Licensing rental housing

Baltimore County: Registration law would give inspectors more clout to address problems.

October 23, 2001

PROBLEMS with rental housing are a longstanding concern for Baltimore County. But authorities don't know where many of these homes are, and they are hampered by weak inspection powers.

Neighborhoods complain of too many tenants living in homes zoned for single families, about trash, noise and parking violations. Repeated complaints go unanswered by absentee landlords and unresponsive transient tenants. Homeowners worry about the decline of their neighborhoods.

The process is tedious and uncertain, and the loopholes large. Landlords and tenants can refuse permission for inspections of deteriorating properties.

Now the County Council is moving to require licensing of rental housing and strengthen inspection powers, changes that have been used elsewhere with success.

Under the legislation, which has apparent administration support, the county wouldn't actively search out all unregistered rental properties. Instead, it would use the law to force inspections in response to complaints.

That's an admitted weakness. The measure assumes that most rental housing, and rooming houses, won't provoke serious complaints.

Initial results could lead the county to expand inspections later, if the cost is warranted.

This legislation addresses the problem countywide, unlike previous bills that targeted trouble spots in the eastern county, the southwest and student rental areas near Towson University.

The aim is not to burden rental property owners, but to curb abuses that have multiplied as single-family dwellings are converted to multiple occupancy and with the rapid turnover of rental owners in some older neighborhoods.

The council also passed a bill this month that closes a loophole used to avoid renter-occupancy limits in single-family neighborhoods. It's a sign of strengthening zoning code enforcement, which helps to stabilize communities.

That's good public policy for Baltimore County. The rental housing licensing bill is another step in that direction.

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