The Gaithersburg City Council is considering extending protections for renters in the city through May 15 to help them during the continued economic hardship of the COVID-19 pandemic. The council introduced the extension measure on Monday.
In July 2020, the council passed an emergency measure that prohibits landlords from raising rent above Montgomery County’s voluntary rent guidelines, which are set annually by the county executive. Last year’s rate was 2.6% and this year’s is 1.4%.
Gaithersburg’s legislation last year also required landlords to tell tenants to disregard any notices of rent increase above the guidelines.
The Gaithersburg rental relief legislation expired on Nov. 15, which was 90 days after the end of Gov. Larry Hogan’s declared state of emergency in August, according to Kevin Roman of Gaithersburg’s Planning and Code Administration department.
However, Roman said Monday that landlords in Gaithersburg must give two months’ notice to tenants for rent increases, meaning that Jan. 15 is the effective end date for the rent cap.
The emergency legislation the council is considering is aimed at helping tenants stay in their homes while the pandemic continues, Roman explained. If passed, the limits on rent increases would extend to May 15, 2022.
The County Council last month passed similar legislation that ensures rent doesn’t exceed the voluntary rent guidelines through May 15. That bill, sponsored by Council Member Will Jawando, also prohibits late fees against tenants who fail to pay rent through May 15.
Mayor Jud Ashman said on Monday that he’s normally reluctant to “get involved in rent control,” but understands the economic strain that the pandemic has had on people.
“I’m sure all of us can agree we want to have affordable options for everybody. We don’t want to see anybody being evicted,” he said.
Ashman said he worries about the consequences that prohibiting rent increases can have on the market, such as causing initial rents to increase overall.
“There can be other things that unintentionally become more exclusionary about what residents are eligible to rent and the initial costs for renting,” he said. “So, I’m skeptical about these things, but it’s only until May, so if it’s the council’s decision to introduce, so be it.”
All five council members voted to introduce the legislation. They are scheduled to hold a public hearing the first week in January.
Dan Schere can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org