The Montgomery County Council received a report yesterday showing that since rent control ended last December, the average rent in the county has risen 7.4 percent, despite guidelines asking landlords to hold rent increases to 6.1 percent.
The figures compiled by the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs showed that about 37 percent of the tenants received increases exceeding the voluntary guideline - exceeding them 20 to 50 percent in many cases - while the rest paid rents equal to or below the suggested limit.
Faced with these statistics, the council, then, for the third time in four months wrestled inconclusively with a proposed rent relief program for low-income tenants who are most hard-pressed by the abolition of rent control.
When council member John Menke asked his collegues to consider his proposal for rent subsidies - effectively postponing the rent relief decision until July, council President Elizabeth Scull reached with agree.
Scull, who had vigorously opposed the end of rent control last December, answered this latest postponement of the subsidy decision by announcing that next month she would "attempt to introduce" legislation reenacting rent control.
"This council is recessed," she said, banging her gavel and walking away from her desk immediately after making this announcement.
"The voluntary rent guidelines are being ignored." Scull said in a subsequent interview. "When I opposed termination of rent control, I was assured by council members they would fund an adequate rent supplement program.
"That resolve has lessened in the face of Proposition 13, and I'm afraid I don't feel there's much of a chance for an adequately funded rent supplement program."
Last December, when the council abolished rent control, which held permitted rental increases to 5 percent annually, it asked landlords to voluntarily limit rent increases to 6.1 percent each year.
Although 63 percent of the tenants occupying their apartments before January received rent increases equal to or less than 6.1 percent, the rest were higher - occasionally a third or more, and in one case nearly double.
On the average, the larger increases occurred in the smaller, older buildings of up to 50 units.
"More and more people are having problems with rent in Montgomery County," confirmed Judge Leonard Ruben who hears landlord-tenant cases in the District Court. "I am surprised at the number."
After yesterday's meeting, Menke defended his newest proposal for rent relief as the "simplest" of all the versions the council has considered and the one with the most precise financial estimates.
Consequently, he said, it could be implemented sooner in the long run for tenants while a permanent system is being devised. "Haste makes waste," he said.
Business interests have lobbied for the end of rent control, claiming that if they could recover debts incurred during rent control, they could convert their increased cash flow into constructing new apartments, which are badly needed in the county.
The first rent relief proposals considered by the council last February for low-income tenants cost about $2.7 million, but since February successive reccommendatitions have trimmed the rent supplement programs down to about $1 million.
None of these considerations includes the moderate-income tenants who are believed to be more numerous in the county.
Scull said that "from the beginning I advocated rent control because I knew the kind of hardships that would be asked of the homeowners (who believe their taxes would subsidize a rent supplement system) would never come forth, never. And events have proved me correct."