There are several advocacy groups across the nation discussing the issue of extremely high residential rent costs, especially in some cities where large corporations own a majority of properties, and thus, have a large influence on market rental rates. Howard County may soon follow nearby jurisdictions in addressing rent stabilization. The Montgomery County Council recently passed an annual rental increase cap of 3% plus the consumer price index, or 6%, whichever is lower. The implementation of this cap could take a very long time, as units with less than 23 years of rental history are exempt. That provides no relief for renters for a very long stretch, and enforcement was put on hold pending a further update. In the meantime, Montgomery County Executive Elrich has promised a Rent Stabilization Office with an annual budget to enforce the updates, once finalized.
In Prince George’s County, the Council passed a Rent Stabilization Act in March of this year. It is a one-year measure limiting increases for existing tenants to 3% annually. A County work group is studying how to proceed when the new law expires in April of 2024. It is expected that the update will include more permanent features at that time.
Those lobbying for change note that protections are needed from enormous rental increases at lease renewal time. Maryland jurisdictions that have taken some recent actions have focused on capping increases in order to stabilize rent, versus rent control where the original rental lease rates are capped.
In Howard County, several local civic groups have formed the Howard County Rent Stabilization Coalition, which has garnered televised media attention. They are seeking annual rent increase caps of 3% or the Consumer Price Index annual rate, whichever is lower. In addition, they wish to avoid exemptions from that cap in order to abate vacancies. Their endeavor also focuses on tenant protections including exorbitant administrative fees.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has expressed concern over rising rents, and it is expected legislation could be forthcoming. It remains to be seen how protective, or constraining the proposal will be.
Instituting rent stabilization will have more of an immediate, direct impact on rising rents than the County’s current plan to address rising housing costs through HoCo By Design, the County’s general plan of development. Hoco By Design attempts to create more affordable housing by incentivizing market rate housing supply. The County Council is currently working through a long process of updating the plan with differing viewpoints about how housing goals can actually be reached.
As we enter the County’s once per decade update of development regulations, step one is the official goal updates in Hoco By Design. Step two, coming this Fall, will be the implementation phase, called Comprehensive Rezoning, where property zoning changes will be sought.
The last time Comprehensive Rezoning occurred was in 2013, where there were over 500 changes to maps and regulations. Proposals like rent stabilization legislation offer more strategic, specific policies to produce better, quicker and more effective results than simply incentivizing all residential development through general land use changes, where community benefit is debatable and lengthy.
In the meantime, if you have need of tenant advocacy there are groups that provide free explanation of your rights, such as The People’s Law Library of Maryland: https://www.peoples-law.org/cat/landlord-tenant and The Tenant Advocacy Program, under Economic Action MD: https://econaction.org/what-we-do/tenant-advocacy/ .