FSU Students Lobby City Hall for Improved Rental Housing Conditions
A group of eight Frostburg State University students lobbied on April 21 for increased oversight over rental housing conditions at a public meeting with the Frostburg Mayor and Council. The students’ presentation was scheduled as a part of the meeting’s agenda.
Dr. Kathleen Powell’s “Citizen Leader” class has organized this semester to influence change in rental housing conditions and inspections. On April 12, they held an on campus forum to discuss this topic, in which many students voiced concerns about poor conditions and inspections.
“We came here to speak about FSU student experiences in rental properties,” said Dakota Warner, noting that about 70 percent of FSU students live off campus. “The concerns of Frostburg students are real.”
In response to their presentation, Mayor Bob Flanigan thanked the students for their time, wished them luck for the rest of their semesters, and suggested meeting in the fall with an “advisory board” that includes students. The other city council members did not comment on the presentation.
“I want you to concentrate on studying and finishing this semester,” Flanigan told the students.
Most of the students in the group are graduating seniors.
Flanigan, who is a landlord in the City of Frostburg, declined an interview with The Bottom Line at the meeting.
Students are currently working on a plan to continue their advocacy for off-campus housing issues next semester. They said they are considering reaching out to Student Government Association to improve off-campus housing conditions.
SGA President James Kirk said, “SGA takes all student concerns about off-campus issues very seriously. We would welcome the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with students and do whatever possible to improve the quality of off-campus student life.”
Flanigan told The Bottom Line in an email that, “I am more than happy to meet with SGA and start an open dialogue about off-campus housing.”
Students said they felt like Flanigan was not receptive to the presentation.
Gabby Cousino, one of the students, said in a later interview, “I just wish that they didn’t let the information bounce off. I wish that the information would have sunk in more than it actually did.”
“We didn’t come in trying to attack [Flanigan],” she said. “We didn’t come in trying to attack anybody. We were coming in to give information to start change.”
At the meeting, Flanigan argued that not all landlords are negligent or exploitive, using himself as an example of a good landlord.
“One of the first things I pushed for was safer housing for our students,” he said in a later email to The Bottom Line. “We have come leaps and bounds from 2008.”
In 2014, the Mayor and Council enacted a new rental housing code that Powell criticized for putting too much power in the hands of the landlords. Under this code, the Mayor and Council certify inspectors. Then, landlords may handpick inspectors from a list of certified inspectors to conduct inspections every three years, with 180 days of notice before an inspection. Inspectors are paid by the landlord at the time of the inspection.
The students did agree with Flanigan that there are a number of good landlords who don’t exploit students.
“The good landlords are going to keep doing a good job regardless,” said Erin Kroder. “But it’s the bad landlords that I think are going to keep doing it if the law doesn’t prevent them from it.”
Camden Pipgrass expressed uncertainty over whether poor conditions fall more on the landlords or the inspectors.
Although the students agreed that conditions ultimately fall to the landlords, Powell said that “The whole idea of having an inspector is to regulate the market, to ensure there are safe conditions for tenants.”
“There need to be more regulations on the inspectors,” Kroder said, questioning how inspectors can be held accountable. “Who’s making sure that houses are being inspected?”
“It is a real problem that is affecting students,” she added.
Asean Townsend voiced concern that “there is an apparent conflict of interest” when students “have to go to a landlord to solve this problem.”
Flanigan is a landlord in the City of Frostburg, owning 17 properties and a total 136 rental units, according to data provided by City Hall as a result of a public information request. A rental unit is any dwelling unit – such as an apartment – that the owner does not occupy, according to the city’s rental housing code.
As a result of a February 26 public information request, Rental Housing Officer Laura McBride provided The Bottom Line with a list of all rental properties and landlords. That spreadsheet, provided 30 days later on March 25, can be found here.
A spreadsheet with Flanigan’s properties can be found here.
Of Flanigan’s 17 properties, five are on Welsh Hill Road, five are on South Grant Street, four are on Braddock Street, one is on Spring Street, and one is on Linden Avenue.
His rental units are most concentrated on Braddock Street, where he has 69 units. Twenty are on 324 Braddock Street, 17 are on 332 Braddock Street, 16 are at 328 Braddock Street, and 16 are at 316 Braddock Street.