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Senate approves several renter-focused bills on Saturday before Sine Die

Members of the immigrants’ rights group CASA rally in support of various housing bills on March 14, 2024. Photo by Danielle J. Brown.

In the Senate chamber, lawmakers moved swiftly through dozens of bills in a Saturday afternoon session.

The legislative flow was only disrupted occasionally, due to brief technical errors, confusion over which bills were being discussed, or senators away from their seats when they were supposed to lead floor discussion on legislation.

As the Senate churned through legislation ahead of the last day of session on Monday, several bills involving renter protection and housing affability received approval from the chamber and will soon head to the desk of Gov. Wes Moore (D), including some of the governor’s priority legislation.

One of his priority bills, which works to increase affordable housing opportunities, received a last-minute change Saturday.

House Bill 693, known as the Renters’ Rights and Stabilization Act, would create an Office of Tenants and Landlord Affairs in state government to help tenants know what protections they have under Maryland law and what legal actions they can take to defend themselves, along with other measures.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen S. Hershey Jr. (R-Upper Shore) offered an amendment to the section of the bill that raises a fee required for a landlord to issue an eviction notice.

Currently, it costs landlords $8 to issue an eviction notice for failure to pay rent. Moore initially wanted to raise it to $93, which is closer to the national average for such a fee.

During the legislative process, the bill was amended to change the proposed fee increase to $83, and was then amended again to $43.

Hershey’s amendment proposed Saturday “simply says that the court may allow a landlord to deduct this surcharge that’s been assessed from the tenant’s security deposit,” he said.

“It still provides some protection that says that the deduction can be no more than the security deposit. Obviously, the judgement would have to be in the landlord’s favor, but we do think that it is an amendment that will kind of get things a little bit more towards the middle,” Hershey said.

Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Senate Judicial Proceedings committee, was OK with the amendment, even though there is only one more day in the legislative session.

“We view this as a friendly amendment,” Smith said, eliciting a chorus of “whoa” from a handful senators who were surprised by his willingness to accept this amendment.

Hershey’s amendment passed. Shortly after, the Senate approved the Renters’ Rights and Stabilization Act on a 35-9 vote.

Due to the floor amendment, HB 693 will need to be reviewed by the House of Delegates and see if they agree with the change. If so, the bill would head to Moore’s desk for consideration. If not, the two chambers will need to hastily iron out their differences on Monday.

Moore has two other bills in his 2024 legislative package that aim to create more affordable housing supply in the state.

HB 538 also received Senate approval Saturday afternoon. It aims to incentivize developers to add affordable housing options in future developments and would allow certain development projects to exceed typical density limits if the new development incorporates a certain percentage of affordable housing units.

The Senate approved the measure Saturday on a 31-13 vote, with little discussion on the matter.

Moore’s other housing bill, HB 599, is ready for his signature. Assuming he approves the legislation, it would create the Maryland Community Investment Corporation, a state entity that would make loans or investments aimed at developing and improving low-income communities.

Some renter advocates are pleased with the passage of HB 1117 Saturday afternoon, a bill that is not part of Moore’s housing package.

The bill is called the Tenant Safety Act and 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 tenant advocacy group Renters United Maryland posted on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter, in celebration of the bill passage.

“After yrs of advocacy renters celebrate as the Tenant Safety Act passes in the @MDSenate,” the post says.

The bill passed 30-11, on party lines. It awaits a final review from the House before it goes to the governor’s desk.


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Senate approves several renter-focused bills on Saturday before Sine Die