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Scott Vetoes Surety Bonds Bill At Eleventh Hour

Sarah Y. Kim/WYPR
Zeke Cohen (left) and Ryan Dorsey (right) were the only city councilmembers to vote against the bill in the April. Dorsey said last week that he's counting on at least three additional councilmembers who will not vote to override the mayor's veto.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott vetoed Monday a bill that provides security deposit alternatives to renters.

He said he feared the bill would do more harm than good.

“While I applaud Council Vice President Middleton’s commitment to supporting Baltimore tenants who are unable to afford a traditional security deposit, I simply cannot ignore the significant concerns over the security deposit insurance option in the legislation,” Scott wrote in his veto message. “This provision could potentially hurt the very people this bill seeks to help.”

The veto, which Scott delayed until the last minute, is a victory for the city’s renter advocates, who have united in opposition to the bill.

The bill required landlords to provide at least one of two alternatives to security deposits: security deposit installments, and surety bonds, which it called “security deposit insurance.”

While advocates supported installments, they pushed against surety bonds, saying they do not function like insurance and are predatory.

Scott echoed those concerns in his veto statement.

“The benefits of an installment plan for security deposits do not outweigh the potential costs of the security deposit insurance provision to already vulnerable residents,” Scott wrote.

City Council President Nick Mosby, one of the bill’s sponsors, told WYPR he did not know the mayor had concerns until his veto.

“It's important now for the council to allow the process to play out,” Mosby said. “We're going to do what's best for the citizens of Baltimore.”

In a written statement, Mosby called the veto “modern-day redlining, with an outsized impact by a vocal advocacy class.”

Mosby did not acknowledge in his interview or his statement the role that prominent Black-led groups, including the Baltimore branch of the NAACP and Organizing Black, had in lobbying against the bill.

More than 45 local organizations united in opposition, with renter advocacy coalition Baltimore Renters United at the helm.

Last week, advocates hosted a town hall urging the mayor to veto the bill. Several speakers, including Marceline White, the executive director of the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition, described the moment as a turning point for housing justice in the city.

“This is really the start of building a united progressive agenda in Baltimore City,” White said. “We can do it and we're more powerful together.”

The council has 20 days to override the mayor’s veto, and will need 10 votes in support of the bill. When the bill passed the City Council in April, there were only two opposing votes from councilmembers Zeke Cohen and Ryan Dorsey, and an abstention from Kris Burnett. Advocates are pushing councilmembers to change course.