The Prince George's County Council dabbled briefly with the awkward issue of rent control yesterday as it sought ways to scold a local developer who council members claim has not kept his promises to lower rents.
The developer, Loren M. Simkowitz, runs Monacle Management, a Bethesda-based firm that received nearly $24 million in low-interest financing authorized by the county last year to renovate two apartment complexes in the county. The money did not come from county funds.
Since then, council members said, they have received complaints from tenants at Regent Street Station apartments in Suitland and Sussex Street Station apartments in Landover, that rents have increased by 30 to 60 percent.
Council Chairman William B. Amonett said in a letter endorsed yesterday by the council and mailed to Monocle Management that he felt Simkowitz had reneged on a promise to decrease rents at the complexes with the aid of the tax-exempt backing. "I feel used," Amonett said after yesterday's council session.
The council has asked the county's legal office to decide whether the county has the authority to set limits on the rents that can be charged by developers who receive special financing.
But county housing and legal officials said that such an action would constitute a form of selective rent control, a policy that was discontinued in the county in 1976.
"I'm not going to sit up here and endorse something to give somebody money and then watch them turn around and rip the people off," council member Floyd Wilson responded.
Simkowitz said in an interview that he did not promise council members that rents would decrease. But council records show that Monacle Management, which manages 15 complexes in the county, predicted a rent decline for the Regent Street property, from an average $520 a month for a two-bedroom apartment to $475.
He said that average rents for a two-bedroom apartment at either complex have increased by about $50, to $530 a month. Without the tax-exempt financing, which allows developers to borrow at about 3 percentage points below conventional mortgage rates, "the rents probably would be $100 more than they are now," he said.
Simkowitz said market forces have driven up the rents in the 516-unit Regent Street and the 534-unit Sussex Street apartments. "I can appreciate the people not wanting to pay more, but we're all paying more for everything," he said. "They have to permit you sufficient rents to allow you to afford to keep the project up. You've got two choices -- you either raise the income or create slums."