‘Just Cause’ Tenant Rights Bill Dead in State Legislature

‘Just Cause’ Tenant Rights Bill Dead in State Legislature

County Council is considering an alternative to offer protections to renters

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A bill in the Maryland General Assembly that would have required landlords to give a reason, or “just cause” for evicting a tenant, has died.

The bill, sponsored by Montgomery Democratic Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, was voted down in the House Environment and Transportation Committee, 17- 2, with four members absent.

The two lawmakers who voted in favor of the bill this week were Delegates Vaughn Stewart and Sara Love, both Montgomery Democrats. Among those voting against the bill were Delegates Jim Gilchrist and committee chairman Kumar Barve, who both represent a district that includes Rockville and Gaithersburg.

Barve said Friday morning that he opposed the legislation because it would have put the burden of proof on landlords to demonstrate that a lease should not be renewed, which would have likely lead to thousands of dollars in court costs.

“If we create a legal climate where the landlord has to prove why to discontinue a lease, people will stop building apartment buildings in Montgomery County,” he said.

Barve said the increased legal fees and red tape will make enforcement of wrongdoers, such as smokers, more difficult. He said that landlords have to be able to enforce what amounts to a contract.

“When you enter into a contract, you [as a tenant] are free to leave the contract at the end of the term,” he said. “This would have made it very difficult and expensive not to renew the lease.”

Wilkins wrote in a news release that she was disappointed in the outcome.

“This legislation has the overwhelming support of the county’s leadership and state delegation. This renters’ rights bill deserves full passage. It is largely unprecedented for a committee to vote down a local bill with such a combined mandate,” she wrote.

Additionally, County Executive Marc Elrich, an advocate of tenants rights, wrote that he was worried about some vulnerable tenants who could be evicted for complaining about the conditions in their complex.

“We need to protect our residents from the abusive or retaliatory acts of some landlords,” he wrote.

While the state’s bill is dead, the County Council is considering legislation that would allow tenants to break their leases if the landlord fails to correct mold or rodent infestations within 30 days of being ordered to do so by county inspectors.

Barve said he thought that was a “much more reasonable” suggestion than the just cause bill.

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

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