Westminster council revising code proposed for property maintenance

Members favor limiting measure to rental units

January 18, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Responding to residents' concerns, the Westminster Common Council and mayor have begun making revisions to a proposed property maintenance code, including limiting the ordinance to rental properties.

The council has backed away from including all properties in the ordinance, as originally proposed. The majority of the problems the city has had with unkempt properties have been with rental units, not owner-occupied houses or commercial properties, council members said.

If owner-occupied houses become a problem, the code could be revised, Council President Damian L. Halstad said at a council work session Tuesday night.

"I'm hoping if this solves a problem we would never have to go to owner-occupied," Halstad said.

Dozens of city residents, landlords and real estate agents had criticized the proposed code as too restrictive.

More than two dozen residents attended the work session, but they were not allowed to participate.

Other issues discussed included:

Instead of exempting older properties from the ordinance through a grandfather clause, the city would create a three-member board composed of Westminster residents to hear appeals of citations.

Westminster would require owners of rental properties to register with the city. Landlords who live out of state would be required to have an agent in Carroll County to serve as their contact person.

Keeping the process complaint-driven instead of the city independently initiating inspections.

The city most likely will keep federal housing standards for Section 8 housing, but Councilman L. Gregory Pecoraro said he was concerned that some landlords might have to raise rents to comply with the new maintenance code and that would affect the availability of affordable rentals.

"I don't want to make it impossible for people," he said.

Since 1989, all Carroll County rental units have been covered by the county's livability code.

About 70 percent of the 400 livability complaints the county receives each year are from Westminster, said Michael D. Maring, chief of Carroll's bureau of permits and inspections.

The county code is enforced by one housing inspector whose territory includes the entire county.

Westminster residents have complained the county is not responsive to their complaints and called for the city to have its own property maintenance code.

The 42-page proposed property maintenance code includes room sizes, window screens and grass height. Residents could be fined $200 for violations.

If passed, the property maintenance ordinance would be the first of its kind enacted by a municipality in Carroll County.

City Attorney John B. Walsh Jr. and Thomas B. Beyard, planning and public works director, will use the council's suggestions to revise the proposed property maintenance code.

The council will meet for a second work session to discuss the revised ordinance in the next few weeks before it can be presented during a council meeting, Pecoraro said.

"We're not rushing," he said. "We need to take our time and work through all the issues."

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