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Council introduces rental ordinance

May 14, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday voted to introduce an amendment that would lower the cost of a planned rental registration program from $45 per unit annually to $39 per unit.

The council is scheduled to vote on the amendment at its May 27 meeting.

The cost reduction and other changes were made in response to concerns raised by the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County, which says the program unfairly punishes all landlords for the actions of a few.

In October, the association launched an effort to take to referendum the ordinance, but fell 39 signatures short.

In December, the association filed a petition for judicial review that asks the court to determine whether the number of signatures counted was correct.

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City and association officials have been meeting to talk about the association's objections to the program, under which the city would inspect about 8,000 rental units, Chief Code Compliance Inspector John Lestitian said.

There is a general agreement between the two bodies that the association will drop its legal action if the city adopts the changes, Lestitian said.

The changes will not prevent the city from reaching its goal of improving the quality of rental housing, he said.

Under the program as adopted by the city in October and scheduled to take effect in late June, all rental properties will be inspected after a rental license application is submitted.

Properties then will be inspected every three years or sooner when there is a change in occupancy, under the previously adopted version of the ordinance.

Under the change approved by the council Tuesday, the first complete inspection would not occur until there is tenant turnover. Future inspections would occur when there is turnover but not more frequently than every three years.

In addition, under the amended version of the ordinance, the program would expire five years after its start if no action is taken to continue it. There previously was no such clause.

"Although we still oppose rental registration, it made sense to discuss and negotiate with the city officials. We feel good that we have worked out a good plan," Allan Johnson, president of the landlord association, said Tuesday.

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