Leaders, experts skeptical of Baltimore County rental bill

October 22, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Community leaders and housing experts are skeptical that a bill that would require licensing most rental properties in Baltimore County would help root out zoning and safety violations or slow the transformation of older homes from owner-occupied to apartments.

The experiences of officials in other cities and counties where rental registration has been in effect for decades suggest that while the bill - introduced before the County Council last week - could help strengthen code enforcement efforts in some cases, it could also worsen the divide between landlords and the neighborhoods where they own property.

The bill, co-sponsored by Councilmen Vincent J. Gardina, John A. Olszewski Sr. and Wayne M. Skinner, would require landlords to seek a license for each unit they rent. They would pay a fee - probably about $25 a year - and agree to allow an inspection to determine code compliance, though the county would not always perform one. Licenses would be good for two years, and units could be inspected again at the time of renewal.

But the bill includes no money for the dozens of inspectors that officials estimate it would take to check the county's 125,000 rental units or for clerks to process the license applications.

The bill is based on the assumption that most landlords wouldn't register their properties, and that the units of those who did register would not be inspected unless they were the subject of a complaint, said Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management.

Issuing licenses without performing inspections sounds like a tax, not a way to ensure safe, high-quality housing, said Stuart Meck, who oversaw the rental code in Oxford, Ohio, before becoming a senior researcher at the American Planning Association.

"When you have a system like this, there's got to be an inspection at some point that establishes the status of the property at the time the license is originally issued," he said. "Otherwise you place the legitimacy of the system in question because there's no enforcement going on."

But the county, facing declining revenues as the economy slows, doesn't have the money to hire the inspectors it would take to examine every rental property, much less determine if everyone who should be registered is, said Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat.

Gary Adams, president of the Greater Rosedale Community Council, said that in his area, most of the trouble stems from large apartment complexes. The bill, however, exempts buildings with more than six units.

"I don't see where it accomplishes anything," Adams said. "You're doing the same thing right now with code enforcement. This looks like more of a revenue thing."

The council is scheduled to vote on the bill next month.

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