Prince George’s Co. council votes to temporarily cap rent hikes at 3%

There were a lot of emotions, among them frustration, as dozens of people showed up to implore the Prince George’s County Council in Maryland about how to vote on a bill described as “rent stabilization” by those who supported it and “rent control” by those who didn’t.

The legislation — passed 9 to 1 with county Council member Ingrid Watson absent — imposes a 3% cap on rent hikes on nearly all rental properties around the county over the next year.

A news conference held before the vote reinforced the council’s overwhelming support for the bill, even if it was more even among those who testified before the council later on. Joining the council were both advocates for the measure and County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.

Alsobrooks began her remarks ahead of the vote by thanking the council for “demonstrating a true understanding of what many of our residents suffer each and every day.”

“This legislation is extremely important to all of us, quite bluntly … we refuse to allow any Prince Georgian to be priced out of their home,” Alsobrooks said. “That’s really what this is about.”

The rent cap was championed by Krystal Oriadha, but many other council members needed little convincing to back it. Several people who testified spoke of getting hit with massive rent hikes in recent years, often on short notice.

“Recently, we were notified of pending rental increases. For many, the projected increases are exorbitant,” Yvonne Corney, who lives in the Marwood apartments in Upper Marlboro, told the council.

Some rents in her complex are going up $400, she said: “I have lived here for four years and have never received such an enormous increase.”

Some people talked about even bigger increases.

Rose Thompson lives in Laurel and spoke at the news conference organized by Oriadha before the hearing.

“I have lived in my apartment building 25 years and in December 2021 … the tenants received a letter that our building had been sold and we had 60 days to move out, and if we did not move out our rents would double,” Thompson said.

Residents there met with grassroots and city leaders to “strategize” how to move forward.

“Finally, we met the property owner, and so we settled for less than the double, and I am the only one left,” said Thompson, who said she was getting ready to retire. “I work for the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services … I’m not asking for a handout. I’m asking for assistance to be able to live.”

Kia Jefferson called herself “the unofficial poster child for rent stabilization” when it was her turn to testify.

“My rent was raised $800 with a 23-day notice,” Jefferson said. “I’ve been dealing with this since June. I can’t take it anymore. Where are people supposed to go? Where are people supposed to live?”

Several representatives from apartment complexes around the county, as well as landlords, took turns speaking out against the bill.

“Many of you know me. I’ve given mightily back to the county,” Boyd Campbell said. “Now I feel like I’m being personally attacked by this bill simply because I’ve made a strategic plan to complement my income in my later years.

“We are taking away my ability to take advantage of the marketplace,” he added, saying it will impact him as a small investor.

Representatives from large apartment complexes around the county also said the cap is smaller than the cost of inflation and will limit their ability to hire workers and maintain their properties.

“My company too must pay bills that are impacted by inflation, including variable rate mortgages, utilities, services, repairs and paying for the employees that work in our management company,” said Jessie Barter, who runs Charger Ventures.

“We want to provide high quality in this county and pay competitive wages to the vendors and associates that we employ. However, it seems unfair to target those who choose to invest in housing in this county while other service providers, including those selling food, fuel, and utilities, will not be hamstrung at a rate well inside of prevailing inflation.”

Those arguments fell on deaf ears in most of the council. Only Council member Mel Franklin voted against the bill, calling it “rent control.”

“It sounds good, but when you put it in practice, it’s terrible for communities,” Franklin said. “Rent control creates slums, blighted properties. It causes the rental properties to be limited because people choose to leave the rental industry.”

He proposed coming up with rental assistance funding instead, though his colleagues and others argued the money wasn’t there.

“Sometimes being pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-economic growth is a lonely road, particularly in the time of very extreme politics,” he added.

But while Franklin was skeptical about this argument, the council members who backed the bill stressed this was only temporary and that a work group will soon be formed and would come up with a better plan for a complex issue in the future.

“We can’t let people continue to have their rents double,” said Jolene Ivey. “Even a 20% increase is ridiculous. People are just suffering.

“This yearlong reset gives us an opportunity,” she added.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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