Rental housing proposal softened

New registration plan would lower fines, allow grace period

November 20, 2001|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Amid criticism that their rental property registration proposal would be an invasion of privacy and impossible to administer, three county councilmen withdrew the bill last night and substituted a more lenient proposal.

The new proposal includes a grace period for compliance and sharply lower fines, and adds to the number of exempt properties. It will be reviewed by a yet-to-be-formed working group before an amended bill is submitted in January.

The new proposal addresses concerns raised by the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and Maryland Multifamily Association. It does less to address philosophical objections raised by tenants and owners of small properties.

The rental registration proposal was designed to help root out zoning and safety violations, and to slow the transformation of older homes into apartments.

Council members were responding to concerns about crowded rental homes and fears of declining property values, particularly in parts of the eastside and around Towson University.

The basics of the new proposal remain the same as those of the original bill. Owners of rental properties with six or fewer units would be required to apply for licenses for their units every two years. Licenses would cost $25 per unit, and inspectors could check units for zoning and safety-code compliance during licensing or renewal.

The proposal includes no funding for new inspectors. Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management, has said his department would be swamped with paperwork and inspections if all eligible landlords registered with the county.

Jablon said he wouldn't object if most landlords didn't comply, as long as they obeyed county codes.

The Realtors group said landlords who didn't obtain county licenses would not be able to get insurance. And no insurance means no mortgage. The group has predicted that the county would receive 11,000 license applications the first day the law took effect.

Sponsors Vincent J. Gardina and John A. Olszewski Sr., both Democrats, and Wayne M. Skinner, a Republican, said their new proposal addresses those problems in two ways. First, complexes containing rented townhouses would be added to properties that are exempt. Large apartment complexes were originally exempt.

Second, it provides a grace period of several months while the county advertises the law. That would ensure that landlords understand the requirements and ease the transition.

The proposal also reduces fines. In the original bill, the fine was $1,000 a day per violation. That has been reduced to $25 a day until the landlord is notified and $200 a day thereafter.

The most vocal support and opposition has come from Towson, where neighborhood activists, landlords and students have fought over the county's law prohibiting more than two unrelated tenants from living in a unit.

Activists say the law prevents parking problems and excessive trash and noise.

Students say it makes no sense that a family of any size can legally live in a studio apartment but three friends can't share a mansion. Allowing inspectors inside their homes during licensing would be an invasion of privacy, they argue.

"Having a body that has the right to come into my home and say what's wrong and what's not wrong and kick me out of my home, that's not something I would have signed on for," said Daniel Wait, a former president of the Towson student government.

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