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What the city could doto help its good landlords

August 20, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

The head of a Washington County agency that serves the poor says he supports Hagerstown's proposed rental-inspection program, but fears it might lead to a shortage of affordable housing.

City officials would do well to heed the warning, but not by scrapping the inspection proposal. The city government can help landlords even as it crafts the ordinance.

David Jordan, executive director of the Community Action Council, raised his concerns in a letter sent to the City Council two weeks ago.

In it, Jordan said that although he backs the idea, he feels it may prompt some owners who haven't maintained their properties to stop renting them altogether. In that case, Jordan said, his agency would have to work with those people to find them other shelter.

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In other cities, inspectors interviewed by The Herald-Mail have told us that their policy has been to give landlords time to make progress - provided that they're moving ahead with repairs. For the reason Jordan cites, we recommend that Hagerstown adopt the same policy. But there is more that the city could do.

Like what? For starters, the city could revive the property-tax credit program enacted under the administration of the late Mayor Donald R. Frush. Those who upgraded properties were given several years' exemption from assessments that otherwise would have been increased as a result of the work.

The city could also assist in the prosecution of those tenants who damage property and use the verdicts to create a data base of offenders which could be used by other landlords to screen out undesirables.

And good landlords whose properties repeatedly pass could be shifted to complaint-only status, allowing the city to concentrate on problem properties.

Jordan's fear that some landlords might stop renting their property altogether might be more realistic if it weren't for property owners' need to earn money from their assets. And if regulation encourages those who don't want to follow the rules to sell to others who do, is that really a bad thing?

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