Montgomery Co. to consider bill on security for renters

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Across the nation more and more people are renting instead of buying homes.

The bursting of the housing bubble in 2008 and the deep economic recession which followed helped produce a rising number of renters. So have changes in which suburbs have become more urbanized with growing numbers of rental units.

“We’ve gone from, in 2008, 24 percent of the county living in rental housing to more than 36 percent of the county living in rental housing. People look at rental housing in the past as a transient place to live; now it’s a place where people live for the rest of their lives,” said Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance.

With tenants making up a growing segment of residents of Montgomery County, the county council may soon weigh the merits of a bill that supporters say would strengthen renters’ rights.

The council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee is considering a bill that would require landlords to offer two-year lease renewals and force the county to increase property inspections, particularly at buildings where there are frequent tenant complaints. The bill also calls for the adoption of a standardized lease to be used by landlords and tenants countywide.

“We’re in the middle of the work sessions right now. We’re trying to look at solutions that make sense,” said Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, chair of the committee.

The bill could undergo major changes before it reaches the full council. For example, on the matter of a standardized lease, Floreen says property management companies point out that different financing sources require certain language in leases making it hard to fashion a standard lease.

But changes may be in order.

“What everyone says is [that] leases are hard to understand, so how do we make that easier? How do we make it more accessible to people?” Floreen said.

Those who rent as opposed to own their home cut across income levels, and advocates say they need some of the security and well-being enjoyed by homeowners.

“Across the spectrum — middle-class, wealthy residents, and working, and working poor — all of those people are now in rental housing,” Losak said.

“Tenants are one third of the county population at this point and their circumstances are far more unstable than the average homeowner,” said Councilman Marc Elrich, sponsor of the Bill on Landlord-Tenant Relations and Rental Housing.

As for the bill’s prospects: “I’m optimistic,” Elrich said. “It doesn’t take a bite out of landlords.”

The bill is expected to reach the full council later this year.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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