New Montgomery County Law limits rent increases during state of emergency

County Executive Mark Elrich signed the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act on Apr. 24 prohibiting landlords from raising rent more than 2.6 percent during or for the 180 days after Maryland’s state of emergency. 

Councilmember Will Jawando proposed the bill in response to reports from Montgomery County residents that their landlords were dramatically raising rent, in some cases by over 40 percent. “We need to now, more than ever, protect our vulnerable populations,” Jawando said in a council meeting. 

Dede Greenfield
Responding to residents  Residents at Quebec Terrace apartment buildings in Long Branch have reported rent increases of 9%, and there have been increases as high as 60% in other parts of the county. 

The bill was co-sponsored by Council President Sidney Katz as well as Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and Craig Rice. 

Although the bill originally called for a complete ban of rent increases, Councilmember Tom Hucker introduced an amendment to allow rent increases of up to 2.6 percent, the County Executive’s recommended annual rent increase based on the rental component of the Consumer Price Index for the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area. The amendment passed by a 6-3 vote, with Councilmembers Jawando, Rice, and Navarro voting against it. 

The original proposal to completely halt rent increases drew concern. Councilmember Tom Hucker cited lost revenue in the form of taxes, the risk of a lack of a fiscal analysis regarding a ban on rent increases, and the ability of upper-income residents to pay the additional 2.6 percent as some of the reasons why the amendment was necessary. 

Other concerns included the fear that landlords would suffer if they were not permitted to increase rent at all. “We need to recognize that building owners also have obligations,” Councilmember Hans Riemer said in a council meeting.  

If rent was to go up, that would be pretty detrimental to our family.  
 Cecelia Dworak

Some housing organizations emphasized the need to ensure that landlords would be able to cover necessary maintenance costs. “There are continued expenses on the housing provider's side… and some increased expenses,” Nicola Whiteman, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, said. “You have more people sheltering… but that also means that some utility costs are increasing.”

The amendment faced criticism from some housing advocates. “We oppose any amendments that would allow for an increase [in rent] during this time,” Matthew Losak, co-founder and executive director of the Montgomery County Renter’s Alliance, said. “Renters, which make up 40 percent of the region’s population, are made vulnerable when rents are increased during this period and their housing becomes unstable.”

Potential rent increases are a source of stress in the lives of some families who have already been financially impacted by the covid-19 pandemic.  

“Rent is a big obligation every month, and with my mom's pay being cut, there needs to be some sort of reassurance that it's not going to go up,” senior Cecelia Dworak, whose mother’s working hours have been cut in half because of the faltering economy, said. “If rent was to go up, that would be pretty detrimental to our family.”

Throughout negotiations, Jawando ardently maintained that any increase in rent would harm tenants. “Whatever those marginal increases you receive as a property owner from people who could afford them are not going to get those property owners out of the disaster we’re in, but it could devastate the people who are impacted by it,” Jawando said in a council meeting.

Despite disagreements about the change to allow rent increases, all involved agree that the bill was a necessary measure to protect both renters and landlords. “It's not what I had hoped for, but it's better than not having any particular guideline at all,” Councilmember Navarro said. 

In addition to the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act, the Montgomery County Council unanimously approved $2 million in emergency funding to provide emergency eviction protection and rental assistance. 

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