County Council members unanimously approved on Tuesday a protection for county renters, preventing late fees against tenants who fail to pay rent.
The legislation also limits the amount that rent can be increased until mid-2022.
Council Member Will Jawando was the lead sponsor of the bill. Previously, the bill extended the period that landlords could not exceed the “voluntary rent guidelines” annually — set each year by the county executive, currently at 1.4% — until Aug. 15, 2022.
But Jawando and Council Member Hans Riemer negotiated that timeline as part of discussions within the council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development committee and other county officials. The council agreed to move that timeline up Tuesday, changing the extension deadline to May 15, 2022.
Even though tenants would not have to pay late fees through that date, landlords would also not have to return any fees collected during the pandemic, according to the bill.
Multiple council members said they know that neither side felt the end product was perfect, but appreciated the deliberations.
Council Member Sidney Katz said the amended timeline helps renters who are struggling financially but also landlords and property owners who need to pay their bills.
“Candidly, there has never been a compromise that’s perfect, and neither is this one,” Katz said. “Having said that, I do believe this compromise is probably the best that we can come up with to keep as many people whole [as possible].”
Council members voted 8-1, however, on amendments suggested by the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Christine Wellons, a legislative attorney for the County Council, said those amendments changed the legislation in two ways:
- Removed the qualification that renters needed to owe at least $1,000 in rent to qualify for late fee exemptions outlined in the bill
- In order to receive the exemption for the late fees, the tenant must sign an attestation. The amendment states that the landlord cannot challenge the veracity of this attestation, or require proof of it for the tenant to be waived from paying late fees.
Council Member Andrew Friedson voted against the Department of Housing and Community Affairs changes, although he voted for the overall bill.
He said the assistance to renters should have been more targeted to residents who really needed assistance. And rent control can affect residents moving into Montgomery County, he said.
“You look at certain places with significant rent control: The cost of new housing is really expensive,” Friedson said. “And so there’s an equity issue with a county that is getting more and more diverse with more and more new residents.”
The bill is expedited legislation, meaning it becomes law as soon as County Executive Marc Elrich signs it.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org