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Form letters shouldn't undo rental inspection

August 05, 2002|By BOB MAGINNIS

When the heat goes off in the middle of a cold winter night, who do you call? If you rent property, you call the landlord and hope that he or she is conscientious enough -- or likes you enough -- not to let you shiver until the next morning.

That's why Hagerstown's Mayor and Council should not give much weight to any form letters they get from tenants responding to an appeal by the Landlords and Property Owners Association, which opposes the city's proposed rental-inpection program.

It won't cost tenants anything to send the letters along, and it just might buy them some good will with the people who own their dwellings. The landlords' group needs to take another approach, one that recognizes that cities all over Maryland including Rockville, Annapolis and even Cumberland have such programs.

What the landlord group's members can and should do is to provide input on how the ordinance should be written. If their concern is that responsible property owners will be unfairly burdened, why not seek a provision that would exempt units that pass two years in a row from the third year's inspection?

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If the concern is problem tenants, why not ask the city for provisions to penalize tenants who trash properties and help with prosecuting them? Those penalties would be a matter of public record, allowing landlords to screen out vandals by accessing a database with offenders' names in it.

Those are things the landlords group should do. What the city council should not do is get cold feet because of these complaints. A modern city enforces health and safety standards and protects taxpayers who maintain their properties by making sure their neighbors do the same.

The toughest time for this program will be when it starts, when some property owners will challenge its provisions and contest enforcement. The council needs to stay the course and remind all citizens that if everyone doesn't maintain their properties, then those who do must pay a bigger share of the bills.

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