A representative for County Executive Marc Elrich and several organizations on Tuesday spoke in support of legislation to extend protections for renters during the coronavirus pandemic.
The legislation, proposed by Council Member Will Jawando, would continue to prevent landlords from raising rent more than the “voluntary rent guidelines” — set each year by the county executive, currently at 1.4% — and charging late fees.
Under the bill, those protections for tenants would apply through Aug. 12, 2022.
Landlords do not have to return late fees already collected during the pandemic, the legislation states.
Aseem Nigam, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Affairs, said during a public hearing Tuesday that there is still a need to help people struggling to pay rent, even if public health conditions countywide are better than earlier in the pandemic.
“The economic recovery is going to take longer than the health recovery,” Nigam said. “Many of the jobs people used to work no longer exist, or have seen their hours cut. It will take time for people to prepare for and access employment.”
William Roberts, chair of the board of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, said many renters countywide are still facing economic challenges that began early last year.
He urged the county’s Department of Health and Human Services and other county officials to continue getting assistance money out to residents who are behind on rent, and called on landlords, tenants and the county to work together toward that goal.
“We understand … landlords’ right to run a business, and operate a business to turn a profit,” Roberts said. “But drastically raising rents to increase profits while the pandemic continues to bear down on renters who are struggling just isn’t responsible at this time.”
A majority of those who testified Tuesday were in support of Jawando’s bill, but not everyone.
Mark Dickson-Patrick, a property manager who oversees 386 rental units countywide, said Tuesday he and others face major increases in the producer price index. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been an 18.8% increase in cost over the last 12 months for goods in the construction industry.
He said that if the legislation is passed, then property managers are going to have to reduce expenses, which usually means eliminating jobs.
“We’re going to have to cut back, and where does that cut often take place? In payroll, in positions,” Dickson-Patrick said. “And we’re going to see a lot more Montgomery County residents out of a job, unfortunately, because of the fact that we’re not able to raise rents to meet the expenses because of this.”
But others said the need to protect tenants who were at risk of eviction was paramount.
Brandy Brooks, who is running for an at-large seat on the County Council next year, said it was important to protect those at risk of eviction, especially as enhanced unemployment insurance benefits and federal and state eviction protections have ended.
“If the County Council does not vote to maintain this rent cap, the immediate and unavoidable impact will not be an increase in revenue to landlords,” Brooks said. “It will be to push struggling and desperate renters out of their homes, and out of our community.”
Jawando’s bill is expedited legislation, meaning it becomes law whenever Elrich signs it, if the County Council passes it.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org