ROCKVILLE – The Montgomery County Council met on July 16 to continue ongoing discussions of current legislation that would increase renter’s rights in the area.
In recent months, the council discussed issues surrounding the topic of renter’s rights at length.
In March, Councilmember Tom Hucker introduced Bill 6-19, or the Landlord-Tenant Relations bill, which allows renters to break their lease without penalty if the landlord of the building does not address issues that contribute to an unhealthy living situation. Unaddressed rodent and mold infestations would be grounds to break a lease. Hucker also serves on the Public Safety Committee and chairs the Transportation and Environment Committee.
“No one should have to live with roaches, mice or mold, or without access to electricity, water or heat,” said Hucker in a press release covering the legislation. “Unfortunately, too many renters face these and similar challenges affecting their fundamental well-being and safety. This bill extends needed protections to renters who, through no fault of their own, face unsafe conditions that have been ignored by their landlords.”
The Enclave Apartment building in Silver Spring was a primary source of unhealthy living examples during the public hearing for the Landlord-Tenant Relations bill. Families spoke to the health problems they contracted while living in the apartments like asthma symptoms, headaches and nausea. A local schoolteacher that taught many students that live in the Enclave testified to how sick children would come to school.
“The Enclave tried to use bullying tactics to intimidate me into staying in my apartment,” said Ignacia Joyner, a former resident of the Enclave Apartments. “They denied that the mold was the cause of my family’s health problems. They demanded two months’ rent and they threatened to report me to the credit bureaus if I broke my lease.”
The council unanimously passed Bill 6-19 in June but is continuing work on additional legislation to help renters.
During the July 16 council meeting, Hucker introduced legislation that will further protect renters by requiring landlords to provide air conditioning in units.
The current County Code does not require that landlords provide air conditioning in rental housing. This new legislation would amend the Landlord Tenant Relations bill to include regulations on temperatures inside units.
“Bill 24-19 would amend County Code Chapter 29 (of the) Landlord-Tenant Relations bill to require a landlord to provide and maintain air conditioning service in a safe and good working condition so that it provides an inside temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less between May 1 and September 30,” according to the legislation.
It also stipulates that air conditioning can be provided through individual air conditioning units or a central air conditioning system.
“We just completed the hottest June in recorded history, July is expected to be the hottest July in recorded history and today will be the fifth day in a row where temperatures have reached above 90 degrees and the next six days are expected to be over 90 degrees as well,” Hucker said. “But Montgomery County’s growing population of 300,000 tenants lack any protection in law that their units have working air conditioning.”
He explained that under county law, landlords are required to provide heating to rental units, but not air conditioning. Hucker said he learned about the law during a Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee meeting.
“Maryland has already had a heat-related death this summer and unfortunately we might have more ahead of us; our hottest weather is ahead of us still,” Hucker said. “(This bill) is complementary to our requirement for heating. It is completely consistent with the legislation we recently passed, allowing tenants facing persistent health and safety issues to terminate their leases.”
Hucker explained that much like rodents and mold, persistent heat is a health concern and there should be legislation on the books.
Tenants without air conditioning have gotten creative with the different ways they keep cool during the summer months, according to Hucker. He explained that he heard from an 80-year-old constituent who did not have air conditioning in her apartment unit. She had taken to freezing water bottles and placing them on her lap to keep cool.
“That should not be happening in 2019 in Montgomery County, so that is the point of this bill,” Hucker said.
Councilmember Gabe Albornoz asked to co-sponsor the bill alongside Will Jawando and Council President Nancy Navarro.
“I think especially in light of the fact that the fastest-growing demographic in our community being senior citizens but also children being vulnerable to extreme weather conditions I think this bill makes sense,” Albornoz said.
The public hearing on this additional legislation is scheduled for September 10.