A reasonable reprieve

Our view: County landlords to get a break but need to act soon

July 21, 2008

Baltimore County's effort to improve the quality of rental housing countywide is off to a slow start, but that's perfectly understandable. It has taken time for word of the expanded program to get out, and only a handful of private inspectors are available to review thousands of homes and apartments.

But just because only about 7,000 of the estimated 12,000 to 15,000 eligible apartments and other rental units have been enrolled doesn't make the program unworkable, as some critics have suggested. What's needed is a bit more time - as the County Council is soon expected to provide by extending the July 1 deadline to Oct. 1.

After all, the county's pilot rental licensing program has already proved a success. To meet rental licensing standards, dozens of landlords have spent thousands of dollars to upgrade wiring, fix aging plumbing, replace nonworking smoke detectors and make other repairs.

Admittedly, other landlords may not prove so cooperative. But if that continues to be the case by year's end - and landlords don't respond to warnings and notices - it will be time to start issuing fines of up to $1,000 plus $200 per unit per day for violations, as the law allows.

Some may not like paying the registration fee or fixing up their deteriorating properties, but the neighbors of such blighted homes should be pleased by that prospect.

In Howard County, where a similar program has been in place for years - albeit with county-employed inspectors - the results have been positive, if difficult to measure precisely. Code violations are relatively rare, but anecdotal evidence suggests that's because properties are generally well-maintained.

Baltimore County residents who live in regulated rental properties would be wise to keep track of their own unit's status and complain to authorities if they believe it has not been registered or does not meet code. Their lives - and those of their neighbors - will be better for it.

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