Ending rental 'sunset' was correct thing to do

October 26, 2007

Firmly rejecting the idea of going back to a complaint-only system for rental-property inspections, the Hagerstown City Council voted 4-1 to remove the "sunset" provision on the city's rental inspection law.

If the provision had not been removed, the program would have expired automatically on June 21, 2008.

Removing it was the right move, for a number of reasons. The program ensures that city renters will have decent, safe places in which to live.

It helps to stabilize and possibly increase property values, generating a steady stream of revenue so that the city can provide needed services.

The measure also aids in crime control, because it forces landlords to pay attention to the tenants they accept.

That was a concern in 1999 when the act was being proposed. City officials then said there were 37 vacant and substandard properties in what was then known as Hagerstown's HotSpot area.


City officials said those properties were an obstacle to reducing crime. City officials have long known that improving living conditions in the city depended on improving the quality of the city's housing stock.

Long before Hagerstown enacted its ordinance, other cities, including Annapolis, Rockville, Frostburg and Cumberland had programs to make sure rental properties were safe.

Interviewed in 2001, the chief inspector in Annapolis said that the experience there was that the program encouraged landlords who didn't maintain their properties to sell them.

The new owners, knowing what the requirements were, improved those properties, the inspector said.

If the city is the housing of last resort, then it follows that Hagerstown will become home for those people who cannot rent elsewhere, because their previous landlords won't vouch for them, either because of their bad behavior or their destruction of the properties.

The city has moved on and the council was wise not to try to turn back the clock.

Normally, sunset provisions are a chance to give a system that elected officials aren't sure about a trial run.

If they don't believe it has shown that it has value, they can decline to extend the sunset provision. If they believe it has worth, they can eliminate the sunset provision, which the council did.

If members of the Landlord Property Owners Association of Washington County have suggestions on how to improve the ordinance, the council should hear them out. For examples, perhaps there should be more rewards for those owners whose properties repeatedly pass inspections.

Looking at possible improvements to a system that's working is a good idea. Throwing it out and starting over isn't.

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