Landlords Criticize Evictions Bill

Legislation would tie property managers’ hands when attempting to issue evictions, they say

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Jheanelle Wilkins

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State legislation that would require Montgomery County landlords to provide “just cause,” for issuing evictions has drawn ire from apartment managers and apartment associations, who fear the bill would incumber the process of evicting “problem tenants.”

Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, who represents parts of Silver Spring and Takoma Park, plans to introduce a bill in the legislative session in Annapolis that begins Jan. 9 that would restrict evictions to certain types of tenant violations and guarantee tenants a minimum of 60-days notice prior to being evicted. Reasons a tenant could be evicted from a property would include breach of a lease, disorderly conduct, property damage or refusal to grant access to the landlord in the event that repairs need to be made.

Wilkins also hopes to prevent tenants from being evicted for retaliatory reasons, or from having a landlord decline to renew their lease.

“We have a situation currently where residents, for no stated reason, with [less than] 60-days notice, are finding themselves without a place to live,” Wilkins said during a public hearing with members of the Montgomery County delegation on Monday night.

During the hearing, both proponents and opponents testified on the bill, with a dozen people voicing opposition. Ron Wineholt, the vice president of government affairs for the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, said that in his observation, “99 percent of tenants” pay their rent on time and abide by the terms of the lease. With the 60-day required notice, he worries that Wilkins’ bill could prolong an already lengthy process of evicting “problem tenants,” interfering with the quiet enjoyment of the property by other tenants.

“This bill would tie landlords’ hands in terms of being able to remove problem tenants,” he said.

Asked by delegate-elect Gabriel Acevero, of Montgomery Village, whether tenants deserved “due process” before being evicted, Wineholt replied quizzically.

“What is due process? This is not the tenant’s property,” he said.

“What we’re saying is that we’ve leased the property to you, it’s for a fixed term … This is not a life estate. This is a tenancy, and when I sign that contract, I sign it with the knowledge that the tenant agreed that the landlord can walk away,” he said.

Robert Enten, a lobbyist and Baltimore attorney who represents landlord associations, cited a report last year by Montgomery County’s Office of Legislative Oversight that found there were only 836 evictions in a county with more than 130,000 rental units. Evictions, he said, cost property management companies “thousands of dollars.”

“The last thing that any landlord wants to do whether it’s at the beginning of the term or the end of the term, is evict a tenant,” he said.

Wilkins insisted that most of the criticism she received from the landlords Monday night doesn’t apply  to her bill. In an email to Bethesda Beat, she wrote that landlords still have the ability to file a breach of lease action in court, with a resolution occurring in as little as two weeks.

“If the landlord waits until the end of a lease, under my bill they have to provide a reason on the notice to vacate. If the tenant doesn’t leave, they [the landlord] have to go to court to force the tenant with or without my bill,” she wrote.

Some delegation members, including Del. Kathleen Dumais, of Germantown, questioned whether Wilkins’ bill would be beneficial.

“A lease is a contract… how is it that we as a government can bypass the contract? …That’s really the piece that I struggle with as a lawyer,” she said.

Del. Ben Kramer, of Wheaton, said he agreed that tenants shouldn’t be evicted arbitrarily or as a form of retaliation. But Kramer, who owns commercial properties, noted that Maryland already has a law on the books that protects tenants from retaliatory evictions and prevents landlords from being able to increase rent or decrease services.

“This is a significant piece of legislation that will have an effect on contract law,” he said of Wilkins’ bill.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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