City of Frostburg Releases Updated Data on Rental Property Inspections
Analysis of Data Indicates that City is Possibly Below Pace on Inspections of Residential Rental Properties
The City of Frostburg released on May 6 updated information about rental housing in the City of Frostburg, in the wake of The Bottom line’s May 1 story revealing that the city is behind on rental property inspections.
City Administrator John Kirby said in a media release that the data cited in the story was either inaccurate or incomplete.
As a result of a February 25 Public Information request by The Bottom Line, City Hall officials provided data on residential rental properties on March 25. As provided, this data indicated that no residential rental inspection had occurred since December 17, 2014. Inspections are required to be conducted every three years, as per the rental housing code. As presented, this data indicated that over 700 properties were out of compliance with the rental housing code.
Kirby said that this data was incomplete. He said that 191 inspections were conducted in 2015 and that 187 inspections are scheduled for 2016. 45 Inspections have been completed thus far, according to the media release.
Asked why incomplete and inaccurate data was given to The Bottom Line, Kirby said that the city is not required to provide or create a document that is not in existence.
According to Kirby, there was no document at the time of the request containing complete inspection data for 2015 and 2016. Because it didn’t exist, they were not required by law to provide it, he said.
“The Maryland Public Information Act provides access to ‘public documents or records,’ but does not require a public agency to create a document or record if one does not exist,” Kirby said.
Kirby did explain further that the data did exist in the form of 766 individual paper files.
“Compiling the data within the files is not required under the Act,” he said.
However, McBride did tell The Bottom Line on April 5 that she would provide a complete document in about two weeks. This data still has not been provided.
“It is our hope for the future to automate these processes,” Kirby said. “Again it is the same few people that manage the program, answer the telephone, meet with renters or owners, conduct Property Maintenance Code actions on trash, grass, snow, etc.. and visit properties when renter complaints are filed. Resources of time, money and especially people are our greatest challenge. It is the same for our Police Department, our Street Department and the Office of City Administrator, which consists of me. We operate as thinly as possible within the limited resources of our community.”
City Hall officials went above the requirements of the law to provide the updated information to local media and to the community, Kirby said.
“We have invested the time to provide you and all the media in our area with a full and accurate accounting,” he added. “The numbers provided in our Media Release today are accurate.”
According to data provided by Kirby, 191 residential rental properties were inspected in 2015, with 187 scheduled for 2016. According to previous data provided by Rental Housing Officer Laura McBride, 18 inspections occurred in 2014.
This is a total of 396 inspections over three years, in a city where the 766 rental properties are required to be inspected every three years.
At the City’s current rate of inspection – which is 189 a year, discounting the outlier of 18 inspections in 2014 – 567 properties would be inspected over three years. This represents 75 percent of Frostburg’s rental properties.
“Often property owners will wait towards until the end of the period to get their inspections,” Kirby explained. “Others have a policy of waiting until the student tenants have left before arranging the inspection. Both actions make the pace of inspections look artificially slow, but all catch up before the end of the [three year inspection] cycle.”
However, if only 396 properties were inspected since 2014, that still leaves 370 properties that were not inspected since before 2014. That represents 48 percent of Frostburg’s rental properties
Kirby did not provide a list of Frostburg’s residential rental properties with the date of their last inspection. The Bottom Line has requested this information.
The updated data also indicated that there are 766 rental properties in Frostburg, 164 fewer than 930, the number of properties according to the initial dataset.
Frostburg rental properties are inspected every three years by an independent inspector who has the “required State and City licenses, certifications and insurance,” Kirby wrote.
A-1 Inspections of Cumberland, Md., and Megco Inspections of Keyser, WV. are the two companies licensed to inspect properties in Frostburg. Representatives from both companies have previously said to refer all questions about inspections to City Hall.
According to Kirby’s media release, five complaints were made in 2015 in regards to rental properties. They were all resolved with the properties in compliance. The release does not list addresses or alleged violations.
So far in 2016, four complaints have been made. Addresses have been listed, but not specific violations. The addresses listed are:
“143-145 W. College Avenue – Complaint Resolved; Property Vacant
118 A/1 W. Mechanic Street – Complaint Resolved; Property in Compliance
240 Center Street – Complaint Resolved; Property in Compliance
2 S. Broadway, Apt. 3 – Complaint Resolved; Property in Compliance”
Inspectors could lose their licences for conducting fraudulent inspections, according to Kirby.
“The Codes that apply to rental housing in the City of Frostburg are national codes and are designed to ensure safe living conditions at the time of the inspection,” Kirby wrote. “Actions by either the property owner or the tenants after the inspections are complete are beyond the ability of any government entity to prevent or correct. The fees for the initial inspection are collected by the City as part of the Annual Registration Fee. Inspectors charge the property owners directly for follow up inspections.”
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.