Montgomery Co. Council signals cautious approach on proposed rent caps

A proposal to hold annual rent increases to 4.4% in Montgomery County is getting a closer look from the county council.

The proposal submitted by Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has been sent to the council for consideration, but it hasn’t been put on the council’s legislative agenda yet. Councilmember Will Jawando supports the plan, citing concerns from constituents about rent increases as high as 19%.

“We want to be thoughtful in our approach and look forward to having our questions answered with regards to this important legislation,” Council President Gabe Albornoz told reporters during a briefing Tuesday morning.

Roughly 30% of Montgomery County residents are renters, and while Albornoz said the council understands that some rent increases present a “significant impact” to some residents, he suggested the council would proceed with caution.

“Approximately 91% of rent collected goes directly to the cost of maintaining, managing and operating rental properties,” Albornoz said, adding that council members want to ensure there are no “unintended consequences” that could result with passage of the proposed legislation.

Data provided to WTOP from Alex Rossello, the director of policy communications for the Apartment & Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, showed a number of locations across the D.C. region where rent jumps are in the double digits.

One figure in that May data — provided by the property management software firm Real Page — stood out: New renters in Virginia’s Seven Corners/Bailey Crossroads/Annandale area could see rents rise by 39%. But for those renewing their leases in the same area, the increases come in at about 7.9%.

Why have rents jumped so dramatically since the start of the pandemic?

Like every other consumer, Rossello said landlords have seen prices rise. And in some jurisdictions, like Montgomery County, landlords saw their rents capped as governments enacted restrictions to help people caught in the crushing cost of the pandemic.

In Montgomery County, the rent increases vary, with landlords charging 8.3% more to new renters in Bethesda versus 20% more in Gaithersburg. For residents renewing their leases in Bethesda, annual rent prices go up by 2.8%, and in Gaithersburg it’s 1.7%, according to the same data.

Montgomery County’s previous temporary rent increase ceiling of 0.4% expired May 15.

Rossello told WTOP that action by Montgomery County led to “artificially keeping rents lower than what they would have been” without the temporary action.

For those staying put, the increase in annual rent may not be as painful as it could be for those seeking a new apartment.

Landlords often limit the rent increases on tenants who are renewing their leases, Rossello said. “The reason behind that is that I don’t — as the housing provider — have to go and market that unit again,” he said. “I don’t have to pay the cost to get the unit rent-ready again, fix whatever I have to fix.”

Asked about making exceptions to renters and offering breaks on prices depending on their circumstances, Rossello explained that because of fair housing laws, one is not allowed to give one individual a break that wouldn’t be given to someone else.

While renters may feel that landlords are engaged in price-gouging when they see some of the prices they’ve been asked to pay, Rossello said it’s not to a landlord’s advantage to impose unreasonable rent increases. That can lead to an exodus of renters, “and then you’re left with a building that’s half-empty and you know, you can’t run the property that way,” he said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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