HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) — Police in Hagerstown plan to step up efforts to pursue landlords who rent to drug users and dealers.

Washington County Assistant State’s Attorney Brett Wilson tells the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown (http://bit.ly/11z0OsM ) that in one year, the police department served about 50 drug-related search warrants “to make it uncomfortable for the dealers.”

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“With the nuisance abatement (ordinance), you take it one step further and you make it uncomfortable for the land owners who don’t oversee their building … and, with a wink and a nod, allow them to become drug-infested ratholes,” he said.

It can be difficult to prove a landlord has failed to stop known drug activity, but if it is proven, courts can make landlords take remedial actions, such as installing security cameras.

Most landlords who receive notices are responsive and the problem is often solved by evicting the tenant, said Police Chief Mark Holtzman.

“We have had a good response from almost every landlord that we’ve sent a letter to (notifying them) that illegal drug activity is taking place,” he said.

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Landlords can reduce the risk of legal troubles by being proactive, including performing background checks and visiting properties, Holtzman said.

“You can’t be an absentee landlord and expect the property to manage itself,” Holtzman said.

Councilwoman Penny Nigh, a longtime proponent of holding landlords accountable for renting to drug users and dealers, said she supports the idea.

“That’s what needs to be done,” she said. “I have no problem with the police going after landlords.”

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