Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason has recommended that the office of landlord-tenant affairs come under the jurisdiction of the department of environmental protection to end "turf battles" that have plagued both agencies for the past four years.
The proposed reorganization of landlord-tenant affairs resulted from the frequent personality conflicts between the staff of both agencies over how housing inspections of rental units are handled, according to William Hussmann, Gleason's chief assistant.
Gleason's proposal must still be ratified by the County Council which will resume its sessions in September. But the executive's recommendation has already met with stiff opposition from the staff members of landlord-tenant affiars who say they fear theat Gleason's move foreshadows the demise of the landlord-tenant office.
An official from landlord-tenant affairs, who asked not to be named, called the proposed reorganization a reaction against Tom Hamilton, who was described as "an outspoken and controversial director" of landlord-tenant affairs.
But Hussmann, who recommended the reorganization plan to the county exexcutive, said the county is simply moving to end the "pretty bickering" between the agencies.
"I don't have the time to referee these conflicts," said Hussmannn. "They were never conflicts over public issues . . . just turf battles."
Since 1975, when landlord-tenant affairs began operating as an independent agency, its responsibilities have overlapped with those of envirnonmental protection, with housing inspectors from the environmental office checking apartments for housing code violations and issuing citations for landlord-tenant affairs.
The "bickering" between the agencies centers around the housing inspectors. Hamilton has complained several times that the inspectors were frequently behind in their inspections so that at present, fewer than one third of Montgomery's 47,000 rental units have been fully licensed.
Hamilton also complained that the housing inspectors frequently cited landlords incorrectly for housing violations. In a memorandum to Hussmann last January, Hamilton criticized the inspectors for the "shabby, unprofessional appearance (torn pages . . . smudges, white outs)" of the citations they issued to the public.
At Hussmann's request, Hamilton submitted a proposal recently to the executive branch, asking that responsibility for housing inspections be taken away from environmental protection and given to his own office.
Hamilton proposed using fewer housing inspectors than environmental protection does now and cutting down on the inspectors' salaries, thus saving the country $100,000.
Also at Hussmann's request, Fran Abrams, director of environmental protection, submitted her own reorganization plan. That plan - which is supported by Gleason - would place call employees of landlord-tenant affairs under her supervision.
Also under her proposal, landlord-tenant affairs would no longer be responsible for apartment inspection or the evaluation of complaints about the physical maintenance of rental units.
Hamilton's office would still be responsible, though, for the investigation and conciliation of all other landlord-tenant disputes.
Abrams, in her proposal, notes that her reorganization plan would result in "minor cost savings" for the county.
Melvin Tall, who supervises the housing inspectors for environmental protection said the proposed reorganization "should simplify" the work of both agencies. "We think (the plan) is going to work out very well. There shouldn't be any hard feelings," he added.
Tall said that many of Montgomery's rental units have not been licensed, not because inspectors are remiss in making inspections, but because it takes landlords so long to collect their violations. The office of landlord-tenant affairs cannot issue a rental license if there is even a single violation.
All rental units are required to be inspected once every two years under the law.