not obligated to maintain the tenant s premises for the safety of the tenants. The Court cited the following examples: when the lan dlord agrees to rectify a dangerous condition in the leased premises, and fails to do so, he may be liable for injuries caused by the co ndition . See, e.g., Sacks v. Pleasant, 253 Md. 40, 44-46, 251 A.2d 858, 861862 (1969); when the landlord voluntarily undertakes to rectify a dangerous or defective condition within the le ased prem ises, and do es so neglig ently, the landlord is liable for resulting injuries. Miller v. Howard, 206 Md. 148, 155, 110 A.2d 683, 686, (1955); when there are [d] efective or da ngerous c onditions in the leased premises which violate statutes or ordinances [that] may a lso be the basis for a negligence action against the landlord. See, e.g., Richwind v. Brunson, [335 Md. 66 1, 671, 645 A.2d 1147, 1152 (19 94), overruled on other grounds by Brooks v. Lewin Realty III, Inc., 378 M d. 70, 83 5 A.2d 616 (2 003)]. Matthews, 351 Md. at 555 -56, 719 A.2d at 12 4 (emphasis adde d). Our decision today, does not in any way modify the standards for nuisance or negligence actions stated in the comm on law an d the cases c ited above . It is limited to allowing the County to cite the landlord for violations of the Code which may have been (contin ued...) -11- The Circuit Court affirmed the Board s decision, finding that there was a rational basis for the fire department s practice of citing the owner and/or management agent of the building and not the tenants. The Court determined that [t]he ordinance provides wide discretion for the County to cite whomever it believes would m ost likely remedy the p roblem. A s a result, [u]nder the rational basis test so long as the means are reasonable and the ends legitimate, the Co urt mus t give de ferenc e to the C ounty s d ecision . Petitioners appealed to the Co urt of Special App eals. That court found that the plain language of the s tatute allo wed th e Cou nty to cite th e landlo rd. The court also found that the County Code, as applied, m et the rational basis inquiry required under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and Article 24 of Maryland Declaration of Rights. The Court of Special Appeals determined that the petitioners had the burden of demonstrating that the County Code as applied to them was unconstitutional. The intermediate appellate court found th at the petitioners failed to meet that burden, in part, by not introducing a copy of the tenant s lease on the record showing the petitioners lack of authority over the tenant s actions. The court took judicial notice of the fact that most leases in the state have clauses allowing the landlord to exercise control over the tenants by requiring them to comply with all laws and reserving the landlord s right to enter the 9 (...continued) created by the tenant, albeit tole rated by the land lord. Whe ther the land lord could b e liable for damages to tenants or th ird parties cau sed by such c onditions is lef t to the facts of those cases in which the issues may arise. -12- premises if he or she has good cause to believe the Tenant may have damaged the premises or may be in violation of county, state, or federal law. The Court of Special Appeals then affirmed the Circuit C ourt s judgm ent. II. Standard of Review Judge Harrell, writing for the Court, recently stated: We review an administrative agency s decision under the same statutory standards as the Circuit Court. Annap olis Market Place, L.L.C., v. Parker, 369 M d. 689, 703 , 802 A.2d 1029, 10 37 (2002 ) (quoting Jordan Towing , Inc. v. Hebb ville Auto Repair, Inc., 369 Md. 439, 449-52, 800 A.2d 768 (2002)). In Board of Physician Quality Assurance v. Banks, 354 Md. 59, 67-69, 729 A.2d 376, 380-81 (1999), Judge Eldridge, writing for the Court, explained the standard of review for administrative agency decisions: A court s role in reviewing an administrative agen cy adjudicatory decision is narrow , United Parcel v. People s Counsel, 336 Md. 569, 576, 650 A.2d 226, 230 (1994); it is limited to determining if there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the agency s findings and conclusions, and to determine if the administrativ e decision is premised upon an erroneous conclusion of law. United Parce l, 336 Md. at 577, 650 A.2d at 230. See also Code (1 984, 199 5 Repl. V ol.), § 10-222 (h) of the S tate Government Article; District Council v. Brandywine, 350 Md. 339, 349, 711 A.2d 1346, 13 50-1351 (1998); Catonsville Nursing v. Loveman, 349 Md. 560, 568-569, 709 A .2d 749, 753 (199 8). In applying the substantial evidence test, a reviewing court decides whether a reasoning mind reasonably could have reached the factual conclusion the agency reached. Bulluck v. Pelham Wood Ap ts., 283 Md. 505, 512, 390 A.2d 1119, 1123 (1978). See Anderson v. D ep t of Public Safety, 330 Md. 187, 213, 623 A.2d 198, 210 (1993). A revie wing court should defer to the agency s fact-finding and drawing o f inferences if they are supported by the rec ord. CBS v. Comptroller, 319 Md. 687, 698, 575 A.2d 324, 329 (1990). A reviewing court must review the agency s decision in the -13- light most fa vorabl e to it; . . . the agency s decision is prima facie correct and presumed valid, and . . . it is the agency s province to resolve conflicting evidence and to draw infe rences from that evide nce. CBS v. Comptroller, supra, 319 M d. at 698, 575 A.2d at 329, quoting Ramsay, Scarlett & Co. v. Comptroller, 302 Md. 825, 834-835, 490 A.2d 1296, 13 01 (19 85). See Catonsv ille Nursing v. Loveman, supra, 349 Md. at 569, 709 A.2d at 753 (final agency decisions are prima fac ie correct and carry w ith them the presumption of validity ). Despite some unfortunate language that has crept into a few of our opinions,[10] a court s task on review is not to substitute its judgment for the expertise of those persons who constitute the administrative agency, United Parce l v. People s Counsel, supra, 336 Md. at 576-577, 650 A.2d at 230, quoting Bulluck v. Pelham Woods Apts., supra, 283 Md. at 513, 390 A.2d at 1124. Ev en with regard to some legal issues, a d egree of d eference should often be accorded the position of the administrative agency. Thus, an administrative agency s interpretation and application of the statute which the agency administers should ordinarily be given considerable weight by reviewing courts. Lussier v. Md. Racing Commission, 343 Md. 681, 696-697, 684 A.2d 804, 811 -812 (199 6), and case s there cited; McCullough v. Wittner, 314 Md. 602, 612, 552 A.2d 88 1, 886 (19 89) ( The interpretation o f a statute by those officials charged with administe ring the statute is . . . entitled to weight ). [11] Furthermore, the expertise of the agency in its own f ield should be respec ted. Fogle v. H & G Restaurant, 337 Md. 441, 455, 654 A.2d 449, 456 (1995); Christ v. Department, 335 Md. 427, 445, 644 A.2d 34, 42 (1994) (legislative delegations of authority to administrative agencies will often include the authority to make s ignificant dis cretionary polic y determinations ); Bd. of Ed. For Dorchester Co. v. Hubbard, 305 Md. 774, 792, 506 A.2d 625, 634 (1986) ( application of the State Board of Education s 10 Liberty Nursing v. Dep artme nt, 330 Md. 43 3, 443, 624 A.2d 941, 945-946 (1 993); Caucus v. Maryland Securities, 320 Md. 313, 324, 577 A.2d 783, 788 (1990); State Election Bd. v. Billhimer, 314 Md. 46, 59, 5 48 A.2 d 819, 8 26 (19 88), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1007, 109 S.Ct. 1644, 10 4 L.E.2d 1 59 (1989 ); Supervisor v. Asbury Methodist Home, 313 Md. 614, 626, 547 A.2d 190, 196 (1988). Banks, 354 Md. at 68 n.1, 729 A.2d at 381 n.1. 11 On the other hand, when a statutory provision is entirely clear, with no ambig uity whatsoever, administrative constructions, no matter how well entrenched, are not given weigh t. Macke Co. v. Comptroller, 302 Md. 18, 22-23, 485 A.2d 254, 257 (1984 ). Banks, 354 Md. at 69 n.2, 729 A.2d at 381 n.2. -14- expertise would clearly be desirable before a court attempts to resolve the legal issu es). See also Dep t of Pub. Safety and Corr. Servs. v. Palmer, ___ Md. ___ (2005) (No 74, September Term, 2004) (filed Novemb er 8, 2005). Using these standards, we now turn to the Prince George s County Board of Appeals decision. III. Discussion We shall discuss the three specific issues presented: the plain reading of the Prince George s County Code, the validity of the statute as applied under the Due Process Clause and the validity of the actions taken under the Equal Protection Clause of the United States and Maryland Constitutions. First, we note the framework for our discussion. A. Statutory Construction-Plain Meaning This Court has previously stated that [l]ocal ordinances and charters are interpreted under the same c anons of construction that apply to the interpretation of statutes. O Connor v. Balt. Cou nty, 382 Md. 102, 113, 854 A.2d 1191, 1198 (2004). It is also a well settled principle of law tha t [t]he cardinal rule of statutory interpretation is to ascertain and effectuate the intention o f the legislature , in this case the Coun ty Coun cil. Rockwood Cas. Ins. Co. v. Uninsured Employers Fund, 385 Md. 99, 108, 867 A.2d 1026, 1031 (2005) (quoting Oaks v. Connors, 339 Md. 24, 35, 660 A.2d 423, 429 (1995)). For that purpose, we begin our inquiry with the words of the statute, and, when the words of the statute are clear and unam biguous, a ccording to their comm only understood meaning, we ordinarily end our inquiry there also. Comp troller of the Tr easury v. K olzig, 375 Md. 562, 567, 826 A.2d -15- 467, 469 (2003). Finally, this Court must construe a statute as a whole so that no word, clause, sentence, or phrase is rendered surplusage, superfluous, meaningless, or nug atory. Moore v. State, 388 Md. 446 , 453, 879 A.2d 1 111, 1115 (200 5). Prince George s County Code § 11-162 provides in pertinent part: [A]ny order or notice issued pursuant to this Subtitle shall be served upon the owner, operator, oc cupant, agent or other person respon sible [12] for the condition or violation . . . (emphasis added). Petitioners contend that the plain language of the statute requires the fire departme nt to cite only the other p erson respo nsible for the condition or violation, i.e., the tenant. The County, on the othe r hand, argu es that the qu alifier respo nsible for the condition or violation only modifies the term other person and, as a resu lt, the fire depa rtment ma y cite the owner and/or agent even if they did not cause the conditio n or violation . The Circu it Court a nd later t he Co urt of S pecial A ppeals agreed with th e Cou nty s interp retation . The analysis of this statute in respect to plain meaning involves a three step process. First, we analyze the effect of the qualifying clause. We continue with an analysis of the punctuation used w ithin the section . Finally, we address the use of the term o ther within that section. 12 Throughout these proceedings the word responsible has been read to mean cause s, as in causes the con dition. -16- i. Qualifying Clauses We commence our analysis by utilizing the generally recognized rule of statutory construction that a qualifying clause ordinarily is confined to the immediately preceding words or phrase particularly in the absence of a comma before the qualifying clause . . . . Sullivan v. Dixon, 280 Md. 444, 451, 373 A.2d 12 45, 1249 (1977); Annapolis Market Place, 369 Md. at 707, 802 A.2d at 1040; Md. Dep t. of the Env t. v. Underwood, 368 Md. 160, 175, 792 A.2d 1130, 11 39 (2002 ); Schmerling v. Injured Workers Ins. Fund, 368 Md. 434, 452 n.9, 795 A .2d 715 , 725 n.9 (2002); but see Employment Sec. Admin. v. Weimer, 285 Md. 96, 102, 400 A.2d 1101, 1104-05 (1979) (noting that this is not an absolute rule, but an aid to determine the intent of the leg islative body enacting the rule). In Underwood, the Court analyzed Md. Code (1982, 1996 R epl. Vol., 2001 Supp .), § 9-276(a) of the Environment Article, which provided that all expenditures . . . by the Department . . . shall be reimbursed to the Department . . . by the owner or operator of the site or any other person who caused the . . . violatio n of this subtitle. 13 Underwood, 368 Md. at 174, 792 A.2d at 1138. Interpreting the language of the statute, Judge Harrell, writing for the Court, stated: Respondents interpretation of this section would have the clause who caused the . . . violation of this subtitle modify all three categories of potential 13 The language of § 11-162 of the County Co de, which provides th at notice sh all be served upon the owner, operator, occupant, agent or other person responsible for the condition, is consistent w ith the langu age of § 9 -276(a) of the Enviro nmental A rticle. -17- responsible parties described in the statute, i.e. the owner, the operator, and any other p erson. That interpretation, however, ignores the clear meaning of the structure and relationship o f the wor ds as they app ear in the statu te . . . . Id. at 175, 792 A.2d at 1139. More sp ecifically, the Court determined that such interpretation would disregard the rule described in Sullivan and require that, in order to be found liable under the statute, the owner or operator must also have caused the violation. The Court then explained: The language of § 9-276 does not contain commas setting apart the three categories of potential responsible parties and the modifying clause (e.g. the owne r or ope rator of the site, o r any othe r person , who caused the [violation] . . . ), nor does it exp licitly apply the modifying clause to all three parties. In the absence of such context, it is clear that the modifying clause who caused the [violation] . . . wa s inte nded to a pply only to any other person . Con sequ ently, the language of § 9-276(a) mandates that liability for reimbursement to the [Department] may be placed on any of 3 categories of persons who violate the subtitle: (1) an owner of a site [where the violation occurred]; (2) an operator of a site [where the violation occurred]; or (3) any other p erson w ho cau sed the [violatio n]. Id. at 176, 792 A.2d at 1139. ii. Punctuation: the Importance of a Comma Like the statute in Underwood, § 11-162 does not c ontain commas setting apart the clause from the different categories of individuals named in the list. When the qualifying clause is set apar t by a comma, it is clear that it modifies every element within the list. For example, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment states: nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. The comma -18- following the word property clearly indicates that the qualifying clause without due proces s of law applie s to all thre e terms : life, liber ty, and pro perty. The Court of Special Appeals recognized that the qualifying clause was no t set apart by a comma and was therefore limited to modify only the term other person. Petitioners, in response, argue that the intermediate Court ignored the comma before or, which comma applies the entire subsequent phrase to owner or agent. There is no such comma in the statute. Interestingly, however, although as we indicate the re is no com ma after ag ent in the text of the actual statute, it somehow made it s way into the petitioners briefs.14 14 Petitioners in their original brief purported to quote from the statute. In that quote a comma appears between the words agent and the or. In that original brief, the pe titioners raised no issu e in respect to that mysterious comma. In the respondent s brief, the County even states: there is a comma im mediately after the words ow ner, operator, occupant, agent . . . followed by the word s or other person . . . . Later, in their reply brief the petitioners, addressing § 11-162, state: Specif ically, the Prince George s County Fire Code provides that any order or notice issued pursuant to this Subtitle [including the Correctional Orders at issue here] shall be served upon the owner, operator, occupant, agent, or other person . . . . [Brackets in original, boldin g and u nderlin ing of th e com ma at iss ue add ed.] The Court of Special Appeals found that the fact that there is no comma before the word responsible, meant that it did not m odify owner or agent, such that an owner or agent could b e cited e ven if th ey were n ot respo nsible f or the v iolation . The [petitioners] respectfully submit that this interpretation ignores the comma before or, which comma applies the entire subsequen t phrase to owner or ag ent. The Court has obtained copies of the actual statute by fax from Prince George s Cou nty, and we have reviewed the County s website and printed a copy of the statute from that site. Additionally, an actual copy of the statute was included in the appendix to the petitioner s original brief. There is no comma between agen t and or. We pres ume that th is mysteriously appearing comma came out of nowhere by mistake. -19- iii. Meaning of the Word Other Under the County Code Petitioners argue that this reading of the County Code renders the word other superfluous. In support of their conten tion they point to Underwood as well. In ad dition to determining who w as liable for th e violation, the Underwood Court also determined that under the statute the action to seek reimbursement was a legal action. Md. Code (1982, 1996 Repl. Vol., 2001 Supp.), § 9-276(b) of the Environment Article provided that [i]n addition to an y other legal action authorized by this subtitle, the Attorney General may bring an action to recover costs and interest from any person who fails to make reimbursement as required under subsection (a) of this section. Underwood, 368 Md. at 174, 792 A.2d at 1138 (em phasis added ). The C ourt co nclude d that the use of the wo rd oth er, which is modified by the qualifying clause legal action, indicated that the action to recover costs under that section was a legal ac tion. Underwood, 368 Md. at 184, 792 A.2d at 1144. As a result, petitione rs contend that under th is interpretation of § 11-162 of the County Code, use of the term other indic ates that the other persons named in the list must also be responsible for the condition or violation in order to be cited. The use of the words other and legal action in that particu lar part of Underwood, however, related to a different context than that of the present case and offers little support for petitioners position in the current con text. Petitioners argument, moreover, fails to reconcile the Court s interpretation, in the same opinion, of two adjacent sections of the same statute containing the term other. As -20- described supra, the Court l imited the effect of the qualifying clause in § 9-276(a) of the Environment Article to any other person, interpreting other to exclude the owner o r operator of the site. Underwood, 368 Md. at 176, 792 A.2d at 1139.15 Then, the Cou rt interpreted the term o ther in § 9-2 76(b) of th e Environ ment Ar ticle to mean that such action was also a legal action. Id. at 184, 7 92 A.2 d at 114 4. These apparent incongruent interpretations can be easily and reaso nably explained. Section 9-276(a) of the Environment Article, like § 11-162 of the County Code (the section at issue here in the case at bar), involves a list of persons responsible for a violation of the code. Section 9-276(b) of the Environment Article, on the other hand, does not refer to a list of persons who have violated a statute, but to a type of action similar to that of different sections described in the Code. Furthermore, § 9-276(a ) of the En vironmen t Article and § 11 -162 of th e Coun ty Code co uld 15 We reco gnize that the Court has come to a different co nclusion in another case. In Schmerling, 368 M d. at 451 n.9 , 795 A.2d at 725 n.9, th e Court inte rpreted a statute stating: Any telephone or telegrap h instrument, equipme nt or other faci lity for the transmission of electronic comunications. The Court stated: While the qualifying clause only affects the immediately preceding word, the use of the wo rd other before facility indicates that the facility is of the same kind as equipme nt and instru ment. As petitioner po ints out, it would be nonsensical to use the word other to modify fac ility if the terms did not have some relation to each other. Therefore, while we agree with the Co urt of Special A ppeals that the prepositional phrase , for the transm ission o f . . . only modifies facility, we agree with petitioners that the use of the word other c onnote s a simila rity in the type s of eq uipme nt listed. Id. In the case sub judice, restricting the qualifying clause to other pe rson doe s not result in a nonsensical reading of the statute. Furthermore, petitioners interpretation would render the use of the words owner, operator, occupant, and agent superfluous. -21- have easily be en written to include all the persons of the list by the addition of a comma or an expres s provision in the statute to tha t effect. As petitioners suggest, an interpretation of the statute must not re nder any w ord within it superfluous or nugatory. See Moore, 388 Md. at 453, 879 A.2d at 1115. The use of the word other sup ports the co nclusion tha t the Coun ty Council inten ded to limit the qualifying clause to those persons, oth er than the o nes in the sp ecific list, responsible for the condition or violatio n. If the Council had intended that only the persons responsible for the violation were to be cited, then the use of the terms owner, operator, occupant, agent would be rendered superfluous. Had that been the intention of the drafters, they could simply have stated: Notice shall be served upon the person respon sible fo r the con dition o r violatio n. Such language, had it been used, might have restricted application of that section to only those persons who caused the condition or violation. But, the statute was not so drafted. Applying the Sullivan standard to the facts of the case sub judice, we find as did the Court of Specia l Appeals that the qu alifying clause responsible for the condition or violation only modifies the term other person. As a result, there are five separate persons or entities who can be cited under the C ounty Code: (1) the owner, (2) the operator, (3) the occupan t, (4) the agent, or (5) other person responsible for the condition or viola tion. As a result, the owner, operator, occupant, or agent may be cited even though they may not have caused the condition or violation. We, therefore, aff irm the Court of Special Appeals finding -22- that the plain language of § 11-162 allows the fire department to cite the owner and/or man agin g agent o f the prop erty. B. Due Process In interpreting city and county ordinances, this Court has held that [t]he test for constitutiona lity under the Due Process Clause is whether a statute, as an exercise of the state s police power, bears a real a nd su bstantial relat ion to the public he alth, morals, safet y, and welfare of the citizens of this state. Bowie Inn, Inc. v. Bow ie, 274 Md. 230, 236, 335 A.2d 679, 683 (1975); see also Steuart Petroleum Co. v. Bd. of County Comm rs, 276 Md. 435, 446, 347 A.2d 854, 861 (1975); Md. Bd. of Pharmancy v. Sav-A-Lot, Inc., 270 Md. 103, 106, 311 A.2 d 242, 24 4 (1973); Salisbury Beauty Schs. v. State B d. of Cosm etologists, 268 Md. 32, 48, 300 A.2d 367, 377-78 (1973). In addition, the use of the police power will not be interfered with unless it is shown to be misused or abused, or where it is shown to be exercised arbitrarily, oppres sively or u nreaso nably. Salisbury Beauty Schs., 268 Md. at 48, 300 A.2 d at 377; Steuart Petroleum, 276 Md. at 446, 347 A.2d 861. This Court has previously ad dressed the validity of statutes regulating rental properties. In McBriety v. Baltimore, 219 Md. 223, 148 A.2d 408 (1959), a Baltimor e City ordinance requiring the licensing and registration of rental properties was challenged. The Court s analysis first pointed out that [t]here is also a presumption that a municipal ordinance is reasonable and for the public good, and the burden of proving the contrary is on those who attack it. Id. at 231, 148 A.2d at 414. If there are any reasonable doubts -23- regarding the validity of the ord inance , they are re solved in its fav or. Id. The Court also stated that this presumption remains, even if the exercise of police power may cause a loss to the ind ividual. Id. The Co urt then held that: [T]he City Council found that the licensing and inspection of rooming houses, multiple family dwellings or combinations thereof was required to protect the public health, safety, morals and general welfare. Such a fin ding is entitled to great weight an d courts w ill not ordinar ily interfere to enjo in the enforcement of an ordinance embodying such prec epts unless it is shown that the ordinance is arbitrar y or unrea sonab le. McBrie ty, 219 Md. at 232, 148 A.2d at 414. One of the arguments advanced by the owners of the properties in McBrie ty was that the privacy of the lessees would be infringed by the regulation, which required inspections of the premise s. The Co urt, although in dicta, addressed that argument in a manner which is relevant here: The argument advanced by the owners which they claim was ignored by the chancellor to the effect that the privacy of a lessee is not subject to regulation (a truth which the defendants-appellees do not even contest), overlooks the fact that it is the operators, who engage in the business o f leasing m ultiple family dwellings, that are subjected to regulation by the terms of the ordinance, and not the tena nts wh o lease from th em. Moreover, it is not likely that a tenant would object to an occasional inspection of his place of abode for health, fire and oth er haza rds. Id. at 233, 148 A.2d at 414-15 (emph asis added). -24- Petitioners argue that the County Code as applied violates the Due Process Clause of the United S tates and the Maryland C onstitutions. 16 In their view, the Board acted in an arbitrary, capricious, and unduly oppressive manner, when it held them responsible for the acts of the tena nts, over w hom th ey argue the y have no co ntrol. It is fundamentally unfair, petitioners claim , to cite the prop erty owne r and man ager for the ac ts of a thir d party. Petitioners contend th at the Boa rd s interpretatio n would require the o wner or m anager to inspect the premises, determine what constitutes a violation, and then order the tenant to correct the condition. They further point out that if the [petitioners] were to undertake such inspections and advis e the tenants regarding s uch fire saf ety issues, the [pe titioners] could be subject to significant civil liability for giving inaccurate or incomp lete advice in a highly technical and specialized field in w hich the [petitioners] have no special training or expertis e. In response to these argum ents, the Co unty explains that the County Code as applied bears a substantial relation to the health, morals, safety, and welfare of the citizen s of this 16 The Due Process Clause of the federal Constitution is part of the Fourteenth Amen dment, which states: nor sha ll any S tate d eprive an y pers on of life , liberty, or pr operty, withou t due pr ocess o f law. The Maryland Constitution Due Process Clause is stated in Article 24 of the Declaration of Rights: no man oug ht to be taken or imprisoned or disseized of his freehold, liberties or privileges, or outlawed, or exiled, or, in any manner, destroyed, or deprived of his life, liber ty or prope rty, but by the judgment of his peers, or by the Law of the land. T his Court has recognized fo r a long time that this clause gene rally is interpreted in the same manner as the Du e Process C lause of the Fourteen th Ame ndme nt. Bowie In n, Inc. v. Bow ie, 274 Md. 23 0, 235 n.1, 335 A .2d 679, 683 n.1 (19 75). -25- state. That, in citing the ow ners and p roperty mana gers, the Co unty is exercising its police power. This practic e, the Cou nty contends, is n ot arbitrary, capricio us, or undu ly burdensome because it does not require the owners or managers to become fire experts, conduct their own investigations, or issue correction orders. It simply requires the owner to ensure that the buildings meet the code requirements and to remedy any conditions found by the County to violate those requirements. The owners and managers, furthermore, are not automatically fined for the first finding of violations in the case sub judice there were no fines levied even after the third notice was issued. After the first notice, the landlord is always in the position of correcting the condition for which he, she, or it was cited. There is no evidence to show that the statute is being inappropriately administere d. The owners and managers of rental properties, the lessees of rental properties, the public, and the County, have an interest in ensuring that their buildings are safe. Interestingly, petitioner Kane during his testimony to the Board stated: so long as the tenant does not disturb other tenants, the tenant[ ]s matters do not spill over in the common areas, what the tenant does behind that door, as far as I m concerned, is the tenant s b usiness. M r. Kane fa ils to acknowledge that other tenants, at the le ast, will be distu rbed and the problem will necessarily spill over into the common areas, if there is a fire. The statute, as applied, does not ask the landlord to inspect or e ven monitor every tenant s ac tions. It primarily requires that, upon notification of a violation, the landlord must ensure that the violation is corrected. -26- This is not unrea sonable. A dditionally as p ointed out in McBriety only the landlords are required to obtain a license to rent their properties, which subjects them to regular inspections under the Coun ty Code, as a re sult it is them who should most reasonably be cited for the violations found during the inspections. C. Equal Protection Petitioners contend that the County Code, as applied, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.17 It is clear that petitioners are not members of a suspect class and that the Coun ty Code does not infringe upon a fundamental right requiring the application of strict scrutiny analysis.18 See Md. Green Party v. Md. Bd. of Elections, 377 Md. 127, 161, 163, 832 A.2d 17 The Eq ual Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that no State sh all deny to any pe rson within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. We have previously recognized that [a]lthough Article 24 does not contain an express equal protection clause, the concept of eq ual protection neverthele ss is embodied in the Article. Frankel v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Md. System, 361 Md. 298, 312-13, 761 A.2d 324, 332 (2000) (quoting Renko v. McLean, 346 Md. 464, 482, 697 A.2d 468, 477 (1997)); Christopher v. Montgomery County Dep t of Health and Human Servs., 381 Md. 188, 216 n.17, 849 A.2 d 46, 62 n .17 (2004 ); Md. G reen Par ty v. Md. Bd. of Elections, 377 Md. 12 7, 157, 832 A.2d 21 4, 231 (20 03); State Admin. Bd. of Election Laws v. Bd. of Supervisors of elections, 342 Md. 586, 594 n.6, 679 A.2d 96, 100 n.6 (1996 ); Md. Aggregates Ass n, inc. v. S tate, 337 Md. 658, 672 n.8, 655 A.2d 886, 893 n.8 (199 4), cert denied, 514 U.S. 1111, 115 S.Ct. 1965, 131 L.Ed.2d 856 (1 995); Verzi v. Ba lt. County, 333 Md. 411, 417, 635 A.2d 96 7, 969-70 (1994); Kirsch v. P rince Ge orge s Co unty, 331 Md. 89, 96, 626 A .2d 372 , 375 (1 993), cert. denied, 510 U.S . 1011, 114 S.Ct. 600, 126 L.Ed.2d 565 (1993); Bruce v. Dep t of Cheaspeake Bay Affairs, 261 Md. 585, 600 n.4, 276 A.2d 200, 208 n.4 (1971). 18 The Supreme Court of the United States has found that any classification by race, alienage, or national origin, is suspect and must be evaluated under a strict scrutiny standard. (contin ued...) -27- 214, 234-35 (2003) (holding that a classification affecting the right to vote is afforded a higher level of scru tiny); Verzi v. Ba lt. County , 333 Md. 411, 418, 635 A.2d 967, 970 (1994) (holding tha t purely territorial or geo graphical c lassifications a re subject to a rational basis inquiry); Kirsch v. Prince George s County , 331 Md. 89, 98 , 626 A.2d 372 , 376 (1993); Massa ge Parlor s, Inc. v. Ma yor of Balt., 284 Md. 490 , 496, 398 A.2d 5 2, 56 (1979). 18 (...continued) Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 440, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 3254, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985); see also Johns on v. C al., ___ U.S. ___,___,125 S.Ct.1141, 1146, 160 L.Ed.2d 949 (2005)(rac ial classification ); Gratz v. Bollinger, 539 U.S. 244, 270, 123 S.Ct. 2411, 2427, 156 L.Ed.2d 257 (2003) (same). In addition, this Court has recognized that there are classifications which ha ve been subjected to a higher degree of scrutiny than the traditional and deferential rational basis te st, but which have not been deemed to involve suspect classes or fundamental rights and thus have not bee n subje cted to th e strict scr utiny test. Included among these have been classifications based on gen der (Mississipp i University For Women v. Hogan, 458 U.S. 718, 723, 102 S.Ct. 3331, 3335, 73 L.Ed.2d 1090, 1097 (1982); Craig v. Boren, 429 U.S. 190, 97 S.Ct. 451, 50 L.Ed.2d 397 (1 976); Reed v. Reed, 404 U.S. 71, 92 S.Ct. 251, 30 L.Ed.2d 225 (1971)), discrimination against illegitim ate children under some circumstances (Weber v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Company, 406 U.S. 164 , 92 S.Ct. 1400, 31 L.Ed.2d 768 (1972); Levy v. Louisiana, 391 U.S. 68, 88 S.Ct. 1509, 20 L.Ed.2d 436 (1968)), a classification between children of legal residents and children of illegal aliens with regard to a free public education (Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 217-218 , 224, 102 S .Ct. 2382, 2395, 2398, 72 L.Ed.2d 786, 799-800, 803 (1982)), and a classification under which certain persons were denied the right to practice for compensation the profession for which they were qualified and licensed (Attorney General v. Waldron, [289 Md. 683, 716-728, 426 A.2d 929, 947-9 54 (19 81)]). Murphy v. Edmonds, 325 Md. 342 , 357, 601 A.2d 1 02, 109 (1992) (fo otnote omitted). -28- The County s practice of citing the owners and managers of rental properties and not the tenants concerns two distinct classes of individuals: the cited landlord s/managers and the tenants who caused the condition or violation. This classification not involving a fundamental right or a suspect class is subject to a rational basis analysis: it must bear a rational relation to or rest upon some ground of difference having a fair and substantial relation to a legitimate state objective. Massage Parlors, 284 Md. at 496-97, 398 A.2d at 56; Md. G reen Par ty; 377 Md. at 161, 832 A.2d at 234; Verzi, 333 Md. at 419, 635 A.2d at 971; Kirsch, 331 M d. at 98, 626 A.2d at 37 6; Md. State Bd. of Barber Examiners v. Kuhn, 270 Md. 496, 507, 312 A.2d 216, 222 (1973). The Court, explaining this principle, has stated: The constitutional need for equal protection does not shackle the legislature. It has the wid est discre tion in cla ssifyi ng those who are to be regulated and taxed . Only if the gro uping is without an y reasonable basis, and so entirely arbitrary, is it forbidden. Abstract symmetry or mathematical nicety are not requisites. The selection need not depend on scientific or marked differences in things or p ersons or th eir relations. If an y state of facts reasonab ly can be conceived that would sustain a classification, the existence of that state of facts as a basis for the passage of the law must be assumed. The burden is on him who assails a classification to show that it does not rest on any reasonable basis. Bruce, 261 Md. at 601-02, 276 A.2d at 209 (quoting Allied Am. Mutual Fire Ins. Co. v. Comm r of Motor Vehicles, 219 Md. 607, 623, 150 A.2d 42 1, 431 (19 59)); see also Harden v. Mass Transit Admin., 277 Md. 399 , 354 A.2d 817 (1976). The County s purpose to en sure the safety and welfare of its citizens is an appro priate objective of government. As stated by the Court of Special Appeals in its opinion in this -29- case: The Board found that the purpose of subtitle 11 was to eliminate quickly and efficiently any dan gerous co ndition likely to contribute to a fire by serving the person who was most likely to correct it. The only point in controversy is whether the classification bears a substantial re lationship to that purpose. The answ er to that que stion is twof old. First, landlords have, at the very least, an interest in the property they own, which gives them leverage. More importantly, however, they should have an interest in the safety of the tenants who inhabit those buildings. It is landlords who are most likely to ensure that the conditions are remedied. Furthermore, the own ers can be r eadily identified through a search of the land records. Petitioners contend that the tenant should be cited at least when the tenant allows the inspectors to enter the premisses. There is no guarantee, however, that the person answering the door is the actual tenant or has any responsibility or interest in the property. The second reason why it is reason able to cite the landlords is that, as stated in McBriety supra, it is the landlords who are subject to regulation. The landlords are required to obtain a license in order to rent, and are subject to the fire insp ectio ns as a res ult of tha t license. Acc ordingly, it is reasonable to cite them for the alleged violations of the County Code. Fina lly, petitioners argue that the Court of Special Appeals incorrectly shifted the County s burden of proving all the elements of the violation. Petitioners contend that they did not bear the burden of producing a lease showing that they did not hav e control ov er their tenants. As stated a bove, the sta tute does not require that the owners be responsible for the -30- violations in order to be charged. As a result, there is no requirement to show that the landlords could exercise control over their tenants. T he exercise of control o nly comes into play upon the petitioners challenge to the statute, and as the Supreme Court of the United States has stated: Legislative classifications, however, are presumed to be constitutional, and the burden of showing a statute to be unconstitutional is on the challenging party, not on the party defending the statute: those challenging the legislative judgment must convince the court that the legislative facts on wh ich the classification is apparently based could not reasonably be conceived to be true by the governmental de cisionmaker. New York State Club Ass n, Inc. v. New York, 487 U.S. 1, 17, 108 S.Ct. 2225, 2236, 101 L.Ed.2d 1 (1988) (quoting Vance v. Bradley, 440 U.S. 93, 111, 99 S.Ct. 939, 949, 59 L.Ed.2d 171 (1979).) The Court of Special Appeals correctly noticed petitioners failure to m eet their burden of proving that the statute was unconstitutionally applied to them. For the reasons stated above, we here affirm the judgment of the Court of Special Appeals. JUDGMENT OF COURT O F SPECIAL APPEALS AFFIR MED; C O ST S T O B E P A ID BY PETITIONERS. -31-