BERLIN — It took some doing, but the Town Council along with Mayor Gee Williams, town staffers and members of the public hammered out a framework that would require all landlords to be licensed.
The proposal will be fine-tuned in time for Monday’s council meeting, when it will have it’s first public hearing and likely be adopted before September’s end.
The landlord licensing ordinance uses aspects of the town code already in place to allow for a more effective way of enforcing property standards.
Both Planning Supervisor Chuck Ward and Williams emphasized that this was not about treating rental homes differently but about providing tools of enforcement to make sure that those renting or leasing their properties can be held accountable to keep their businesses in acceptable shape.
As soon as the law passes, landlords will be required to have a license for each property they run. This new license will take the place of the business licenses they are already paying for and will not include an additional fee for the current year.
When a landlord’s business license renewal is due, the $10 fee will still apply but it will be for the landlord license rather than a straight business license.
Although the council spent a fair amount of time discussing extreme circumstances and hashing out scenarios, the essence of the measure is that landlords will have to respond quickly to code violations or risk losing their licenses. Any rental home not licensed to rent will have to be vacated.
Rentals will also be subject to inspection but Ward was clear that there is no random inspection policy and that they will generally be conducted in response to a complaint. Should a particular property be the subject of continued complaints or violations, however, the new rules would give the code enforcer the power to order inspections of all houses owned by that landlord.
“And that’s why zoning is the specific type of law that it is,” Ward said. “Each case is different and each case is appealable.”
The original wording said that if a landlord becomes a habitual offender, the town has the power to revoke the license for all of the owner’s properties. This measure was considered too harsh so each property will be licensed separately and recalcitrant landlords can only have individual property licenses revoked.
“I think we want this to be tough but we also want it to be fair,” Williams said of the change.
Cam Bunting, a local Realtor who does a significant amount of rental business in Ocean Pines, worried about the increased response requirements.
She pointed out that she often has to jump and run every time something is even a little bit askew on one of the Ocean Pines properties she manages.
Williams said that most of the time the town doesn’t get petty calls. He said the whole reason for the stricter response rules was to get the attention of inattentive landlords.
One of the major aspects of the proposed legislation is that it allows the town to prevent people, in a way, from parking on their lawns. While there is no ordinance preventing the practice, if someone parks on the grass to the point that it becomes rutted and worn, it falls under the classification of a driveway and can be cited as one.
The council directed Ward to begin to create an application in anticipation of the law’s passage and to devise a plan to get all landlords registered as soon as possible. Williams was adamant that the town put the new rules to the test directly.
While the landlord situation is solved, vacant and vacated houses, which was the other item of interest was not addressed.
Councilwoman Paula Lynch pointed out that poorly kept vacant homes were more a blemish on the town than unkempt rentals. Having already exhausted two hours hashing out the landlord issue, the council scheduled a public work session for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 29.