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City proposes having landlords register properties

September 09, 1998|By JULIE E. GREENE

In an attempt to prevent deplorable living conditions in some Hagerstown rental properties, city code officials on Tuesday asked City Council members to consider making landlords register rental properties with the city.

A stroller near exposed heating coils and a refrigerator infested with cockroach eggs were some of the scenes shown in a short video at Tuesday's council work session on rental properties near Public Square.

City Building Inspector Mike Heyser said sometimes the odor is so bad in those apartments that it's difficult for inspectors to go inside.

The city has codes to correct such problems, but city officials do not have the authority to enter the apartments unless they are invited in, city inspection officials said.

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City inspectors frequently find out about such conditions only if complaints are made to the city about the apartments or about other matters that lead to the apartments.

Code Enforcement Officer Marc David said he might never have known about an apartment that had no working stove, refrigerator, toilet, bathtub or kitchen sink if the Department of Social Services hadn't complained about the property after visiting to serve a client.

City Engineer Bruce Johnston said inspectors could catch these deplorable conditions if the city had a rental registration and inspection program.

David said the program could pay for the extra staff it would require by charging property owners for the inspections.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein said the city should charge landlords for inspections only if their properties don't pass inspection.

"Go to the people that are creating the problems. Tax them," Saum-Wicklein said.

Saum-Wicklein said she believed 90 percent of landlords in the city act responsibly, many of them renting out property to make additional income. Poor living conditions in apartments can be caused by renters as well as by irresponsible landlords, she said.

In an informal poll after the meeting, Saum-Wicklein and Councilman Alfred W. Boyer said they are landlords of residential property. Saum-Wicklein said she also rents out commercial property.

Councilman J. Wallace McClure said he used to be a landlord. Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and council members Lewis C. Metzner and William M. Breichner said they are not landlords.

Bruchey said the council will discuss the matter at a future work session.

David said the elderly are most affected by the conditions of rental properties. They are afraid to complain for fear of being put out on the street, he said.

Metzner said some tenants complain to the landlord, but don't feel empowered to move out.

"Just because people will live the way they do, doesn't mean it has to be (in) our downtown," he said.

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