Schmoke backs new tenants' rights

July 25, 1992|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke proposed changes to the city charter yesterday that would open up confidential landlord registration files, giving tenants in run-down Baltimore properties an opportunity to locate and confront their landlords.

After touring a West Baltimore rowhouse described by the mayor as not fit for habitation, he held a press conference to make his proposals. The changes in the city housing code would enable tenants to obtain their landlords' telephone numbers and could speed up prosecution of those who are negligent.

The mayor said he would like to develop an enforcement procedure similar to a traffic fine: Landlords would be fined between $25 and $100 each day they were guilty, and an administrative hearing -- rather than a criminal court proceeding -- would be held if they contested a fine. The administrative procedure was seen as a way to settle such issues more quickly.

Mr. Schmoke renewed his call for doubling annual owners' fees for each housing unit from $10 to $20.Additional revenue thus raised would amount to more than $800,000 and be used to hire more housing inspectors, the mayor said. This proposal, opposed by landlords, has been defeated in the City Council in each of the last three years.

The mayor's recommendations yesterday were the result of a six-month probe by his office and city Housing and Community Development Commissioner Robert W. Hearn into the needs of low-income tenants who rent substandard apartments and rowhouses.

Mr. Hearn said he was aware of some of the problems, but that tenants often fail to report violations to city housing officials. "We need tenants to call us and we need courts to do what they're supposed to do," Mr. Hearn said.

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a non-profit tenant advocacy group, was represented at the press conference. Also attending were two West Baltimore tenants who complained of dangerous conditions that they said they found in their home after moving in.

Repeated complaints to the landlord, A Management Co., to clean up trash piled in their backyard in the 2100 block of Division St. were ignored, said Edie Carter. The trash, which attracted rats, eventually was cleaned up, Ms. Carter said.

Mike Bardoff, a Baltimore Neighborhoods representative, said at the conference that a neighbor of Ms. Carter, who also rents from A Management, bought "a high powered BB gun" to keep rats from his trash-strewn backyard.

Opening the confidential rental registration records would give tenants and advocacy groups the names of property owners who often "hide" behind property managers, Mr. Schmoke said. The mayor said he wants landlords' phone numbers added to the registration records to expedite communication.

Another of the mayor's proposed changes to the housing code would let the city housing commissioner be appointed as agent when the actual agent is not identified for a property. This would speed up prosecution of some landlords, the mayor said.

"Our goal is to find decent and affordable housing," he said. "Some people have been hurt in this effort. We need a tougher, faster and more effective procedure."

Mr. Schmoke said groups like Baltimore Neighborhoods would act as representatives for some tenants who fear retaliation and eviction by the landlords they report.

The mayor said he supports legislation pending before the City Council that would eliminate a warning notice currently given to landlords prior to a violation notice.

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