St. Mary's County commissioners have asked department heads to review rental housing regulations and may press for reforms that could include periodic inspections of such dwellings.
The directives follow complaints of poor conditions, including no heat and broken windows, in some of the 30 homes in the Garrett Park trailer park in Park Hall.
Commissioners at their weekly meeting on Tuesday requested a review that could result in new regulations as soon as next month, said Board of Commissioners President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large).
"We are asking our department heads to look at the livability code and take a look at how we are enforcing the code, and make recommendations on changes in enforcement," Randall said.
Meanwhile, county officials said they had yet to inspect the dwellings at Garrett Park, about 12 miles south of the county seat of Leonardtown, because none of the tenants had sent in a formal written complaint.
Government inspectors "can't go unless they get a written complaint," said county spokeswoman Yvonne Nutter York. "To me they're in a quandary."
Commissioner Randall said that restriction will come in for close scrutiny.
"Why do you need something in writing?" Randall said. "You should not have to wait until you have all this paperwork in order."
She said county officials would make recommendations that could include periodic inspections of rental housing.
"The issue will not go away," Randall said. "We need to take a fresh look."
Commissioner Joseph F. Anderson (D-Drayden), vice president of the board, said commissioners want to investigate "the whole issue of what we can require our landlords to do."
Anderson said that as county officials identify substandard housing, they might require that deficiencies "be corrected before it can be rented again. Period."
Currently county inspectors require a copy of a tenant's written complaint to their landlord before they will act. The county's first response is to write a letter notifying the landlord of possible violations.
If the complaining tenant moves on or is evicted, the county investigation ceases.
Critics say such a system encourages exploitation of some poor renters.
The housing conditions at Garrett Park were detailed in a Dec. 13 article in The Washington Post.
About 30 readers telephoned with offers of assistance for the family of Kathie Smith.
Smith, 21; her husband, Jeffrey Smith, 25, a carpenter and oyster shucker; and their two small children left their trailer Dec. 5 in the face of an eviction notice and a rent dispute.
The family moved to a relative's home, but needs to relocate soon because there is not enough room there, Kathie Smith said. She said that by the end of last week, she had received several offers of help.
According to housing advocates, the prolonged building boom in Southern Maryland has increased housing prices across the spectrum, and affordable housing is difficult to find for those with lower incomes.