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Advocates make one last plea to Md. senators to pass renters’ protections

Members of CASA, Progressive Maryland, and other groups advocating for renter protections gather on Lawyers’ Mall on April 2, 2024. Photo by Danielle J. Brown

Dozens of tenants and families of immigrants gathered on Lawyers Mall in front of the Maryland State House for one last rally in hopes that the Maryland Senate moves forward on bills that would protect renters from unjust evictions and unsafe living conditions.

About 30 people gathered on a gray and drizzly Tuesday with umbrellas and coats to urge the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to push two renter protection bills to a vote as soon as possible in the final days of the 2024 session.

“We call on the Senate…to act swiftly to get this legislation into law,” said Tonia M Chestnut, external affairs chair of the Enclave Tenant Association, a collection of renters advocating for safer living conditions in Silver Spring.

“Tenants shouldn’t have to live in substandard housing just because their landlords are not doing their job and keeping them safe. We must hold these landlords accountable,” she said.

The tenant association was joined by members of CASA and Progressive Maryland on the rainy Tuesday. Renters shared stories of living with pest-infestations, broken air conditioning and moldy living situations that were not addressed adequately by their landlords. They hope that passage of the two bills would prevent unsafe living conditions.

Known as the “Tenant Safety Act of 2024,” House Bill 1117 would make the escrow process more accessible to renters when 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 bill is sponsored by Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery).

House Bill 477, sponsored by Del. Jheanelle K. Wilkins (D-Montgomery), would allow local jurisdictions to adopt just cause requirements for evictions, so that landlords could not evict or refuse to renew a lease without a reason.

The two bills have passed in the House of Delegates, but still need a favorable vote out the Judicial Proceedings Committee before the full Senate can deliberate. But days are ticking down as the 2024 session will end at midnight Monday.

At the rally, Chestnut urged Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and Judicial Proceedings Chair William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) to prioritize the legislation.

The two bills received a committee hearing Tuesday afternoon, but it is not clear if members will vote on the bill with enough time for full Senate consideration.

Sen. Nick Charles (D-Prince George’s) said he supports the bill and would like to see the committee move it forward.

“I have multiple apartment complexes in my community that have total disregard for the residents in the building. Mold comes in. No remediation. Painting over it. Floors caving in. Children being sick inside these apartment complexes, having to go to the hospital,” Charles said. “This bill is about protecting the people.”

“Every landlord isn’t a bad landlord. We have great landlords. But these bad landlords need to be taken care of,” Charles said.

Katherine Kelly-Howard of the Maryland Multi-Housing Association, spoke to oppose the Tenants Safety Act.

She said that the landlords who do not take care of their tenants make the majority of landlords “look bad” and that tenants facing difficult living conditions “should be suing their landlord.”

“We are!” one of the tenant advocates shouted in frustration during the committee meeting.

The Good Cause Eviction hearing had equally impassioned testimony from renter advocates. Similar bills were filed previously, but this is the first year that the legislation has received approval from the House.

“There are some great renter bills that are coming through this committee like the one you just heard,” Wilkins said, referring to the Tenant Safety Act.

“But imagine if a tenant utilizes and exercises the rights that you are providing them, but then their landlord, for no reason, is able to just not renew their lease,” she said. “It totally goes against what the Maryland General Assembly was trying to do in terms of stable and fair housing.”

Elzie Walker, president of the Arrive Wheaton Tenants Association in Montgomery County, testified in favor of the Good Cause legislation, saying that he received a notice to vacate his apartment without a reason shortly after he and other tenants formed an association to advocate for better living conditions. He believes that the notice to vacate was in retaliation of the renters coming together.

“It is terrible how you can just be told, after living somewhere for years, ‘oh, you’ve got to go,'” Walker said, voice cracking as he began to tear up. “It’s not right.”

Matthew Losak, executive director of Montgomery County Renters Alliance, fears that time is running out for the bills to make it out of committee before session ends.

“We are concerned that they may have created a bottleneck on purpose,” Losak told Maryland Matters.

His main concern is the progress of the Good Cause legislation, which he believes would provide significant protections for renters and that the other renter-focused bill won’t be as strong if landlords can evict tenants without cause.

“There’s no more fundamental prerogative for irresponsible landlords than to be able to throw a family out of their home,” he said.


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Advocates make one last plea to Md. senators to pass renters’ protections