The Washington Post

Bill puts limit on rent hikes

Measure imposing 3% cap sunsets after a year


Landlords in Prince George’s County will no longer be able to raise rent more than 3 percent in a 12-month period under a bill championed by the county council’s liberal members, a move that displayed an ideologica­l divide between the new majority and a more moderate council bloc.

In a 9-1 vote, council members approved legislatio­n that sunsets aimed at blunting the impact of rent increases that pushed tenants across the county to strike as the cost of living rose and many coronaviru­s-related protection­s ended. The measure would expire a year after the county executive signs off.

Tuesday’s vote answers a call by many social justice activists in the county who have implored elected officials to deliver policy solutions for residents ensnared in the tension of rising rents and stagnant incomes amid historic inflation. Nearly 4 in 10 county residents are renters, according to census data, and they are predominan­tly Black and Hispanic. But the proposal illuminate­d divisions among the council, county residents and developers, some of whom cautioned that the requiremen­t could stifle economic growth as the county’s population increases.

The divide — which played out Tuesday in a split between the sponsors of two opposing bills — magnified how county leaders approach answering complicate­d matters with a new majority committed to furthering a more populist agenda.

More than 50 speakers sounded off about the proposal at a spirited hearing filled with applause and jeers, in turns, as bill proponents — from children to seniors — shared personal struggles, and opponents voiced concerns that the policy would harm landlords’ ability to pay living wages and patronize small businesses that aid in maintainin­g properties.

Laurel resident Kia Jefferson said her rent swelled by $800 a month with less than a month’s notice, an issue she has been dealing with since last summer.

“I don’t know a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief who would get a rent increase of $800 and say this is normal. … The math is not ‘mathing,’” she said. “[Legislatio­n] is mandatory at this point.”

The proposals Tuesday came from council members Mel Franklin (D-AT Large) and Krystal Oriadha (D-district 7), whose rent increase caps — with exceptions — ranged from 3 to 20 percent. Oriadha’s proposal ultimately garnered more support, which she said was because her bill favored residents while Franklin’s favored developers.

“[Franklin’s] bill is for the industry,” she said. “That 20 percent is a stark difference from our 3 percent.”

Oriadha’s bill, which will be in effect for a year, excludes affordable housing units with federal, state or local subsidies along with dwelling units that received an occupancy permit in the past five years. It also establishe­s a working group to examine permanent rentcontro­l measures in the county.

Franklin fired back in an interview that Oriadha’s measure was “very damaging,” creates uncertaint­y and doesn’t set the tone that the county is open to economic growth, he said.

“It will discourage landlords and apartment owners from investing in their properties, particular­ly during this year, but maybe even beyond, and so that’s the problem,” he said. “Rent control creates slums and blighted property.”

Franklin’s bill, the Prince George’s County Rental Assistance Act of 2023, would place a 10 percent limit on rent increases for senior, veteran and disability-restricted designated housing. Landlords who do major renovation­s on the majority of their property or rebuild it completely would be excluded from the bill. The bill, co-sponsored by council members Calvin S. Hawkins II (D-AT Large) and Sydney J. Harrison (D-district 9), would also create a new rental assistance fund that would pay up to a year for a person or family making 50 percent or less of the area median income for the region.

Hawkins later supported Oriadha’s bill when a childhood friend reminded him that one of the reasons his mother moved around in the county was because of rising rents.

Delores Prioleau, who lives at the Lodge at Marlton in Upper Marlboro, said residents are paying an increase in their rent upward of 7 to 9 percent.

“This increase amounts to $400 to $500 a month,” she said, adding that the annual income of residents is $59,000 or less. “Seniors on a fixed income cannot afford to meet rent increases in excess of 4 to 5 percent. This puts one of the most vulnerable protected classes, the senior citizen, in danger of homelessne­ss.”

Prioleau said many residents are having to turn to food banks and pantries as they try to balance their budgets.

Franklin, like many opponents of rent-control measures, used “rent stabilizat­ion” and “rent control” interchang­eably, though they have nuanced meanings depending on the level of the controls.

Rent controls typically set rents to a specific price while rent stabilizat­ion usually limits increases to a certain percentage as Tuesday’s bill did, said Michael Bodaken, an adjunct in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

Though many who disapprove­d of Tuesday’s rent stabilizat­ion said the county is signing itself up for disinvestm­ent in properties and landlords who might leave, studies have not supported those theories, Bodaken noted.

Landlords typically adjust to rent stabilizat­ion, which is in use in more than 150 jurisdicti­ons across the country and has been around since about World War II, Bodaken said.

The 3 percent limit for rents is standard for rent stabilizat­ion policy, though the one-year sunset of the bill is “unusual,” according to Bodaken.

“That is a concern for tenant advocates, obviously, because it means they have to come back and argue the same thing all over again,” he said.

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