Tenants Michelle Rosario and Amina Whynn discuss housing citations at their East Preston Street apartment building, which was cited for multiple violations in January.
It is an unfortunate reality that some landlords who fail newly required inspections for one- and two-family rental units in Baltimore will conclude that making the necessary repairs isn’t worth it, and low-income tenants will be displaced as a result. But the answer is for Baltimore to invest more in safe, high-quality affordable housing and assistance for tenants — not to coddle slumlords.
Statistics The Sun’s Doug Donovan reported last week show widespread compliance among landlords with the new rules, which require all rental units to meet a basic set of standards. Previously, only buildings with three or more units were required to pass inspections, but those made up a minority of the city’s rental housing — a little over 3,000 properties. Under the expanded registration system, some 19,000 previously exempt properties had gone through the registration process by late last month, with more than 20,000 others at least part of the way through the process. Hundreds of private housing inspectors have signed up to conduct the property reviews, which require basic standards of habitability, such as running hot and cold water, functioning toilets, safe electrical systems, a lack of water damage and working smoke detectors.
The reform was long overdue — after all, why should a tenant’s safety depend on how many units are in a building? And for the most part, it seems to be working.
Inevitably, though, there will be some landlords who will refuse to make the necessary repairs, forcing tenants out onto the street. The sad truth is that some people in the property rental business in Baltimore have been all too willing to profit off of others’ poverty and desperation, collecting rent for properties in which no one should have to live.
Allowing landlords to rent out apartments with exposed wiring, holes in the walls or ceilings, leaking plumbing and no heat is not and never was a solution to Baltimore’s affordable housing crisis. Anyone who thinks they were doing a good deed by providing slum housing to Baltimore’s poor is delusional.
The big picture, though, is that Baltimore has a massive deficit of safe, affordable housing. After years of effort by advocates and a successful campaign to put the issue on the ballot in Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh last year agreed to invest $20 million a year to support an affordable housing trust fund. That’s expected to create, rehabilitate or preserve 4,100 units over the next 10 years — a good start but nowhere near what we need. The reason people are living in substandard housing units is not, as Mr. Grasso would suggest, by choice but by necessity. We need not only to require that landlords follow safe housing laws but also to make sure tenants have better options.