In the five months since its enactment, Montgomery County's rent control program has failed to roll back a single rent increase or provide relief promised to tenants.
County officials say the ambitious program has been rendered impotent by a preponderance of paper work and a lack of coordination among the various agencies involved in enforcing rent control.
"We're going to have to meet with the parties involved to see how we can remedy this," said Tom Stone, administrative assistant to County Executive Charles Gilchrist, who had promised to put "teeth" in the rent control program last Month.
The program at this point lacks not only teeth but also some of the most basic bureaucratic forms with which it was to be implemented. Part of the program, for example, called for a housing commission to decide whether low-income tenants should receive county-funded reimbursements to partially make up for rent increases above 10 percent. But the application forms for those reimbursements are still not available.
"They're still at the printers," said Michael Nail, an official at the Housing Opportunities Commission, the agency assigned to oversee the reimbursement program for poverty-level renters. Nail estimated that some 1,500 renters in the county would be eligible for the program and could apply for relief as soon as the forms were printed.
The other aspect of the rent control program provides that a landlord-tenant commission evaluate all rent increases about 7.6 percent and order rollbacks if it elects to do so on increases above 10 percent. The commission has yet to take action on more than 40 cases it has had of rent increases above 10 percent.
"We'll be making decisions on those within the next few weeks," said Nikki Ewald, a planner with the landlord-tenant agency. "The whole thing takes time, but it's worth it to do it well."
Ewald noted that the last time Montgomery imposed a rollback system, in 1973, it was successful. "We had hundreds and thousands of dollars of roll-backs from over 200 meetings -- and we were held up in the courts every time."
But the technical differences between the new rollback program and the earlier one, Ewald said, has been a major cause of the delay. "We have to tell landlords they have to do everything differently," Ewald, said. "We have to explain the process to landlords, tenants and their prospective lawyers. And every time we look at property, we have to go through a long list of exceptions."
The regulations are so complicated, in fact, that many tenants have decided not to take advantage of a program that was designed especially for them.
"I don't use them, I haven't tried to use them, and I don't know of anybody who has tried," said one tenant, Jan Getz. "From what I understand, a number of cases have been brought up, but there have been no results."