Hagerstown, MD: Rental Property Licensing
Known as the “Hub City,” Hagerstown sits at the crossroads of several major interstate highways and railroads in Western Maryland. The 40,000-person city introduced a Rental Property Licensing Program in 2003 “to promote safety, health, and habitability in rental housing.” City leaders also sought to encourage responsible management and operation of rental properties through licensure and inspections. The ordinance requires an annual registration fee of $75 per unit, annual exterior inspections, and interior inspections after four years when a new tenant moves in.
- 40,000-person city introduced a Rental Licensing Program in 2003 “to promote safety, health, and habitability in rental housing.
- The city needed to create a systematic way to flag non-compliant properties—without burdening staff with hours of research
- Using BuildingBlocks, the city was able to increase compliance and reduce staff hours by letting the software automatically identify non-compliant rentals
Neighborhood Services Manager Paul Fulk and his staff are responsible for managing the Program, including carrying out the inspections and ensuring compliance across thousands of rental properties. But because reporting tenant turnovers is voluntary and there was no way to trigger an inspection when a new tenant moves in, Fulk’s team primarily relied on the goodwill of landlords to stay compliant. His inspectors would also make note of moving trucks while in the field to identify potential turnover. They would then have to cross-check these observations against the registration database, utility billing info, and other systems back in the office to determine whether a follow-up was warranted. Relying on tax assessment information for owner occupancy and program eligibility was not always reliable. Letters mistakenly sent to resident homeowners based on the best available information were sometimes met with a prickly response. So Fulk was left with two unappealing options: rely on voluntary compliance and miss some unlicensed rental units, or aggressively pursue all potential landlords and risk upsetting upstanding citizens.
“I could make countless reports but by the time I analyzed them they would already be stale.”
Fulk realized that in order to manage the Program more efficiently, he would need to create a systematic way to flag non-compliant properties—without burdening his staff with hours of research or inundating residents with unnecessary outreach. To be more proactive, he put together complex reports that compared the property address, taxable owner mailing address, property transfers, utility billing information, existing registrations & inspections, and more to help identify unregistered landlords and units in need of inspection. This helped, but it was also time-consuming and needed to be repeated on a regular basis. Said Fulk, ““I could make countless reports but by the time I analyzed them they would already be stale.”
So when he learned about the BuildingBlocks application, which brings together data from any system into a map-based platform, he realized the potential to automate his manual report, save his inspectors hours of desk research, and prioritize his team’s outreach & inspections. During implementation of BuildingBlocks, Fulk prioritized the four data sets that he knew would allow for his team to stay on top of the required inspections and properties out of compliance. Tolemi Data Engineers set up custom filters, including one that flagged properties where the utility billing address changed in the past 30 days and another that compared the owner mailing address with the property address on any unit that sold in the past 30 days. With the Alerts and Share features, Fulk can automatically drop an email in the inbox of each of his inspectors every week with a list of new properties that need to be inspected because of tenant changeover and potential unregistered properties. With more than 150 properties per month needing inspections, Fulk estimates that he is capturing an additional $10,000 in fees, while saving his team hours of desk work every week.