Baltimore County's legal pads

The Baltimore Sun

With an apparent compromise reached last week over the location of a new arena at Towson University, is it possible Baltimore County's town-gown relations are now smooth as a silk suit? Of course not, and unhappy campus neighbors have the usual suit-slinging suspects to blame - lawyers.

If there's one thing that sets homeowners in campus-area communities on edge, it's the proliferation of homes leased to students and concerns over trash, late-night parties, noise and the like. Because of a legal loophole, the county's ability to regulate such properties recently took a serious hit.

Last month, a hearing officer ruled that county law limiting to two the number of unrelated adults living in a rental property couldn't be applied to a group of four TU students living in a Towson Park townhouse. Why? Because the property's owner had been clever enough to title the house in the name of a limited liability corporation (LLC) and made three of the tenants co-owners.

That's a pretty cagey dodge. The students may not be related, but the law allows owners to live in their own home. That leaves only the fourth renter an unrelated tenant.

County officials are crafting legislation to close the loophole. It's expected to require an LLC owner to have more than a 50 percent stake. True ownership couldn't be so easily hidden, and the result would likely be a return to the original intent of no more than two unrelated adult renters.

No doubt Towson's legal community will be burning the midnight oil looking for a new loophole. Of course, instead of acting like lawyers, they might instead advise their clients to comply with the law and apply for a boarding house permit if they want to create a group home.

They might also remind landlords that well-maintained properties with well-behaved tenants (regardless of whether they are college students or visitors from Mars) seldom anger neighbors or cause housing code inspectors to show up at their doors. That's the kind of free advice that might give lawyers a good name.

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