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Why not make landlord group an ally in stead of an adversary?

December 16, 2002

It's still subject to judicial review, but it now appears that the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County has failed in its attempt to petition the city's new rental-inspection program to referendum.

If their victory holds, city officials shouldn't forget that for this law to really work, it needs to make this group a partner instead of an adversary.

John Lestitian, the city's chief code enforcement officer, has already met with the landlord group to discuss issues in property-maintenance code that don't really relate to tenants' safety. Once that review is complete, those items can be adopted as local code amendments by the council.

The council also needs to look at reviving the tax credits offered in the early 1980s that kept the value of those renovations from being figured into property-tax bills for three to five years.

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What else could the city do? It could look at creating a seat for the landlord group on the city's Technical Appeals Board, which reviews protests of inspectors' decisions.

The city could also dedicate some block grant funding or grant money to help an entrepreneur create a service to screen tenants' references and check on their credit and criminal backgrounds.

The city should make it as easy as possible to comply for landlords to comply with the law by making it easier for them to find good tenants and giving them a tax break for improving their properties.

Even if the city does all that, we have no doubt there will be one or more landlords who will defy the law until forced to obey it, probably under the bguise that they are protecting tenants' privacy.

That won't wash, because unlike other cities' programs, Hagerstown's requires that tenants be notified in advance and gives them the right to be present during any inspection.

We also anticipate that some will argue that all landlords shouldn't pay for the misdeeds of a few. But just as all restaurants are inspected, all rental units must be looked at. In both cases, it's not out of a desire to punish the owner, but to protect the public.

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