Months of controversy about lax enforcement of the county's Minimum Livability Code ended yesterday with smiles and thank-you's from Carroll's mayors, who each received copies of newly written guidelines.
The municipal leaders said the poor condition of many rental units in their towns forced them to press the County Commissioners for a written enforcement policy and to accept complaints from anyone. Previously, the county only responded to complaints from landlords or tenants.
Because landlords rarely complain and tenants often are afraid of eviction in retaliation for a complaint, the policy was "stupid in the first place," said Manchester Mayor Elmer Lippy after yesterday's monthly mayors' meeting at the County Office Building.
"The commissioners have conceded to our request," said New Windsor Mayor Jack A. Gullo Jr. "They reviewed and adjusted their policy. They have given us exactly what we asked."
Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said all the haggling over the code is now "water under the bridge that should stay under the bridge. Judge us on whether the code is enforced in your town. This is a policy we can live with," he said.
The new policy brings the county into full compliance with the code, enacted at the state's request in 1988 to protect the rights of tenants, Mr. Gullo said.
Without full enforcement, the mayors said, they had little ability to handle complaints from renters. This year, about 60 percent of the 92 complaints logged by the county were about rental units in Carroll's eight incorporated towns.
Although the state originally provided each town with a grant to establish its own livability code, Carroll's municipalities decided to turn the money over to the county, adopt the county's code and use its inspector.
In the past few years, an "arbitrary and capricious" unwritten policy has weakened the law, Mr. Gullo said. He had become so frustrated that he filed a request under the state's Freedom of Information Act, demanding all documents related to code enforcement and a written policy.
County officials scrambled to get a policy in writing, meeting the 30-day deadline when they delivered the information to Mr. Gullo yesterday.
Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates cited the rights of property owners and had, until late last week, opposed any efforts to strengthen the code.
"The law was not written in Russia," Mr. Lippy, a former commissioner, said. "It was part of the democratic process, which we are all proud of."
At the next New Windsor Town Council meeting, Mr. Gullo said he would tell his constituents the county will accept their written, signed complaints about housing violations.
"Now it is up to residents to complain, to go the extra mile to show they care about their town," he said.
Westminster Mayor Kenneth Yowan said he was particularly interested in the referral portion of the new policy. City housing department officials had discontinued complaints to the county, saying that their efforts were ignored.
Commissioner Brown also announced yesterday a new program for cutting down response time. Greg Keller, the county's only livability code inspector, will have help to deal with what is expected to be an increase in complaints.
"Greg is the expert on the livability code and his job duties won't change," said Ralph E. Green, chief of the bureau of permits and inspections. "All opening and closing investigations will flow through him."
The county employs four electrical, four plumbing and five building inspectors. Mr. Keller will rely on them to inspect for violations in their areas of expertise, Mr. Green said. Mr. Keller often does as many as nine daily inspections, which can each take about 90 minutes.
"We will utilize the resources of other inspectors," said Mr. Green. "We should have a faster response time."