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Landlord-tenant bills provide drama in ‘Crossover Day’ House action

Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery) defended HB 1117, which would ease the renter escrow process when landlords insufficiently address life-threatening living conditions, on March 18, 2024. Photo by Danielle J. Brown.

Debates pitting Maryland’s tenants against landlords ignited in the House Monday over two bills that aim to increase protections for renters.

One of the bills in question is priority legislation for Gov. Wes Moore (D) as part of his housing package. Moore has testified in both Senate and House committees for his housing bills. Moore’s housing package aims to avoid unnecessary evictions and work to decrease a housing shortage of an estimated 96,000 units.

HB 693 carries Moore’s Renter’s Rights and Stabilization Act of 2024, which would give tenants residing in a rental property the right of first refusal if the landowner wants to sell the property. Tenants would have an opportunity to purchase the property before a third party could buy it.

HB 693 would also increase the court fees that a landlord pays to seek a tenant’s eviction, among other measures.

But House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) argued that the bill might create an unfriendly market for landlords and developers, which could run counter to efforts aiming to increase the supply of affordable housing opportunities.

“This bill is disincentivizing,” Buckel said in opposition. “How do I know this? Because they all come here and tell us that. Every group that represents people who invest in these types of property into this sector of the economy — multifamily housing, building associations, all of them. They all come here and say ‘this doesn’t work. This is a bad compromise.’”

Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) called the bill’s measure to provide tenants the right of first refusal “ridiculous.”

“This misguided legislation is what happens when we allow activists to write the legislation instead of actual professionals that deal with this every day,” he said.

Del. Marvin E. Holmes (D-Prince George’s) defended the right of first refusal as chance for tenants to buy the property they live in, only if the landlord is already looking to sell the unit.

“What we’re trying to do here is make sure that the tenant who was already living in the house has an opportunity to purchase it,” Holmes said.

HB 693 passed 104-34, with Republicans primarily in opposition.

The other tenant protection bill that passed the House Monday is called the Tenant Safety Act of 2024, sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery). That bill is not part of Moore’s priority legislation.

HB 1117 would make the “renters escrow” process more accessible for situations where landlords do not adequately address life-threatening repairs, by enabling tenants to file a complaint with the local district court and put rent payments in escrow while the complaint is adjudicated.

“The core problem this bill seeks to salve is, we know that hundreds of thousands of our neighbors, our constituents in Maryland, are living in deplorable conditions that violate our warranty of habitability,” Stewart said. “Which means we that slumlords across the state are breaking their lease and subjecting tenants…to unlivable conditions.”

He says that only a “tiny fraction” of renters in unlivable conditions file a complaint against the landlord and that the legislation “levels the playing field” so that more tenants can utilize the rent escrow process.

“No good landlord has anything to worry about with this bill. But slumlords…they should be shaking in their boots right now,” Stewart said.

“This is about slumlords. This is not about landlord vs. tenant,” he added.

Morgan opposed Stewart’s bill as well. He said, sarcastically, that he looked forward to when lawmakers decide to legislate against what he called “slum-tenants.”

Del. Matthew Morgan (R-St. Mary’s) opposed HB 1117, which would ease the renter escrow process when landlords insufficiently address life-threatening living conditions on March 18, 2024. Photo by Danielle J. Brown.

“…And actually force tenants that are not paying their rent, that are tearing up property and destroying stuff and making it harder to rent houses for the overwhelming majority of tenants that are good,” Morgan said. “I’m looking forward to when the body actually cracks down on that.”

Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Environment and Transportation committee which initially approved HB 1117, argued that committee members try to work with both tenants and landlords to resolve their concerns with housing legislation.

“We hear a lot from landlords in our committees and we adjust the legislation…to reflect their feedback,” Korman said.

“But it’s true, we also listen to renters, they are also an important constituency. And making sure that they live in safe and stable and clean housing is a goal that we can all share,” he said.

The House approved the Tenants’ Safety Act, on a 104-34 party line vote.

Another piece of Moore’s housing package, which would make it easier for developers of affordable housing to get financing, has already passed the House and was assigned to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, where the Senate version of the bill resides. The committee — and the full Senate — is expected to move one of those bills.

Administration officials are confident that a planning and zoning bill that’s also part of the governor’s affordable housing initiative will also pass soon.


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Landlord-tenant bills provide drama in ‘Crossover Day’ House action