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Baltimore wants rental properties cleaned up

BALTIMORE– Baltimore landlords are on notice to maintain their properties.

“With the increased numbers of rental and vacant properties, it’s vital that we all work together to make sure that our neighborhoods are safe and well maintained,” said Baltimore Mayor Robert Kalish. The Village of Baltimore recently announced implementation of a Rental and Vacant Property Maintenance program as village council members and administration are increasingly concerned about a rise in the number of deteriorating rental and vacant properties.

“This problem impacts the entire village in several negative ways,” said Village Administrator Marsha Hall in a press release. “The number of police calls and property maintenance complaints for these properties are increasing while neighborhood property values are decreasing.”

Hall was clear that village officials are aware that there are many responsible landlords doing business in the village. However, officials want to discourage those who are not good stewards to their tenants or neighborhoods. She said vacant property owners must understand that they continue to be responsible for property maintenance.

Hall said the 2000 Census showed that 37.2 percent of Baltimore’s housing units were renteroccupied 33.8 percent was the national average. “After reviewing county auditor and village water billing files, village officials believe this percentage will be much higher when the 2010 Census (rental information) is released in the near future,” she said. Hall said the 2000 Census also showed 53 vacant homes compared to 79 in the 2010 Census and an estimated 89 vacant units as of February 2011.

“Property maintenance complaints have continued to increase each year,” said Hall. Village Council established property maintenance enforcement as a complaint driven program, meaning that the village investigates a property when someone makes a complaint, either verbal or in writing, regarding a specific issue. In 2008, 30 complaints were handled; there were 42 complaints in 2009 and 67 in 2010.

Hall said a program consisting of education, assistance, and enforcement will assist landlords unsure of their responsibilities. Education will be provided through informational meetings and a published “Guide for Good Neighbors.” Neighbors of poorly maintained properties will be instructed as how to complain formally. To assist property owners with clean up, there will be highly advertised “Clean-Up Baltimore Days” May 7 and again in autumn.

“We want to work with the good landlords to improve the rental properties in their neighborhoods,” said Jim Hochradel, Council Service Committee chairman. “We hope to bring the pride back to those living in Baltimore by having special events, such as ‘Clean Up Baltimore Days.’”

Village officials hope education and assistance will provide property owners and renters with the encouragement they may need to maintain their properties well. However, as with every program of this nature, enforcement must play a key role. Council directed the administration to continue aggressive enforcement of complaints.

Baltimore Police Chief Michael Tussey and Hall will track the number of complaints and calls to rental or vacant properties. If the number of deteriorating properties isn’t significantly reduced, rental property registration and inspections may take place.

“The village has the legal ability to require landlords to maintain their properties,” said Hall. Baltimore uses the 2009 International Property Maintenance Code, which details requirements both exterior and interior. Most communities use this code, she said. Enforcement of that code requires the owner to permit inspection as needed. “As far as routine inspections go, a number of Ohio municipalities require this as a matter of routine registration of rentals,” said Hall. “It seems like our more severe problems are the ones with absentee landlords.”

Tussey said same areas of Baltimore consistently generate more police calls than others. “We are sending officers to some of the same residences over and over,” he said. “We need to find a way to make landlords aware of this.”

Village officials have scheduled an informational meeting regarding the rental and vacant properties program April 26, 7 p.m. at the Liberty Union-Thurston Elementary School multipurpose room. Landlords, property owners, and other interested people are invited. There will be a discussion of the problem, possible solutions, and what other steps may be taken of the condition of some rental units continue to deteriorate.

“We sent out 190 notices for the upcoming meeting for both rental properties and vacant properties,” said Hall. Some have multiple locations. Of those 190 notices, 129 landlords are from outside Baltimore, and eight are from outside Ohio.

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