Landlord bill pulled in Balto. County

3 co-sponsors on council vow to seek other ways to enforce zoning, safety

`Make sure we stop the bleeding'

Ruppersberger indicates willingness to devote more resources to effort

February 21, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

After six months of revisions and heated debate, three Baltimore County councilmen have withdrawn legislation that would have required landlords to register their properties and agree to inspections.

The co-sponsors, who had argued the bill was necessary to halt the decline of older neighborhoods, promised to seek other ways to augment enforcement of county zoning and safety codes.

And it appears they will get help from the Ruppersberger administration, which has become involved for the first time, promising to devote more resources to the issue.

Robert J. Barrett, a top aide to County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, said the administration would bring together agencies to address the problem and would consider setting aside money in next year's budget for additional staffing.

"Once we sit down and decide what we need to accomplish, we may need to find some funds," Barrett said.

A rental registration and licensing system has long been a goal of community activists, who fear that crowded and poorly maintained rental properties can lead to declining property values and homeownership rates. Of particular concern are neighborhoods around Towson University and on the east side.

The bill under consideration would have applied to buildings with six or fewer units. It would have required landlords to apply for licenses for their units every two years. And it would have allowed county inspectors to check for zoning and safety-code violations during licensing and renewal.

Building owners and real estate groups opposed the bill, saying it unfairly singled out some landlords, put an undue strain on the landlord-tenant relationship and violated tenants' privacy rights.

After extensive discussions and several drafts, opposition to the bill was as strong as it was six months ago, and the sponsors were unable to find the fourth vote they needed for passage. They withdrew the bill at Tuesday's council meeting.

However, the council did pass a bill asking the Department of Budget and Finance to create a system for people to indicate on their tax bills whether a property is rented or owner-occupied. That will help the county identify areas with the highest concentrations of rental housing.

Council Chairman John A. Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat and one of the sponsors of the registration and inspection bill, said he thought the debate had focused attention on distressed areas of the county, and that he and others will continue working on the issue.

"We want to make sure we stop the bleeding and improve those communities," Olszewski said.

Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican and a co-sponsor, said that much can be accomplished without legislation.

"Although there are people for and against the bill, there seems to be a consensus that we need more active code enforcement," Skinner said.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat and the third co-sponsor, said he would pursue pilot registration, licensing and inspection programs in certain neighborhoods. Some councilmen who didn't support the countywide bill have said they might vote for one that targets specific areas.

"More enforcement is fine," Gardina said, "but it's not going to resolve this rental housing issue."

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