Rental property code is passed

Neighborhood group sees ordinance as key to fighting crime

Westminster

March 27, 2001|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

Westminster is the first municipality in Carroll County to have its own rental property maintenance code.

The code, introduced in November after two years of planning, was approved unanimously last night by Westminster's mayor and Common Council. It goes into effect June 1.

"Obviously we've wrestled with this over a long period of time," said Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, addressing the two dozen people at the meeting. "I think this is a good ordinance. If you have any problems with this being enforced you can come back and see us again and you will be heard."

The code covers minimum requirements and standards for fire safety, light, sanitation, space, heating and other issues in "current and future" rental properties in Westminster.

"It's long overdue," Robin Kable, a resident of West Green Street, said in a telephone interview yesterday afternoon. Kable is a founder of the West Side Community Organization, a neighborhood group that has pushed hard for the proposed code to help combat a rise in crime and a general decline in housing in the city's west end.

"When you have rundown properties and a rundown neighborhood, crime moves in," Kable said.

"It's a first step in the right direction," city resident Laurie Walters said. "It's great to have something on the books."

Since 1989, Westminster and the rest of Carroll County have operated under the county's livability code, which applies to rental properties.

County officials estimated that about 70 percent of the 400 livability complaints the county receives each year are from Westminster. The county code is enforced by one housing inspector responsible for the entire county. The office has a backlog of several hundred complaints.

Westminster's ordinance was initially criticized by dozens of city residents, landlords and real estate agents as too restrictive. It has been scaled back and fine-tuned during the past six months. The most recent adjustments, made last night, include expanding the livability appeals board from three to five people and opening the board to all residents of Westminster who are not city employees.

Also last night, Westminster's council agreed to allot $24,000 from surplus to research the possibility of creating a city pension program for Westminster police officers. Officers, like other city employees, are covered under a 30-year state pension plan. The city would like to make officers eligible for such a plan after 25 years.

This year, more than two dozen members of the Westminster Police Department joined the International Union of Police Associations in a bid to improve wages and benefits, and to prevent officers from leaving for higher-paying jobs.

City council President Damian L. Halstad said the research was being done as part of an effort to make the city a better place for police officers to work. "Getting that retirement down to 25 years from 30 is important to us. The problem is it's not cheap," Halstad said.

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