Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist unveiled a "tenant protection package" this week in response to the plight of renters displaced by apartment conversions and the end of county rent-control laws next Jan. 31.
Gilchrist's proposals, many requiring approval by the County Council, include five new bills plus the addition of $300,000 over the next three years to a fund to help needy tenants pay their rent.
Included in the package is the cooperative conversion bill, which is patterned after the county's year-old condominium law. The co-op conversion measure would give tenants first-purchase rights, require 180-day notice to tenants if the building owners plan to convert to cooperative ownership, relocation payment and various consumer-protection measures for co-op purchasers.
A new tenant-displacement bill would give renters a chance to purchase an entire building if they are able to match a developer's price and would provide relocation aid to tenants whenever a rental unit is converted to a hotel, a commercial use, is demolished or is removed from the rental market.
Another new bill would give elderly and handicapped tenants whose apartments are sold up to two years before they must vacate. To assist these tenants, the county would provide volunteer counselors knowledgeable in tenant rights and familiar with available housing.
"We're trying to reduce the level of anxiety for elderly tenants," Gilchrist said at a press conference at the County Office Building Tuesday.
Since 1974, a total of 8,215 apartments have been converted to condominiums, according to Joe Douglass of the county's Office of Consumer Affairs.
About 44,000 rental units remain in the county with an additional 2,000 to be built annually by private developers using low-interest loans from Montgomery County, beginning next summer.
"The rate of conversions is not slowing down," Gilchrist said, but he added the supply of available rental housing is not shrinking as quickly as predicted because many of the condominium apartments are bought by investors for use as rentals.
To protect the remaining rental-housing stock, Gilchrist said he will not seek to renew the rent-control law when it expires on Jan. 31 because "we want to encourage landlords to stay in the rental business."
Rent-stabilization laws have proven to be a factor in landlords' decisions to sell property, county officials say.
Gilchrist is asking landlords to comply with voluntary guidelines calling for rent increases not to exceed 10 percent. The executive said he has received assurances from about two-thirds of the county's landlords that they will comply.
About 40 percent of the county's rental units are now subject to rent-control laws. Gilchrist said rents in decontrolled units are about 8 percent higher than in controlled ones.
Gilchrist also proposed increased government assistance for low-income renters. Under the plan, a single person earning $15,100 will qualify for assistance. Limits range upwards to include a family of eight with an income of $27,000. The program would pay up to $75 per month to tenants receiving rent increases of more than 10 percent.
Another new measure would require landlords to beef up security. They would be required to install deadbolt locks on sliding glass doors and pins in windows.
Gilchrist's package also includes proposals to step up enforcement of housing-code violations, to require landlords to report rent increases to the Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs and to give the Landlord-Tenant Commission authority to award legal fees as a damage in retaliatory evictions. c