There are not many happy endings to stories about tenants and are unorganized strangers and the landlords are an investment trust that owns 19 shopping centers and four apartment complexes.
But a group of people in the Rollingwood Apartments in Silver Spring challenged their managers, Investor Service Management, Inc., and their owners, Federal Realty Investment Trust, and to nearly everyone's surprise, including their own, they won.
Rents for their 22-year-old garden apartments had been raised up to 75 percent as soon as Montgomery County's rent control laws expired at the end of January. The tenants succeeded in getting those increases rolled back to 20 percent.
"It's still an increse, but it's tolerable," said Elsie Bliss, whose rent for a two-bedroom apartment will now go up $47 instead of $155. Her new rent will be $282 per month rather than the $390 the landlords first called for. All tenants in the 282-unit complex pay their own utilities.
The Rollingwood Apartments, released from rent control along with 16,000 other apartments in the county on Jan. 31, were hit with rent inceases that went far beyond the 15 percent ceiling on hikes that County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist said landlords had voluntarily agreed to.
The tenants there, a disparate group of renters without a tenant's association, began slipping notes under one another's doors calling for group action.
About 50 people met at night in the sanctuary of a nearby church to form an association. Working with Richard Ferrara, the director of the county's Landlord Tenants Affairs Office, they received an initial offer from Federal Realty Investment Trust to cut increases in half, which they rejected.
Last week they met with several members of the board of directors, including Steven Guttman, president, and were offered the 20 percent increase.
"They said now that we see you're people, we've changed our minds, but that's ridiculous. We've always been people," reported Bliss.
"They complimented our behavior," huffed tenant association president Pauline Johnson. "We are middle-aged people -- what do they expect!"
"After meeting with the tenants, we reconsidered our position and decided a more moderate increase was appropriate under the circumstances," said Guttman. "We weighed those obligations and the scale changed."
The change was too late for some tenants. Merton and Frances Meade were among those who moved from the apartment complex after the initial increases notices were sent out.
The Meades, who had lived in Rollingwood for 13 years, received notice of a $175 increase for their $235-a-month two-bedroom apartment. The following week they rented a house in Wheaton.