City landlord law debated

September 11, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

The Hagerstown City Council is scheduled to vote at its Sept. 24 meeting on a proposed rental registration program, despite Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire's request at Tuesday's meeting for a public hearing on the issue.

Other council members indicated they were not interested in a public hearing on the proposal, which would require property owners to pay an annual fee of $45 per rental unit to fund more frequent inspections of properties.

Council members said they have already received plenty of feedback on the issue.

"We've received dozens of phone calls," Councilwoman Penny May Nigh said. "How much more input do we need? All I'm getting is grief."


But Aleshire said the public should have an opportunity to give feedback on the proposal at a public meeting. There is also the possibility a hearing would garner suggestions on how the proposal can be improved, he said.

City officials said the annual fee would pay salaries for six new inspectors and an administrative assistant. The city has four inspectors.

Members of the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County have urged their tenants to protest the proposal, which they say is unfair because it punishes all property owners for the misdeeds of a few.

The council Tuesday also did not indicate support for a request by Councilman Lewis C. Metzner for city staff to consider changing the proposal to be more like one operated by the City of Cumberland.

Under the Hagerstown proposal, the city would inspect rental units prior to issuing the annual license.

In Cumberland, rental properties are inspected each time there is a change in occupancy, unless there are more than two changes of occupancy in a single year, Jeff Rhodes, Cumberland's director of community development, has said. Some apartments have yet to be inspected because there has been no change of occupancy, he said.

Cumberland charges $15 per unit for inspection.

The Cumberland model makes sense because it would let the city inspect property when it is vacant and more time would be spent on properties where there is a great deal of turnover, Metzner said.

At its July 16 meeting, the Hagerstown City Council gave general approval to creation of the program after city officials said it was needed to help the city improve rental housing to try to prevent people from living in substandard rental units.

Metzner Tuesday repeated his objection to the city proposal, saying it has changed from a program to stop substandard conditions to a mechanism to regulate rental businesses.

During the discussion, the council considered various possible exemptions to the program, but decided for now to exempt only hotels, motels and the hospital.

City Engineer Rodney Tissue said the city's goal is to implement the program in spring 2003.

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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