Balto. Co. bill would crack down on landlords with unruly tenants

Gardina pushes proposal; Other council members want to wait

July 27, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Amid mounting complaints from homeowners dealing with irresponsible renters in their neighborhoods, the Baltimore County Council is considering a bill that could force landlords to curb tenants' rowdy behavior or face loss of their rental licenses.

"Some of these communities are at their wits' ends," said Councilman Vincent Gardina, the bill's sponsor. "We need to be stricter about this."

The council enacted a law last year limiting the number of tenants in a single-family home to two unrelated people. But Gardina said he has heard complaints from across the county and the regulations must go farther.

Code inspectors are concerned about the difficulty of enforcing the bill. While some council members want more time to refine it, Gardina said Tuesday after lengthy comments from the public that he will call for a vote at the council session Monday.

"I am not tabling anything," he said.

The bill addresses public nuisances in rental housing, particularly in areas with a high concentration of college students. Several residents near Towson University said parties, drinking, noise and public urination are disturbing neighborhoods.

"We have to hold these landlords accountable," said Fay Citerone of the Knollwood community. "We are not picking on tenants, but there are serious concerns affecting the quality of life in our neighborhoods."

Jennifer Goltra of Burke Avenue said, "This bill will make Towson a better place to live."

Nuisance violations include disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace or unlawful use of alcohol or drugs. Housing code inspectors would notify the property owner after two incidents. The notice would include details of the incidents and the threat of a suspended license should a third violation occur within six months. The landlord would have the right to appeal.

Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, an attorney for the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors and former Baltimore city councilman, called the bill "vague and open-ended," and said it infringes on basic property rights.

"There would be an open season for anyone to file a complaint, with three complaints enough to trigger the process," he said. "No amendment can fix this bill."

John Nethercut, executive director of the Public Justice Center in Baltimore, said the county has laws to deal with unruly tenants but enforcement remains a problem.

"If you have bad tenants, deal with them," he said.

Gardina said he would take a few days to work on amendments, but is not backing down.

"There is enough flexibility to give the landlord time to adjust," Gardina said.

The bill is one of several contentious measures the council has set for a vote Monday. During an unusually long work session Tuesday, members heard comments on a wind energy pilot program, a proposal to limit cell phone towers in rural areas and a measure to ban those convicted of a crime from lobbying county officials.

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