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Landlords offered chance to learn

September 11, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

The couple renting the other side of your duplex hasn't paid rent in a while, so you figure it's your right to change the locks and find some new tenants.

Better not, said Pat McMillan, director of the Washington County Community Housing Resource Board in Hagerstown.

"You can't change locks. Eviction is not unilateral," said McMillan, who has found ignorance of things like eviction procedure at the root of many landlord-tenant disputes brought to her office.

"You'd be surprised how many landlords think they know a lot about it but find out they don't know all they need to to run a business," she said.

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There is a lot landlords need to know, including federal and state laws, contract law and local housing codes, McMillan said.

She said her agency has been trying to boost local landlords' awareness of their rights and responsibilities - and, hopefully, compliance - through its annual training series, McMillan said.

In its third year, the series has been honed to reflect the interests of local property owners and pack as much information into as little time as possible, she said.

Held in cooperation with Hagerstown Junior College, "What Every Landlord Needs to Know" will consist of two three-hour sessions set for Sept. 17 and Oct. 1 at the college's Advanced Technology Center.

The Sept. 17 session will cover local code enforcement and lead paint mandates.

There have been many changes in the law covering lead paint inspection and notification requirements in recent years, McMillan said.

Notification to rental property owners was inconsistent, however, because they were identified through assessment records and many small-scale landlords were missed, she said.

In addition to lead paint law, the first session will feature a lesson on building code requirements by Washington County's and Hagerstown's chief code inspectors, an explanation of the complaint system and clarification of repair and maintenance responsibilities, McMillan said.

The Oct. 1 session will explain federal and state fair housing laws that prohibit discrimination, she said.

While her office doesn't get a lot of complaints about housing discrimination - which, for the most part, is subtle and hard to document - McMillan said she believes interracial couples and families do face illegal discrimination from some landlords.

Other topics in the second session will include the importance of a lease and how it works, how to screen applicants, the eviction process and when to got to court, she said.

Both sessions will run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Cost is $10 per session. To register, call 301-739-9305.

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