Landlords given extra time

County Council extends safety compliance deadline till Jan. 1

August 05, 2008|By Kevin Rector | Kevin Rector,Sun Reporter

With Baltimore County landlords struggling to comply with new rental-property safety requirements, the County Council voted last night to give them another six months, after turning back a bid to repeal the new law.

The council, which had been considering giving landlords until Oct. 1, voted unanimously to extend the deadline an extra three months to Jan. 1. The deadline had been July 1 when the council approved the law in December.

According to Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Towson-Perry Hall Democrat, the bill will help stem the "deterioration of communities," and seeks only to enforce rental property requirements that have been county law for more than two decades.

"This isn't something we pulled out of our hats," he said when speaking against a bill brought by Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a North County Republican, to repeal the rental compliance program altogether. "This bill is designed to address slumlords."

McIntire, whose bill failed, said that while the bill represented a "noble cause," it was "unenforceable because we can't possibly monitor the conditions of the many apartments in the county."

While landlords have expressed concern over the cost of compliance, community leaders have supported the effort for years, Gardina said.

According to some local home inspectors and electricians, the extension was needed because of a shortage of a type of smoke detector that would meet the county law.

According to county requirements, rental properties must have smoke detectors that are interconnected - meaning when one goes off, they all go off.

In almost all rental properties more than 20 years old, the wiring needed to connect such a system just isn't there, and installing it is expensive and highly invasive, said Gary Epstein, service manager for Certified Electrical Technologies, a company that has seen a huge increase in smoke detector installation jobs since the legislation passed in December.

So, to avoid ripping up walls and ceilings to insert wiring, area electricians have instead been installing wireless smoke detection systems, Epstein said.

But manufacturers of the devices were not prepared for the influx of orders from Baltimore County, and they haven't been able to fill electricians' orders, he added.

The legislation has caused a "nationwide shortage of the detectors," he said.

"It caught everyone by surprise," he said. "It's not a commonly used item other than due to this specific recommendation."

Epstein said most of the orders for the devices came in to his company from landlords weeks ago, but they "haven't been able to complete several of the jobs because of the shortage."

Nikki Marlatt-Young of Arbutus, a licensed home inspector who works in the county, said the extension would help more landlords comply. That they haven't yet doesn't mean they don't want to, she said.

"It's been hard for them in some of the older homes," she said, "but they've been doing it."

According to officials, about 10,000 inspections are complete, and about 2,000 to 5,000 more need to be done.

In other business, council members voted last night to allow the county to attach liens on residents' properties when improvements on storm-water management ponds owned by homeowner associations are needed and the county pays for them.

They also voted to increase parking violation fines in the county for the first time since 1991, to be more consistent with neighboring counties. The current $16 fine for a meter violation would go to $20.

The council voted to spend $500,000 over the next three years to help extend the police Mobile Crisis Team coverage to the west side of the county. The rest of the cost of extending the team would be covered under a private grant.

Council members also tabled a bill to provide tax incentives for developments that meet environmental and energy standards of the U.S. Green Building Council after Council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat, said he worried that the tax break could encourage overbuilding in residential neighborhoods..

kevin.rector@baltsun.com

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