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Sidewalk repairs make homeownership a nightmare for Hagerstown resident

May 12, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

· To learn more about homeowners' responsibilities, call the Hagerstown Code Compliance Office at 301-739-8577, ext. 103

HAGERSTOWN - Not long after Gary O'Bryan bought a house on Alexander Street in Hagerstown, his dream of homeownership turned into a nightmare.

O'Bryan said he would not have purchased the property had he known he would have to pay to fix the chipped curb and sidewalk out front.

He said he thought it would be the city's responsibility to fix public sidewalks.

"How can they make you pay to fix public property?" O'Bryan said. "It shouldn't be my responsibility."

O'Bryan said he was further irritated when he discovered that city code enforcement officials told the previous owner to fix the sidewalk, but they never followed through with enforcement.

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O'Bryan said he thought about suing the previous owner for not disclosing the issue. Hiring an attorney, however, would cost more than the estimated $2,500 cost of fixing the sidewalk, he said.

"The attorney wanted a $500 retainer just to get things rolling," O'Bryan said. "The City of Hagerstown is not going to step forward on this at all."

City Chief Code Compliance Officer John Lestitian said he is sympathetic with O'Bryan's situation, but city code stipulates that homeowners must fix sidewalks that abut their properties.

The city was unable to resolve the issue sooner because the home has changed hands four times in the past three years, he said.

"You inherit what you purchase," Lestitian said. "When purchasing property, it's important to investigate outstanding issues ... Real estate agents, in general, need to educate their clients to do due diligence."

According to the city code, residents have 90 days -- or up to 12 calendar months if the problem isn't considered to be a safety hazard -- to abate an issue after a citation has been given. Each offense carries up to a $500 fine, according to the code.

Lestitian said O'Bryan has not been fined.

The city is willing to work with residents to satisfy code-compliance issues, Lestitian said. In the meantime, prospective homeowners can take steps to help ensure they won't face a major repair expense just after they purchase a property.

City officials will inspect a home on the market for outstanding code violations at a potential buyer's request, Lestitian said. The owner is obligated to sign off on the inspection and must correct any violations, regardless of the outcome of the sale.

The inspection fee is $100 for a single-family dwelling and increases marginally for each additional unit, he said. The potential buyer typically pays the cost.

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