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Renters merit same protection as diners

September 30, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Would you consider eating in a restaurant if you knew the health department never inspected it?

Maybe, if it were the only place you could afford. You'd cross your fingers and hope the kitchen staff had your health in mind when they were preparing your meal. If you got sick, well, that would just be your bad luck.

No modern city's residents would accept that, or the idea that proper sanitation is something only the well-off have a right to expect. So why are so many people arguing that tenants of rental property don't deserve the same health and safety protection?

It's not because it's a radical idea. Annapolis, Rockville, Frostburg and Cumberland have had such programs for years. Inspectors in those cities say the programs have improved property values.

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So why should you care about whether some landlord maintains his or her property? Because if some properties aren't maintained and don't increase in value, then everybody else picks up their slack at tax time.

This is not to say that all landlords are irresponsible. They're not, and we recommend that the council consider a number of options to reward those who keep their properties in good order.

Councilman Kris Aleshire has proposed sitting down with a landlord group to review the property code, so that the council can create local amendments that eliminate items not essential to life and safety of tenants.

Other possibilities: Those who units pass two inspections could be placed on "complaint only" status for a number of years. And the city could revive the property-tax credit program that gives those who improve their properties a break from an immediate increase in their assessments.

Like restaurant inspections, rental property inspections are a protection for customers and for taxpayers in general. Properly done, neither ordinance has to be an unfair burden on the owners. But, in some form, they must be done.

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