With rent control set to expire in Montgomery County on Dec. 31, county executive James P. Gleason has proposed a system of voluntary restraints on rent increases.
Gleason said in a statement read by an aide at public hearings last week that he does not favor an extension of controls. He suggested "an orderly transition" to decontrol through voluntary rent increase guidelines of 7.5 per cent with a 10 per cent ceiling on currently controlled units. The guidelines would last for a year after the end of rent control.
"Gleason doesn't think the market will bear any more than seven per cent," his aide, Charles Maier, explained later. "He doesn't think there will be takers for rent that high. It's just a figure to give a little protection. If this is even an inhibiting factor, it's good."
With several members of the council opposed to it, the future of rent control legislation in the county appears uncertain. Three more work sessions on rent control legislation are scheduled during the next three weeks before thec county council makes a final decision.
The council heard strong and angry complaints from both tenants and landlords at last week's hearings.
Without rent control, tenants charged, their rents will rise too high. Landlords declared that unless controls are repealed, their profits will sink too low.
The occassion was the Montgomery County Council's two-part public hearing on rent control last week - one in the afternoon in the council hearing room and one in the evening at Wheaton High School.
"Montgomery County has the highest average rent at $279 and the lowest vacancy rate at 2 per cent (according to) a new COG (Council of Governments) survey," said Barbara Voron, head of the Georgian Towers Tenants Association, at the council's everning hearing. "And that's with -rent control, which is all the more reason why rent control is desperately needed at this time."
The county rent control program, instituted two years ago, allows the rents on all units - except decontrolled vacant apartments and newly built units - to go up no more than 4 to 5 per cent, depending on what the county specifies. The county has had some form of rent control since 1973 when federal rent controls were lifted.
Council members Elizabeth Scull and Jane Ann Moore have proposed a two-year extension of rent controls after Dec. 31. They also proposed separate bill of rights for tenants that would allow them to organize and bargain collectively.
Council President John L. Menke has propsoed a bill that would not extent rent control, but instead would offer landlords voluntary guidelines on rents and would also provide for a tenant's bill or rights.
"You've been listening to this since 1971," Virginia Willett, president of the Blue Ridge Manor Tenants Association, told the council at the hearing. "Nothing has changed . . . there is still a shortage of housing."
Most of the tenants echoed some version of that "same old story," as Willett called it.
For their part, the landlords and apartment managers said nothing would change if rent control continued.
"The cost of doing business has gone up anywhere from 35 per cent to 65 per cent, but rents can only be increased 5 percent," said Cathy Bernard, manager of the Hill Brook Towers apartment building. "Costs go up and they need to be passed on to tenants. Five percent in unfair. Rent control does not help tenants. Buildings are not being maintained. Rentals are being converted into condominiums."
Many of the speakers blamed the sewer moratorium for the housing shortage and the subsequent rent increases that have given Montgomery County the highest average rent - at $279 - of any jurisdiction in the metropolitan Washington area.
"We have enough to land to build on for 10 years, with the sewer moratorium," countered council member Dickran Hovsepian, who said builders are not using their money and that the sewer moratorium is not on in all parts of the county.
"In the middle of the sewer moratorium, around 1972, we had one of the highest rates of construction," he said.
Another council member, Esther Gelman, said that the sewer moratorium had not stopped further building on Georgia Avenue. The problem, she said, is that people do not want to live where the building could conceivably be done. "(Tenants) want what they want when they want it where they want it."
One speaker at the hearing called for Gelman and Hovsepian to comment on where they stood on the rent control issue. Neither did.
"I'm not saying a word," Hovsepian commented after the hearing.
"It's the greatest thing since Swiss cheese," said Gelman, beton High School auditorium after the hearing.
In his statement last week, Gleason also proposed that the county's rent tax relief program be expanded by pushing up the base income for eligibility for the 1977 and 1978 programs in relation to the increase in the rental element of the Consumer Price Index.
The council work sessions on the legislation are scheduled for Nov. 21 at 8 p.m. in the council hearing room; Dec. 2 at 10 a.m. in the council hearing room; and Dec. 5 at 1:30 p.m. in the council hearing room.