Failure to Enforce

July 05, 1995

In their zeal to protect "property rights," commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates are creating a dangerous situation for people who rent housing in Carroll County. By refusing to allow county inspectors to enforce the county's livability code, the commissioners are giving unscrupulous landlords the opportunity to maintain substandard, possibly dangerous, rental units.

At present, county housing inspectors respond only to complaints that landlords or tenants file. For the past several months, New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. has been waging an unsuccessful campaign to have county inspectors respond to complaints by neighbors or municipal officials. He argues the current system is totally ineffective because landlords will never invite inspectors to survey the condition of their housing, and tenants are afraid they will be evicted if they complain.

Mr. Dell and Mr. Yates offer indefensible reasons for refusing to enforce the code. Mr. Yates said spiteful neighbors making frivolous complaints could put landlords out of business. If the complaints lack merit and landlords don't have to make any repairs, where is the cost?

Mr. Dell tries to make a case that if landlords have to spend money to maintain their property, affordable housing will disappear. In other words, Mr. Dell is saying that because of their financial circumstances, some renters must put up with substandard housing replete with structural, plumbing, heating and electrical problems. Does this mean Carroll residents who buy at discount grocers have to tolerate contaminated meat, milk and groceries? Of course not.

The livability code doesn't require rental units to have hot tubs, gas grills and microwaves. The law sets a basic standard that ensures rental units are safe and sanitary. Unless the county is interested in promoting slum dwellings -- which have well-known detrimental effects on any community -- it is in everyone's interest to see that all of the county's rental units meet basic standards of decency.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, to his credit, has tried to convince his colleagues that as long as a law is on the books, the county has an obligation to enforce it. Maybe it is time to get a court order forcing the other two county commissioners to obey the law.

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