Rental registration inconsistent, auditor says

October 27, 2006|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN REPORTER

A law requiring the registration and inspection of rental properties has been inconsistently applied by Baltimore County government and, in many cases, not enforced at all, according to a recent report by the county auditor.

The registration program, introduced four and a half years ago, targets absentee landlords who allow properties to deteriorate or who do not adequately screen tenants. Of the first 10 communities included in the program, only five were visited by county inspectors, according to county auditor Brian J. Rowe.

His agency's report faults the county permits department for losing inspection reports, granting licenses without inspecting the properties or collecting application fees, and failing to follow up on inspections to ensure problems were corrected.

County Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat who helped design the program, called the lack of enforcement "severe."

"Code enforcement is a major concern in Baltimore County, wherever you go, east to west," Gardina said. "Everyone seems to look at it as a burden on county government, rather than as a responsibility."

County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said yesterday he was not aware of the report and declined to comment.

When the program was proposed in 2001, it faced opposition by the Baltimore County Board of Realtors, landlords and some tenants, and county officials said they did not have enough inspectors to administer it.

But proponents, including community activists, supported the proposal as a way to prevent neighborhood decline, and the council has added various communities to the program in recent years.

The program requires owners of residential rental properties containing six or fewer units to obtain licenses and subject their properties to inspection.

The auditor's report, which covered the period between June 2002 and August 2005, found a number of program "deficiencies." Many properties were given licenses without records that they had been inspected, and many records were discarded, preventing inspectors from ensuring that problems were corrected.

The report states that full implementation of the program would cost $2.1 million annually, and proposes increasing every-other-year licensing fees from $50 to $95 per unit.

Paul Hartman, president of the Aigburth Manor Association of Towson, said he and his neighbors have long complained to the county about homes being rented out to more tenants than allowed by neighborhood rules. Many of the tenants are Towson University students, he said.

"We were hoping that rental registration would help us to keep overcrowded apartments down to a minimum," Hartman said. "What happens is you get too many cars, they have loud parties, trash, coming and going at all hours."

He said he has been encouraged by recent meetings with the county permits director about the problems.

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