Harmans' Immobile Home Owners ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

July 27, 1993

Anne Arundel County's rigid codes regarding mobile home parks have created one huge pickle for the government and the 150 families who live at the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Harmans.

The county is to go before the Board of Appeals Monday with an extremely strong case for shutting down Ridgewood.

Riddled with health and safety violations -- everything from exposed transformer wires to excess animal waste to poison ivy -- the place has been operating without a license since 1991. If the board upholds the county's decision to deny owner Symcha Shpak a license, the county has an obligation to put the park out of business.

But doing so might mean putting the people who rent space there out on the street. Other local mobile home parks are full, and while county law does not prohibit these parks from expanding, securing approval is neither easy nor quick. If the county should move quickly to close Ridgewood, there's no guarantee an expansion could be done in time to give residents a place to go.

On the other hand, if the county waits until it finds a place for all 150 families, it could be years until Ridgewood closes. That's not good, either.

Much of this is not the residents' fault. Some of them have done a poor job of keeping up their own units, but legal responsibility for compliance with the codes rests with the landlord, not with them. They should not have to expect that code enforcement, which is supposed to protect their welfare, will make them homeless. But that is what may happen if the county refuses to let them live in an unhealthy place, but offers no alternative. Despite the horrible conditions where they live, residents are so fearful that they have no alternatives they've declined to speak to the media to press their case.

We do not know the answer. One suggestion is that the county set up an escrow account, to hold tenants' rents until the landlord makes repairs -- a kind of rent strike. But county attorneys are not sure if they have authority to do that.

The county needs a way out of this Catch-22. There are good reasons for controlling the number and size of mobile home parks. And the county might as well not license parks at all if unlicensed ones are allowed to stay open. But it needs a better plan for helping residents who find themselves caught in this conundrum.

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