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Expert: Baltimore needs landlord training

Landlords who belong to Brooklyn Center, Minn.'s Association for Responsible Management meet every other month to learn various aspects of being a responsible property manager. (Doug Donovan/Baltimore Sun)
Landlords who belong to Brooklyn Center, Minn.'s Association for Responsible Management meet every other month to learn various aspects of being a responsible property manager. (Doug Donovan/Baltimore Sun) (/ Baltimore Sun)

BROOKLYN CENTER, MINN. — Every other month landlords crowd into this Minneapolis suburb’s city hall to meet with government officials to learn how to be better property managers.

Some landlords attend voluntarily. Others are required to show up because Brooklyn Center housing inspectors have stamped their properties with low licensing grades.

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For years in Maryland, tenant and landlord advocates have discussed with city, state and court officials the idea of a landlord training academy, but nothing has materialized. A consultant recently advised Baltimore housing officials that the time has come to support such an effort.

The Center for Community Progress, a national nonprofit that promotes policies to diminish urban blight, issued a 116-page report earlier this year advising Baltimore’s Department of Housing and Community Development to “work with local landlord associations, nonprofits, and others to build a landlord support system, including training and technical assistance, and increased access to capital for improvements and upgrading.”

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Baltimore City District Court has expanded the number of programs providing assistance to tenants and small landlords who battle in "rent court."

The center’s report, authored by Alan Mallach, states that “building a stronger, more responsible landlord community requires more than enforcement, it requires affirmative measures to reward good landlords and a support system to improve landlord performance.”

A yearlong investigation by The Baltimore Sun reported in April that city housing inspectors rarely collected millions of dollars in fines issued to landlords for various violations. The Sun also found that landlords routinely prevailed in court proceedings against tenants even when inspectors reported dangerous living conditions.

Several cities — Milwaukee, Cincinnati and St. Paul, Minn. — have landlord training programs so that property managers are fully aware of their responsibilities to tenants, according to a Baltimore Sun investigation.

At a recent meeting of the Association of Responsible Management in Brooklyn Center, nearly 75 landlords and property managers arrived to learn about fire safety. City Manager Curt Boganey said landlords with the lowest licensing grades in town control just 15 percent of the rental market here. The other 85 percent are meeting requirements — a rate that belies some landlords’ complaints that the city’s standards are unrealistic, he said.

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“We probably still have three or four who think it’s a terrible idea or communism,” Boganey said. “They tell us it is not obtainable, but we can show them that most landlords are able to meet the requirements.”

Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services operates a landlord training program to show property owners how to keep illegal activity out of their buildings.

“It’s the only business that people get into with no experience at all. We wanted people to be informed,” program coordinator Mark Medrek said.

In five hours, trainers teach the “legal nuts and bolts” of city housing codes, how to screen for tenants who are less likely to cause programs and how to properly evict renters, Medrek said.

John Campbell, founder of Campbell DeLong Resources LLC in Portland, Ore., has trained thousands of landlords in 34 states since 1989. His classes focus on how to prevent crime in rental properties, but have expanded to include how landlords can help improve neighborhoods.

“There’s a lot of stuff you need to know: housing law, city and county codes, nuisance laws,” Campbell said. “The point of the program is to ask them to do more than the minimum. If we just taught people the lowest common denominator we wouldn’t see any change at all.”

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