Roughly one-third of the residents in Montgomery County rent their homes or apartments, but despite their increasing numbers, renters have very little political power.
That's why the Montgomery County Renters Alliance has spent the past two years working to increase renters' political clout. The alliance is currently in the process of holding meetings around the county to get the pulse of issues important to renters, according to director Matt Losak.
One item that is frequently mentioned is the county's voluntary guideline for landlords to follow for rent increases at the end leases, says Losak. This year, the rent increase guidance is 2.8 percent.
But Losak is quick to stress the voluntary part of the guideline. When tenants call the Montgomery County Department of Housing and Community Affairs to complain about excessive rent increases, there's only so much county staff can do.
"And they can call the landlord and say 'That's kinda high don't you think?'" Losak says. "And the landlord can say 'Yes, but that's what I can get because that is what the market will bear.'"
Several state and county politicians addressed the group last night in Bethesda, although none were elected from a Bethesda or Chevy Chase district. One of them, at-large Montgomery County Council member Marc Elrich, said developers and landlords have a lot of money and therefore a lot of political sway. Elrich has introduced rent stabilization legislation in the past.
"I could not and have not had a single council member walk in my door and say 'Can we talk about this?'" Elrich said. "I was told it's dead on arrival. And the county executive, who I'm good friends with, I know does not support it."
The same is true in Annapolis, said Del. Tom Hucker (D-Annapolis). But he thinks the rising number of renters have the ability to change what he's seen in the past.
"We would see the landlord lobbyists day after day after day there on all sorts of issues," Hucker said. "And if we saw a few tenants once in a while, they would be gone the next day."
Only one bill related to apartments is scheduled to be introduced during the upcoming session of the General Assembly, and it deals with smoking, not rent or landlords.