Montgomery County Council President John Menke introduced legislation at this week's council session that would replace mandatory rent control in the county with a system of voluntary guidelines for landlords to follow.
Council member Elizabeth Skull and council member Jane Ann Moore meanwhile proposed legislation that would extend the county's current rent control law for another two years. The current law expires Dec. 31
Menke is calling his proposal an "omnibus tenant protection act" because it also carefully delineates certain tenants rights that were not previously specified in the county's landlord-tenant law.
Under Menke's bill, tenants would have the right to bargain collectively with their landlords would be required to permit tenants to organize and use the meeting rooms and bulletin boards in their apartment buildings for tenant-related matters.
The office of landlord-tenant affairs would continue to hold some control over landlords since the proposed legislation gives that office the right to audit the finances of a rental facility when a rent increase appears unjustified.
The landlord-tenant affairs office does not currently have the right to request detailed financial information form landlords, according to its director, Tom Hamilton.
Under the current law, the only time the landlord-tenant affairs office sees detailed information concerning a landlord's operating expenses and income is when the landlord requests permission to raise rents above the percentage set by the county.
Under Menke's proposal, landlords would also continue to report each month to the commission on the number of vacant units in their buildings and the amount of rent being charged for those units.
Menke's bill "keeps a lot of points of the old law," said county attorney Daniel P. Cassidy, who drafted the legislation. The landlord-tenant affairs office would have "no stick to hit landlords, but if the office sees that landlords are increasing rents outrageously, it can start an investigation."
Hamilton's office would continue to compute what is a justified rent increase but it would be up to the individual landlords to abide by the guidelines set by the office of landlord-tenant affairs.
The county government has been slowly phasing out rent control over the past three years. There are currently no controls on vacated and new rental units.
Still, rent control remains a highly emotional issue in the county and Menke's bill is drawing harsh criticism from tenant leaders who say they support an extension of the existing law.
If rent control is lifted, tenants say, landlords would be able to force out some tenants to make way for a more affluent group of people who can afford to pay higher rents.
"The existing legislation is recognized nationally as very effectrive, very good legislation," said Ted Schneyer, president of the Grosvenor Park Tenants Association. "I can assure you (Menke's) bill won't work," Schneyer added.
Schneyer said the county would not need a rent control law if the housing supply were better and that the council, in failing to attract housing investors to the county by other means, is trying to do so by eliminating rent controls.
"In Georgian Towers, where I live, rent in an efficiency has gone from $191 to $231," said Barbara Voran. "Is that rent going to jump to $291 come January?"
County executive James Gleason, who has veto power over any legislation the council approves, has said that he would not try to extend the current rent control law.
In other action this week, the council set Jan. 1. 1978 as the date for implementing the county beverage containertax.