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Rental inspection program working fine, officials say

August 03, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Two months into implementation of Hagerstown's rental registration program, city employees have conducted exterior inspections of about 500 rental units, program manager Amanda Miller said Friday.

Since the program began on June 20, about 2,200 of the estimated 3,800 rental property owners in the city have submitted registration for their property and paid the annual fee of $39 per unit, she said.

Property owners who are operating a rental unit without a license as of Aug. 20 will be considered in noncompliance and may face misdemeanor charges, she said.

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For property owners to receive the required registration license, their property must pass an exterior inspection, Miller said. Owners are sent a copy of the inspection results along with their license.

About 70 percent of the time, the license's approval is conditional on the landlord making required improvements, Miller said. The landlord usually has about one month to make improvements, but the time period varies based on the type of violation.

The two most common violations are chipping or peeling paint and issues such as furniture in the backyard and "things one trip to the dump would probably fix," she said.

The city has conducted exterior inspections of about 25 percent of the properties submitted for registration, Miller said.

Starting Aug. 20, the city will conduct internal inspections of rental units when there is tenant turnover, she said.

Rodney Cline, who owns rental property in Hagerstown, said Thursday that objects to rental registration programs because he thinks they punish all property owners when only a few cause problems.

The program now operating was revised from an earlier proposal after concerns and objections were raised by the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County, city and association officials said. The cost of the annual license was reduced from $45 per unit to $39 per unit in response to objections.

Cline and Allan Johnson, association president, said Thursday they have no complaints about how the program has gone so far.

In October 2002, the association launched a campaign to take the rental registration ordinance to referendum. The campaign fell 39 signatures short.

Under an earlier version of the program, all rental properties were to be inspected inside and out after a rental license application was submitted, then every three years or sooner when there was a change in occupancy.

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

Hagerstown officials said the program, even with the revisions, will improve the quality of the estimated 8,800 rental units in the city.

Johnson, Miller and other city officials have attended meetings of the Hagerstown Exchange Club and Neighborhoods First groups to explain the inspection program.

The city hired two new inspectors and plans to hire a third by the end of August, Miller said. A fourth may be hired.

To accommodate growth, the code compliance department office was moved into property down the street from City Hall. The new office address is 11 Public Square, Suite 300.

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