More than 90 percent of rental properties in Baltimore County have been inspected and licensed under a new countywide registration law, officials said.
Nearly 12,000 rental properties have been registered, and officials said the county office of permits and inspections is still receiving about 80 applications a week. The law took effect in January after being delayed for six months to give landlords more time to comply.
"There are a tremendous number of citizens sleeping a lot easier in their homes because of what has been fantastic compliance," said Mike Mohler, the county's deputy director of permits. "For the most part, landlords are going through this process willingly."
Officials are giving applicants some leeway because contractors needed to do repair work for landlords have been busy, Mohler said.
Some landlords opposed the legislation, saying extensive repairs would force them to increase rents during a slumping economy. Others said the law would be unenforceable.
However, Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, who had been pushing for the legislation since 1995, said the law gives the county an additional tool to deal with irresponsible landlords. "The idea is to make sure these properties comply with applicable laws and codes," he said.
Yara Cheikh, a landlord with several properties in Baltimore City and county, said she did not find the registration process onerous or cost prohibitive. "This law insures the safety of rentals," she said. "As a Towson resident, I feel that this law preserves property values throughout the county. That is in everyone's best interests. The county is providing the guidelines that hold landlords responsible and that's the right thing to do."
The process has shown Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder that "in the long run, the advantages outweigh the short-term pitfalls." His initial opposition to the law grew from concerns that landlords would evict tenants and sell the properties rather than repair them. "I think we are over that hump now and that overall, this has been successful," he said. "It has helped get properties upgraded and brought about better living conditions for tenants."
Councilman T. Bryan McIntire remains firmly opposed and considers the legislation unenforceable.
"We don't have the staff to check up every time a neighbor calls to complain about a rental home," he said. "And we are not going to change the way people live in some of these small, old houses that are unsafe."
In Towson, community groups are hoping the law will reduce student overcrowding in rental housing.
"Students desperate for housing and absentee landlords often mean issues for neighborhoods," said Ed Kilcullen, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. "Registration increases accountability."
The law requires owners to pay a $50 license fee and to have every leased dwelling checked by a licensed private inspector. Inspectors focus on plumbing and electrical systems, exterior maintenance, operational windows, adequate ventilation and safety features like smoke detectors. Licenses must be renewed every three years.
"When we heard from inspectors that stores were selling out of smoke detectors, that was an indicator that many of these properties had not been properly equipped," Mohler said.