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Rental units under focus


Mayor Ellen O. Moyer and two city council members are seeking a new ordinance they say would crack down on residential landlords who fail to adequately maintain their properties.

The measure, prompted by concerns raised by a downtown community group, would clarify landlord responsibilities and tenant rights.

"Many of these rental properties are old, and they are conjoined," said Jan Hardesty, a spokeswoman for the mayor's office. "That means when there is any kind of issue, it affects more than one property. Maintenance is a life-safety issue, and that's the kind of burden that can't be passed on to renters."

Under the legislation proposed by Moyer and aldermen Joshua Cohen and Samuel Shropshire, lease agreements would have to stipulate the repair responsibilities of the landlord and tenant.

Timely upkeep for major appliances and infrastructure -- refrigerator, stove, heating and plumbing -- would fall to the landlord. Damages resulting from tenant negligence would fall to the renter. The city code does not address who is responsible for maintenance. Landlords also would be required to provide tenants with a brochure explaining tenant rights and listing resources.

Hardesty said the legislation aims to address a long-standing problem in the city that disproportionately affects young people and minorities. With rental units accounting for almost 50 percent of properties in Annapolis, protecting tenants' rights and ensuring their safety is of paramount importance, she said.

Chuck Weikel, a member of Green Street Neighbors, the group that helped to initiate the legislation, said that over the years, he has seen a number of leases that put the onus of repair and maintenance on tenants. The new law would hold landlords accountable, he said.

"I think it only affects a small number of landlords that are quite frankly taking advantage of people," he said. "We are just informing tenants what their rights are."

Tom Shaner, executive director of the Property Owners Association of Greater Baltimore, said that he supports the concept of clarifying lease terms but said that the terms should remain negotiable.

"The vast majority of landlords do understand that maintenance is part of their responsibility," he said. "But I don't know if I believe that the government should mandate it on all landlords."

On Monday evening, the legislation was referred to the council's Housing and Human Welfare Committee. Next month, the council will hold a public hearing on the measure.

Other measures formally introduced at the council this week include:

An amendment to the Charter of the City of Annapolis requiring a 60 percent majority vote of the council to approve a property tax rate that increases property tax revenue by 5 percent or more.

An ordinance that would establish an education commission to serve as a liaison between the city and the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.

An ordinance to decrease density for multifamily dwellings in the Business Corridor Enhancement Zoning District. The measure would limit the density of multifamily developments to 35 units per acre.

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