Forum targets Pennsylvania Ave. rentals

Group hopes to educate landlords on maintenance


July 24, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Educating Pennsylvania Avenue landlords about the resources available to maintain and upgrade rental properties - to meet Westminster's property maintenance code - will be discussed tonight by a group working to revitalize the troubled neighborhood.

Maintaining and upgrading rentals is one way to improve the neighborhood, according to the Lower Pennsylvania Avenue Initiative, a 40-member group of government officials, business associations, residents and churches that began meeting last month.

The neighborhood, from Union Street to Main Street on Pennsylvania Avenue, has problems with drug trafficking, vandalism, prostitution and burglary. The meeting at 7 o'clock tonight will mark the fourth time the group has met. The group previously has tackled topics such as crime prevention and code violations.

In Westminster, 46.8 percent of the housing stock consists of rentals - apartment buildings, single-family homes and townhouses, city officials said. Specific data about Pennsylvania Avenue were not available.

"One of the things I find surprising is that many landlords think that what they do is not a business because some say they're not really making a profit, but in that exchange of funds, they are," said Scott Jeznach, Westminster's code enforcement officer.

Jeznach said he plans to attend the meeting.

Similar to people who run restaurants or retail establishments, they are subject to the law.

"Anything that goes on at that property is ultimately the responsibility of the owner," Jeznach said.

He said that landlords often are shocked when they receive warnings about code violations, many believing a mistaken assumption that tenants are responsible for fixing facades and cutting grass. They're not.

"They should be going by their property once a week or have a property manager do it," Jeznach said.

He said the meeting will be more about education than about penalizing negligent landlords. He said low-interest loans and tax incentives are available to make repairs on historic properties.

At least one long-time landlord isn't happy with the committee's topic.

" I am raising a little bit of a rumpus about the heading and topic of the meeting," said Andrew J. Shaw, president of the Carroll County Landlords Association and a member of the Lower Pennsylvania advisory committee. "I find that somewhat irritating. I'm a good landlord."

Shaw said he owns 10 buildings in Westminster - some on lower Pennsylvania Avenue - and that he knows the responsibilities of being a landlord because he has been one for more than 40 years.

"I treat it as a business," he said. "I have full-time maintenance people and operate within the law."

Shaw's association formed in October and has 150 members, with a goal to reach 500, a fraction of the 5,000 landlords in the county.

"The problems that are here not because of landlords," Shaw said. "Landlords didn't bring problems to town. It's a sign of the times and the society that we live in."

Shaw might be an exception to the types of landlords the meeting expects to educate.

He said he is convinced that the committee's goal lies elsewhere.

"Their objective is more sanctions against landlords," Shaw said. "It's not needed. We don't have any serious problems with landlords. If they would give me a list of each and every landlord they consider irresponsible, we would contact them in an effort to abate problems."

The meeting will be held at the Westminster fire hall on John Street.

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