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City plan to name landlords with problem tenants faces opposition

June 09, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown plan to publicize the names of landlords who rent properties where drug arrests and other violations occur could unfairly tarnish some property owners' reputations, the president of a property owners association said.

"We can't always get perfect tenants, and if I do get one, I don't want my name all over the newspaper because I have a bad tenant," said Allan Johnson, president of the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County.

City officials say the public embarrassment of having names publicized is the intended effect of the plan, which the City Council approved without opposition at its Tuesday afternoon work session.

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Landlords who fit a description of "problem property" owners may have their names publicized beginning Sept. 1.

Drug-related offenses and health and safety code violations often go together at rental property in the city, officials said Tuesday.

Chief Code Enforcement Officer John Lestitian, one of the officials who developed the plan, said it "would put some serious pressure on the individual owners to better manage their properties."

Illegal drug-related activity on their properties would be the primary reason for landlords' names to be placed on the city's list, officials said.

City Police Chief Arthur Smith said if a search warrant were served in an apartment, or someone arrested there were charged with a felony drug violation - such as drug distribution - the names of the property owners would be posted monthly.

Smith and other officials said the names would be publicized in several different ways, including through the city's cable channel, the city's Web site and press releases. Smith said the list even could be posted inside City Hall.

The lists likely will include the number of code violations at each property, City Engineer Rodney Tissue said after the meeting.

City Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire applauded the plan.

"I say make this as public as possible," Aleshire said.

Johnson, who leads a group of more than 200 county property owners, said he's aware there are landlords who continually rent to tenants with drug-related backgrounds, and local landlords are taking steps to screen out that type of tenant.

Landlords shouldn't be punished for problems they can't control, Johnson said. For instance, he said a landlord could be taken to task for a one-time drug incident or for code violations caused by tenants who willfully destroy property.

City officials developing their plan "have to be careful," Johnson said.

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