The Baltimore County Council is voting on a bill Monday evening that aims to protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic. The bill consists of regulations on sudden residential rent increases.
Second District Councilman Izzy Patoka, the bill’s sponsor, presented the bill at a county council work session last week.
“The issue I'm bringing forward today.relates to an economic and health crisis,” he said at the session.
The bill has since undergone several amendments.
The latest draft requires landlords to give tenants 60 days’ notice before increasing rent during a national or statewide eviction moratorium that lasts more than 30 days, or as long as the governor declares COVID-19 a catastrophic health emergency.
The restriction would last 90 days after the emergency.
Patoka said giving tenants time after the emergency is critical for families to get back on their feet.
“When the economic crisis ends and you've lost your job doesn't mean you immediately get a job,” he said.
The bill would bar landlords from charging, collecting or demanding any late fees from tenants if they provide written or electronic proof that they cannot pay because of the emergency.
During the work session, Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins questioned whether the government should be able to regulate rent prices.
“We can't do that. We can't go into private sector and tell them what to charge or tell them to bring their prices down,” Bevins said.
Patoka replied that a crisis like COVID-19 demands special protections.
“The profound impact of this virus is different than anything that we have seen in generations,” he said. “For me, I feel it as an obligation right here in my heart, Madam Chair, to help the families in the second district.”
In an interview with WYPR, Patoka said that he made several amendments in response to concerns raised during the work session. The new version’s definition of “emergency” is more specific to COVID-19.
In addition, the bill originally said that during the 180 days after the emergency, landlords had to give written notice to their tenants 60 days before demanding rent increases or late fees.
Those 180 days have been shortened to 90 days.
“It's a good compromise. It was supported by the Maryland Multi-Housing Association (MMHA) and it was also supported by the tenant advocacy group led by CASA de Maryland,” Patoka said.
He said he wrote the bill based on concerns CASA shared with him about rent increases during the pandemic.
In addition, the earlier draft of the bill would have applied retroactively from March 5, 2020. This would have made some past rent increases illegal.
Aaron Greenfield, a member of MMHA, opposed the bill during the work session for that reason.
“We believe this is an unconstitutional deprivation of a property owner's contract rights. In fact, multiple property owners are now challenging a similar provision in the US District Court of Maryland,” Greenfield said.
That provision has been removed from Patoka’s bill.
During the work session residents like Andrew Miller, a member of Jews United For Justice, supported the bill.
“We know that throwing families out on the street in the midst of a pandemic not only is inhumane but also risks the health of many thousands of others. And that's one thing that's different in this crisis,” Miller said.
Arielle Juberg is part of a small church in Baltimore County. She said she's worried about her fellow parishioners and neighbors who rent.
“Many have lost their jobs, had their hours cut or have gone through their savings. Bill 95-20 is common sense legislation that we need in order to stabilize our communities,” she said.
Patoka says that he is optimistic the bill will pass Monday evening.