Proposed Housing Relief Bills Aim To Ease Baltimore Tenants’ Financial Burdens
A bill that would prevent landlords from charging tenants late fees until after they receive public assistance funds ran into a mixed reception in a city council committee hearing Tuesday.
Tenant advocates like Matt Hill, a lawyer with the Public Justice Center, said it would provide “important relief for families who are truly living on the edge of affordability."
But Katherine Howard, General Counsel for the property management company Regional Management Inc., said the grace period would only “expand the amount of time that that delinquency continues, which is not helpful to either the tenant or to the landlord."
The bill, sponsored by Councilman Robert Stokes, is one of two aimed at providing long-term protections for renters after the pandemic ends.
Under Stokes' bill, landlords would not be able to charge late fees to tenants receiving public assistance until the 11th day after the tenant receives funds.
Moreover, the bill would cap late fees to no more than 1% of the renter’s total monthly rental payment for every day that the renter is late.
Hill said he would support the bill once it’s amended for clarity.
He emphasized the scale of housing instability for Baltimore residents, saying that about 32,000 low-income households spend more than 50% of their monthly income on rent, according to city data.
Tisha Guthrie, a housing advocate and Affordable Housing Trust Fund commissioner, said the bill would alleviate the distress and anxiety residents went through on a daily basis, long before the pandemic.
“We're talking about our frontline workers, we're talking about the custodial staff at the hospital,” Guthrie said. “We're talking about people who are hard working individuals who are the lifeline and the bloodline of the community.”
Throughout the pandemic, Baltimore housing advocates have stressed that landlords have a disproportionate power over their renters. Some renters have been illegally evicted or threatened with eviction, despite moratoriums on evictions since last spring.
Guthrie said the bill would help create a balance of power.
“I'm asking as a lifelong resident of Baltimore, as someone who has lived, learned and worked here my entire life, for us to take this step and to put our money where our mouth is and start to do things that show how much we value those people who make this city run and work,” she said.
But Howard said the bill doesn’t take into account the impact of the pandemic on housing providers.
“We've had a lot of discussions this afternoon about the effect of code that COVID has taken on the tenant population and our resident population in Baltimore City,” Howard said. “But I just want you to be aware and mindful of the effect that COVID has also had on your housing provider services.”
Another bill, sponsored by Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, would create more affordable alternatives to security deposits. Middleton said this would alleviate the financial burden for renters.
As alternatives, the bill lists certain types of rental security insurance, or paying the security deposit over at least three equal monthly installment payments.
“You know, at the very beginning, you have this big security deposit, which a lot of times is the same amount of your rent,” she said. “Sometimes the security deposit is two month's rent ahead of time.”
The bill would apply to residents whose security deposits are more than 60% of their monthly rent.
“There's just so many pieces to this legislation that really is going to help the renter. And it's been a long time since we really look at ways of having renter relief,” Middleton said.
She said her bill and others in the proposed housing relief package would advance equity and dismantle outdated policies.
City councilmembers did not vote on the bills Tuesday, which have yet to be amended.