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Residents urge landlord regulations

June 07, 1999|By DAN KULIN /Staff Writer

It's only one house, but its tenants are driving some of their neighbors to City Hall and beyond.

It's a brick house on North Locust Street in downtown Hagerstown, which is rented. Some neighbors say the tenants have drawn the trash, late night noise and traffic that are indicative of the illegal drug market moving into their residential neighborhood.

Last week the Mayor and City Council members were presented with a petition signed by 33 residents of the surrounding neighborhood. Most of those who signed live on East North Avenue, a street lined with two- and three-story homes with neatly trimmed lawns and flower-lined walkways. All live within a couple of blocks of the rental property on Locust Street.

The petition mentioned the Locust Street house, and asked that city officials assign more police to their neighborhood, more strictly enforce laws and housing codes, and enact laws that would permit the city to periodically inspect rental properties.

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"We're advocating more regulation of landlords, and regular inspections of their properties," said Carol Appenzellar, who lead the petition drive.

Appenzellar said that most rental properties are OK, but some are not.

New regulations would make it easier for landlords to evict problem tenants, she said.

While Appenzellar is working to fix the problem within her neighborhood, she is also trying to move away.

Appenzellar, who has lived on North Avenue with her husband Wayne for about nine years, said the noise and other problems she attributed to the neighbors were "the straw that broke the camel's back."

Those neighbors were not the only reason they plan to move, said Wayne Appenzellar, who said they probably would have moved eventually.

But the frequent car horns sounding around midnight and the increased traffic through the alley behind their house were the main reasons they put the "for sale" sign on their front lawn about six weeks ago.

Carol Appenzellar said she has been encouraged by the response from city officials.

She said they listened, and she thinks they're more aware of the problem.

Carolyn Brooks, coordinator of the state crime fighting and community building HotSpot Communities Initiative in Hagerstown, and an East North Avenue resident, also signed the petition.

Brooks said the problem is one that is affecting neighborhoods around the city.

"The focus needs to be on encouraging landlords to scrutinize the people they're putting in their apartments more closely," Brooks said.

She said landlords need to find out who is living in their properties, whether they are the people who are on the lease, and how many people are living in the properties.

"The landlords need to be accountable for their properties," Brooks said.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said the Mayor and City Council have indicated that they would not support landlord licensing.

But they are looking into other alternatives, such as property registration and nuisance property codes, which would apply to properties that are sources of frequent complaints.

"We know we have a challenge in some of these neighborhoods," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said city staff would probably offer recommendations on the matter to the Mayor and City Council in July.

Until then, Zimmerman said the police and city housing code enforcement officers have been informed of the complaints in the Appenzellar's neighborhood, and are working to address the residents' concerns.

"Both have operations under way to deal with their concerns," he said.

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