Rental inspection bill draws mixed testimony

BALTIMORE COUNTY DIGEST

December 12, 2007

A bill that would extend Baltimore County's inspection program for rental housing countywide won praise yesterday from several community leaders, who testified that the measure would reduce the number of poorly kept properties.

But two homeowners and a representative of local real estate agents said the measure would burden landlords with costly inspection fees.

The testimony at a County Council work session in Towson came six days before the council is to vote on the bill, sponsored by three council members and supported by the county administration.

The program now applies to about a dozen communities. The proposal contains significant changes: Inspections would be required every three years, instead of two; and they would be conducted by landlord-hired contractors, instead of by county employees.

County officials said enforcing the program's provisions has been a challenge because of a shortage of inspectors.

Violators would face daily civil penalties of $1,000.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina said the bill would improve safety by identifying nonworking smoke detectors, faulty plumbing and other dangerous conditions. He also said it would improve neighborhood aesthetics by forcing landlords to keep up their rental units.

"We have a responsibility to those neighbors who have lived there for 40, 50 years," said Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat, who co-sponsored the bill with Democrats John Olszewski Sr. of Dundalk and Kenneth N. Oliver of Randallstown.

Paul Hartman, president of the Aigburth Manor Association of Towson, testified in support of the program, saying run-down properties have become an increasing problem in his neighborhood. "Many times these properties are neglected in order to squeeze every dollar" out of rent, he said, adding that they have diminished the area's quality of life.

But Joseph T. Landers III, executive vice president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors, said Gardina's estimate that inspections would cost $100 to $150 per unit was considerably low.

Larry LeDoyen, who identified himself as an owner of 10 rental properties, said that he keeps his properties better than his neighbors' and that he was "offended" by the idea of inspections.

"This inspection is a cost to the homeowner and to the benefit of the inspector," said John Tiastro, who said he has rented out a townhouse he owns in the county.

Josh Mitchell

Government

Moody's affirms AAA bond rating

Baltimore County government retained the highest bond rating from Moody's Investors Service, meaning it can borrow $140 million for public improvements and $200 million for water and sewer services improvements next year at a lower interest rate, according to the financial company.

Moody's also affirmed the AAA rating on the county's outstanding debt of $956.8 million.

In addition to more favorable interest rates, the strong bond rating also "broadens the base of investors," said Alicia Stephens, the lead analyst for local government ratings in Maryland at Moody's. The county has had a triple-A rating since at least 1976, she said.

Laura Barnhardt

Perry Hall

Traffic circle nears completion

A traffic roundabout is being built in a community in the Perry Hall area, despite concerns from residents that led to a delay in the project, county officials said.

The traffic circle at Seven Courts Drive and Proctor Lane is being constructed in response to complaints about access to Seven Courts Drive and speeding at the intersection, officials said. But some residents are concerned that the project might not be needed, might be unsafe for pedestrians and might draw more traffic from busier roads to the area. Officials say they expect those concerns to diminish after the roundabout is in operation.

The $70,000 project, originally scheduled for construction in September, is expected to be completed within two weeks, officials said.

Rosedale

Man sought in 2 armed robberies

Baltimore County police asked yesterday for help in identifying a man suspected in two robberies of a Dunkin' Donuts shop in the Golden Ring area.

The man is being sought in armed robberies at the shop in the 8800 block of Pulaski Highway that occurred shortly after 4 a.m. Nov. 22 and after 6 a.m. Nov. 29. In each incident, the robber walked up to the counter, ordered a doughnut and, when the clerk opened the register, displayed a handgun and reached over the counter into the cash drawer, police said.

The robber took an undisclosed amount of cash each time before fleeing on foot.

The suspect's image was captured on a store video camera, police said. He is described as a white man, 18 to 22 years old, 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a medium build and short brown hair.

Anyone with information is asked to call county police at 410-307-2020 or Metro Crime Stoppers at 866-756-2587. Callers to Metro Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and might be eligible for a reward of up to $2,000.

State board

Action taken against 2 veterinarians

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