Baltimore Neighborhoods answers rental questions

THE REAL ESTATE WONK

January 11, 2008|By JAMIE SMITH HOPKINS

What can you do if the heater in the apartment you're renting conks out and your landlord won't fix it? Or if you're facing eviction? Or, for that matter, if you're a landlord with a nightmare tenant?

A local group has answers.

Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a nonprofit that works statewide, counsels renters and rental owners alike.

"The majority of the calls we get on a regular basis, day to day, are rent court issues," said Stephanie D. Cornish, program manager for the tenant-landlord counseling department.

Heat is another frequent topic this time of year. Local laws require that rental properties have a working heating system.

If you're renting a place and the heat goes out, Cornish recommends notifying the landlord in writing immediately. "Normally a landlord is allowed at least 30 days to make a general repair, but hot water and heat, being essential services, are not things they can wait 30 days to take care of," she said.

It's not always a quick matter to get a contractor in to fix a furnace, she notes. Landlords should make accommodations for renters in the meantime if it's freezing - setting up radiator heaters that plug into the walls, for instance.

Baltimore Neighborhoods got more than 330 calls about "essential services" last fiscal year. Some were from landlords who were hoping they could, say, shut off the water to deal with a problem tenant. (For the record: No. In fact, Cornish says, it's a misdemeanor in Baltimore City and Baltimore County to deliberately deny essential services.)

"People should take the time to understand what the laws are and how they work," Cornish said. In these housing-slump times, when it's easier to rent than sell, "there are a lot more people becoming landlords than getting out of the business, and there are a lot of people becoming landlords who have no clue of what the laws are."

You can reach Baltimore Neighborhoods' tenant-landlord counseling hot line at 410-243-6007 or 800-487-6007. The group also sells a guide to landlord-tenant laws.

Find Jamie's blog at baltimoresun.com/ realestatewonk

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