Skip to main content
Commentary Working & the Economy

Opinion: The Debate Over Rent Relief Continues

Photo from IStock/Getty Images

It’s no surprise that the landlords’ lobbying associations oppose measures that protect renters from a tidal wave of back rent debt accrued during a national crisis when thousands are losing their jobs and their wages. The Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA) and Maryland Multi-Housing Association (MMHA) are a powerful lobby for owners and landlords who oppose any legislation that would protect the stability of people who rent their homes.

Both AOBA and MMHA agitate against:

• Requiring landlords to provide a just cause to evict families.

• Increased code inspections at neglected properties.

• Right to organize tenants’ associations.

• Stabilizing or limiting rent increases.

• Court reform that would give renters sufficient time to obtain legal advice when facing eviction summonses.

And they contribute generously to politicians who vote to support their views.

Now this well financed landlord lobby opposes Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins’ common-sense proposal to give relief ― either as a temporary waiver or direct subsidy ― to renters forced out of work by the COVID-19 pandemic. AOBA and MMHA argue that the $1,200 proposed federal subsidy should be enough to pay the rent. Is it possible that this giant lobby believes that $1,200 will somehow cover the average monthly rent ― around $1,700 ― of a typical one-bedroom apartment in the greater Washington region? (And that doesn’t include fees for parking, pets, utilities, etc.)

We are in a state of emergency where everyone is being asked to stay home from work and shelter in place. Yet when tenants lose their jobs and can’t afford the rent, landlord lobby members are ordering them to vacate their homes in 30 days or less, despite state orders to halt evictions during the crisis. Even now, with nearly 5,000 court filings,  AOBA/MMHA members are preparing for a mass eviction “bubble” expected to start as soon as the eviction moratorium is lifted. With callous indifference, they plan to target renters for eviction who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, regardless of the impact this will have on our communities.

As an industry, landlords need to think responsibly. The Renters Alliance understands that landlords, especially small landlords who rely on rent for their livelihood, have expenses that won’t go away. Instead of opposing nearly every measure to protect renters, stabilize rental housing and maintain quality standards, AOBA and MMHA need to see themselves as responsible partners who act in good faith to protect renters and provide quality, stable housing.

It’s time for the landlord lobby to abandon its zealous pursuit of profits at all costs to our communities. Landlords should consider and support measures that:

• Subsidize renters who have been forced out of work due to the epidemic.

• Temporarily forgives or re-schedules rent payments without penalty or late fees.

• Provides long-term payment plans to renters without penalties or late fees.

• Halt evictions ― and threats of evictions ― where no immediate threat to the community exists ― for the long term (Moving to evict after the halt is lifted would be unethical and reprehensible).

• Significantly increase regular cleaning and disinfecting of lobbies, mail rooms, stair wells, laundry rooms and other common areas.

Housing is not a common commodity like candy and cigarettes. It is an essential human need and one that has benefited from billions in public investment by taxpayers. The rental housing industry must balance its profit motive with responsibility to the communities it serves, especially in a crisis. It should look to partner with renter advocates to develop ways to stabilize renter communities, not insist on an unrestrained hand to evict them.


The writer is executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, Inc.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our website. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

If you have any questions, please email editor Danielle Gaines at [email protected].

To republish, copy the following text and paste it into your HTML editor.


Creative Commons License AttributionCreative Commons Attribution
Opinion: The Debate Over Rent Relief Continues