Realtors, property owners differ over plan to increase fees for rental units Hiring inspectors could win support

November 12, 1992|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Groups representing property owners and Realtors in Baltimore clashed at a public hearing last night over a City Council bill that would increase annual registration fees for rental units.

Members of the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore charged that the increased fees, which would generate $800,000 in new revenue, would force some landlords to sell their properties.

But a representative of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors said that his group supports the proposal -- as long as the increased revenue is used to hire more housing inspectors, a force that has been dramatically decreased because of budget cuts.

"This bill was discussed at great length by our committee," said Joseph McGraw, director of the government relations committee of the Realtors board. "These profits are coming from housing, and they should be plowed back into the business."

D. Robert Enten, an attorney representing the property owners association, said his group opposes any increase at all in the fees.

"The money is not dedicated to inspection -- it goes into the [city's] general fund," Mr. Enten said. "What we see now is people getting out of the business of owning properties in Baltimore. Our people would like to take their money now and improve their properties."

The hearing at City Hall drew about 75 people. It was the second day of testimony before the housing committee of the City Council, which is considering a slate of 12 resolutions and bills aimed at strengthening housing code enforcement and sanitary conditions in the city.

The committee is expected to amend some proposals and resolutions and move them to the full council for a vote by early December.

Councilwoman Vera P. Hall of the 5th District, who chairs the committee, said that the purpose of the increases is to enable the city to hire more housing inspectors. The fees have not been raised since 1981.

But the bill does not specify that new inspectors be hired, and Robert Dengler, who heads the city's housing inspection force, said earlier this year that the money could go to other agencies hit by budget cuts.

The city currently employs 100 housing inspectors -- 90 fewer than in 1977. They oversee 276,000 rental and owner-occupied dwelling units in the city and are responsible for enforcing all housing code violations.

Similar proposals to increase the rental registration fees have been defeated by the council in each of the past three years.

City landlord Melvin Knight testified that he supports the fee increase. "Everything costs more," he said.

"Code enforcement has become very weak," said Mr. Knight, who owns 60 properties that rent for an average of $450 per month. "There are properties in some neighborhoods that are bad, and the city's excuse is that they are always understaffed. I'm tired of hearing it."

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