Damage Control on the Livability Code

September 11, 1995

Damage control was the motivating force behind the Carroll County commissioners' announcement last week that they would at last enforce the county's livability code, which covers minimum standards for rental residential properties. If commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates had persisted in refusing to fully uphold this ordinance, their ad hoc and capricious administration of the law would have been exposed.

Since New Windsor Mayor Jack Gullo Jr. raised the issue of lack of enforcement earlier this year, the commissioners have maintained the fiction that the law is being enforced according to the county's written policy. The guidelines, according to the commissioners, called for only tenants or landlords to file complaints.

When reporters and municipal officials asked for copies of this policy, the commissioners could not produce any. Why? Because the county never had a written policy. As a result, enforcement of this important health and safety law was totally arbitrary. Requirements were made up out of thin air. No legal basis ever existed for the commissioners to limit complaints to landlords and tenants. Also, there was no basis for restricting an inspection to items listed on a complaint form. The reality was that a majority of this board of commissioners erroneously viewed this law as some infringement on personal property rights and did everything they could to avoid enforcing it. Only when the issue refused to disappear did the commissioners relent.

They maintained Friday that they had always been enforcing the livability code. As evidence, they pointed to the 92 complaints the county has received so far this year. But since the county would not accept complaints from elected town officials or others, they seemed to be selectively enforcing the law. Moreover, why would they have told elected town officials and citizens on various occasions to hire their own inspectors?

It is not enough for the commissioners to say they intend to enforce the code. They must assign inspectors to investigate complaints. The commissioners have reasoned before that they don't have the money to hire people to inspect rental properties. That excuse won't wash any more, especially in towns fed up with decrepit properties. Carroll County residents expect to see this law properly enforced.

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