Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Legislative, regulatory changes could be used to stem housing violations - Gazette

by Melissa J. Brachfeld | Staff Writer | July 23, 2008

A work group designed to help stem widespread housing code violations in neighborhoods across the county told the County Council on Thursday it is formulating recommendations for legislative and regulatory changes.

Thomas Street, assistant chief administrative officer for the county, said Monday the County Executive Code Enforcement Work Group hopes to present a report to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and the council in September.

‘‘We are addressing many of the issues that were raised by citizen and civic associations that we’ve heard from,” he said.

Members of the Aspen Hill Civic Association have long been concerned about what they feel are uneven code enforcement and poor coordination among county agencies when it comes to citing offenders.

Specifically, they have cited unkempt properties, cars parked on front lawns, overcrowded homes and vehicles without license plates among other concerns.

Residents across the county have shared their concerns.

In March, Leggett convened a group of officials from county agencies and invited residents to attend.

Over the last several months, the internal work group, which consists of more than a dozen representatives from county agencies, has reviewed a number of case studies and found similarities, Street said.

He said the proposed solutions to residents’ concerns fall into three categories: legislative changes to chapters of the County Code; improved coordination and cross training for the departments of permitting services, housing, fire and rescue, police and Environmental Protection staff; and educational programs for residents and community associations that inform property owners of their rights and responsibilities.

According to a memorandum from Street to County Council President Michael J. Knapp (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown and Vice President Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg, the work group is considering drafting legislation that would address parking limits for oversized, commercial and recreational vehicles; clarify and limit home occupations; require permit expiration dates and more than one inspection in a 12-month period; and increase fines for various violations.

In terms of regulatory changes, the group is considering implementing a revised abatement program for repeat code offenders and others.

The work group is also addressing reports of overcrowded residences. Already, the memorandum states, real estate professionals have been more closely monitoring and correcting the number of bedrooms advertised in property listings.

In addition, the work group has suggested cross training inspectors from different county agencies to observe and report suspected overcrowding situations to the Department of Housing and Community Affairs.

Street said there has also been increased inspection activity in Aspen Hill.

Knapp said members of the council’s Public Safety and Planning, Housing and Economic Development committees had ‘‘a lot of questions” after the update. He noted some issues would be difficult to address and could not see any ‘‘straightforward” solutions.

‘‘There are no easy right answers on this stuff,” he said. ‘‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

Alan Bowser, president of the Park Hills Civic Association and a member of the Silver Spring Advisory Board, said he was pleased with the group’s efforts and ‘‘encouraged by the scope of the recommendations, but there’s still a lot more work to be done.”

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