Strict neighborhood improvement measures pass

December 11, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SOURCE: Baltimore City CouncilStaff Writer

The Baltimore City Council last night approved the last of package of controversial housing bills designed to improve conditions in city neighborhoods, including a measure to raise landlord registration fees to pay for housing inspectors.

That bill, the centerpiece of the legislative package, would raise nearly $600,000 to pay for 15 housing inspector positions in jeopardy of being lost to budget cuts.

It passed virtually without comment from council members, some of whom had battled privately and publicly earlier this week over the measure.

Another bill -- rewritten at the last minute in an apparent compromise with property owners -- would allow a landlord to charge a tenant for cleaning up a property, if the tenant already had been cited by the city for a sanitation violation and failed to correct the problem.

Under that measure, if the tenant does not pay the landlord the cleanup cost tacked onto the rent, the tenant could be evicted immediately -- an 11th-hour change that drew letters of opposition yesterday from housing advocates, including Citizens for Decent Housing, Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., Public Justice Center and the Legal Aid Bureau.

That bill, too, was approved virtually without comment, though Council President Mary Pat Clarke cast a sole dissenting vote.

Councilwoman Vera P. Hall, D-5th, the Housing Committee chairwoman who shepherded the legislative package through the council, did acknowledge that the cleanup bill "is taking a risk because it has the potential for people to misuse it."

Mrs. Hall said, however, "If we find any abuse, we will immediately repeal the section" of law.

Last night's meeting was in sharp contrast to Monday's session, when Mrs. Hall sent the legislation to the council floor.

Her committee's report sparked a fiery floor debate after a last-minute amendment was drafted by D. Robert Enten, a lobbyist for property owners, and sponsored by Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th.

Mrs. Hall successfully defended her bill against Mrs. Spector's amendment, which would have raised the city's registration fees for the owners of dwelling units from $10 to $13, instead of the $15 proposed by the Housing Committee.

While a "livid" Mrs. Hall later said she felt blind-sided by the "maneuver," Mrs. Spector said she was merely trying to assist the committee in making sure the city was "generating the right amount of money" to pay for the housing inspectors.

Before last night's meeting, which marked the council's recess until Jan. 25, Mrs. Clarke vowed that a bitter debate "is not going to happen on my floor again." And last night, it did not.

Approval of the legislative package was the culmination of a year's effort by Mrs. Hall, her committee, housing advocates and representatives of the property owners.

When all was said and the horse-trading done, reaction was mixed.

"I'm satisfied, but I want to see how it works," said Ray Rutkowski, a representative of Banner Neighborhoods Community Corp. Inc., a nonprofit umbrella organization for four East Baltimore neighborhoods, who worked on the package.

Mr. Enten, a lawyer and lobbyist for the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore, voiced concern about the rising cost of owning properties in the city, particularly with the new fee increases.

"It's becoming more and more difficult for responsible landlords to invest in property in Baltimore City," Mr. Enten said. "On the other hand, we recognize the need for increased inspections -- and we hope that's where the money will go."

And the Department of Housing and Community Development, which supported the legislative package in its variety of incarnations, seemed satisfied, particularly with the revenue generated from the increased fees -- some of which have not been raised since 1981.

"It will make it a little bit easier to enforce the housing code and fight the blighting influences in our neighborhoods," said William J. Toohey, spokesman for the department.


In the last year, Baltimore City Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, D-5th, has shepherded through the council a package of legislation designed to improve housing in the city. The process culminated this week with the council's consideration of the legislation.

Bills approved last night:

* Bill increases the annual registration fee for rental dwelling units from $10 to $15 a unit; increases the annual license fee for rooming house units from $12 to $15 a unit; increases the annual license fee for multiple-family dwelling units from $20 to $25 a unit; increases the combination-use license for rooming houses from $12 to $15 a unit; and increases the combination-use license for multiple-family dwellings from $20 to $25 a unit.

The legislation keeps the $2,500 ceiling for rental registration fees, leaving about 1,000 rental units exempt, and keeps the $10,000 cap for rooming house and multiple-family dwelling license fees, leaving 921 multi-family dwelling units exempt.

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