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Group: Landlord law may hurt poor

The executive director of the Community Action Council says availability of housing could suffer, especially for low-income rent

The executive director of the Community Action Council says availability of housing could suffer, especially for low-income rent

August 17, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

An official with the Washington County Community Action Council supports plans by Hagerstown to create a landlord registration program but said it could affect the availability of housing, especially for low-income tenants.

A proposed city landlord registration program which would charge landlords an annual fee of $45 per rental unit may prompt some who do not maintain their property to stop renting, CAC Executive Director David Jordan said. Residents put out of their homes may have trouble finding new affordable housing, Jordan said.

He said that when he worked in Baltimore County, some landlords stopped renting property after code enforcement by local government was increased.

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Jeff Rhodes, director of community development for Cumberland, Md., said he is not aware of any landlords stopping rentals there since a registration program was started five years ago. The city charges $15 annually per rental unit.

Bobby Baker, senior housing inspector for Annapolis, said no landlords stopped doing business there when the city began a landlord registration program about 15 years ago. The program charged $15 a unit when it started but now charges $55 a unit, Baker said.

In a letter presented to the City Council two weeks ago, Jordan said some landlords may get out of the rental business or raise rents to make necessary repairs.

"This ordinance at first may even cause an increase in the homeless population and will impact low-income households, but the overall goal of providing decent, safe and sanitary housing in Hagerstown will be worth the initial problems," Jordan wrote.

The Community Action Council, which works with homeless people year-round, would try to help people who need assistance if their landlord stops renting them property, Jordan said.

Allan Johnson, president of Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County, Maryland Inc., said he thinks some city landlords will probably stop renting property in the city if the program is enacted. Some may start renting in county areas instead of in Hagerstown, he said.

The association opposes the proposal because it unfairly penalizes all property owners for the problems caused by a few landlords, Johnson said.

Under the Hagerstown proposal, rental properties would be inspected at least once a year instead of just in response to complaints.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said he could not envision landlords stopping renting property over the proposal.

"First of all, we have to wait and see what the final proposal is and what it will look like. I hardly see property owners abandoning a property for $45," he said.

Under the city proposal, the annual $45 per rental unit fee would pay the salaries for six new inspectors and an administrative assistant. The city has three inspectors and is hiring a fourth.

At its July 16 meeting, the Hagerstown City Council gave general approval to creation of the program, which is intended to help the city improve rental housing to prevent people from living in substandard apartments.

The City Council would have to adopt a new ordinance for the program to go into effect. A public hearing would be held before the program is adopted.

According to Census 2000 statistics, the city has 9,214 rental units. The 180 landlords in the association rent out about 2,000 to 3,000 of those units, Johnson said.

About 20,000 people in Hagerstown live in rental housing, city officials said.

According to the 2000 Census, the city's population is 36,687.

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