Havre de Grace landlords criticize new rental property bill

Several Havre de Grace landlords complained about the introduction of a bill Monday that would create a new code for rental properties, including requiring owners of rental properties to get an annual rental housing license per rental unit.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty noted a public hearing had not been held yet, but six property owners nevertheless criticized the new code because it would put more of a burden on landlords.

Council members Jim Miller and Barbara Wagner ultimately voted against introducing the bill.

The council decided to schedule a public hearing on the issue for the city's next meeting on Nov. 21 and a public work session for Nov. 28.

Council President Bill Martin explained on March 21, the previous ordinance was suspended for eight months because it did not seem to be working that well.

"If things aren't working, I'm the first one to say let's go back, revisit and change," he said. "I, too, am a landlord. I own some property, a townhome in Perryville. Perryville adopted a similar ordinance in 2009."

Martin said he contacted another landlord after a tenant adjacent to his rental property had problems with the neighbor.

"I was able to keep my renter," he said. "One of the greatest benefits of this ordinance is it protects the property owner."

Also, he said, "this is a complaint-driven ordinance. We're not going to come and inspect your house."

He also said it is not a revenue ordinance, although it may seem like it.

"If the city was interested in revenue, we would not have cut taxes for seven years in a row," he said.

Councilman Fred Cullum said he looked forward to the hearing and hopes everyone reads the ordinance more carefully.

"I think what this proposed ordinance does," Cullum said, adding it frees landlords from the requirement landlords notify the city each time a new tenant moves in.

"There are a lot of things I think that make it a lot better and a lot simpler," he said.

Cullum said there is a big change in the proposed fine schedule, noting the existing code has fees that are "astronomical."

"Why anyone would want to keep that is beyond me," he said.

Councilman John Correri said some points and concerns have been raised here, and wanted to see a work session on a separate evening so some of the issues can be addressed.

"I do have some questions about things that were raised here tonight," he said.

Councilman Jim Miller disagreed, saying he does think the new ordinance will require a new city employee.

"We're not going to be able to do anything else unless we hire another body, and I'm not in favor of hiring another body to do this kind of work," he said.

Miller pointed out in Martin's story, all the work was done by two individuals, without the Town of Perryville getting involved.

"I don't see where this tenant ordinance… is going to do anything but generate another job for someone in the city," he said.

Cecil Hill, of Concord Street, told the council he has lived in Havre de Grace for the past 71 years and been in business for 46 years.

"Is it strictly for the money, this ordinance?" he asked. "I think it's a real problem and cost to continue these extra fees that we're going to have to be paying for this."

Hill said it is a "nuisance tax" that is not needed.

Allen Fair, of Concord Place, said he wants to know why the bill is needed, noting he has already spent thousands of dollars to install city-required items such as carbon monoxide detectors.

"I'm here for the no-number ordinance and I hope it stays that way," he said jokingly in reference to the yet-un-introduced bill. "I don't think we need any more bureaucracy. We'll probably have another one or two people in City Hall."

Fair said if there is a big problem, someone in the city should tell him what it is.

"You may have 10 bad landlords in this city, at the most," he said. "We're going the wrong way. The country's going the wrong way and we're going along with it. I'd hate to see anybody call us Obamacare."

George Wagner, of North Union Avenue, said if the city wants to find out about its tenants, it already has everyone's water and tax bills.

"You can find all that out," he said. "The main thing we need to do is enforce the ordinances that are already there. We don't need more government involved in everything."

Bicentennial events

Also at Monday's meeting, Brigitte Peters, of Havre de Grace Tourism, and John Butler, of the American Flag Foundation, made a presentation related to the War of 1812 bicentennial.

Peters said many volunteers have been working to build a model of the city during the War of 1812 that will be on display at the visitor center.

Butler also presented the council with a commemorative, limited-edition flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes for the bicentennial.

Mayor Wayne Dougherty said the flag will be displayed on the dais.

Butler explained the American Flag Foundation serves to educate about the flag, Pledge of Allegiance and patriotism.

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