Advocates for Montgomery County's renters are pushing for stronger laws to protect renters from abuses such as unregulated rent increases and short-notice evictions.
The Montgomery County Renters Alliance, formed in 2010, is set to hold its first meeting to discuss what it perceives as a growing problem. It has invited Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler to speak about state regulations and landlord-tenant disputes.
The group says tenants are increasingly vulnerable to abuse and want stronger laws to make landlords more accountable. About one-third of county residents rent their homes.
Alliance Executive Director Matt Losak said more needs to be done in the county -- including changing rent increase guidelines from voluntary to mandatory, he said.
"The county has a voluntary rent increase guideline policy, but it's frequently ignored," he said. "Renters are finding themselves priced out of their homes."
The county releases rent guidelines each year that offer what officials consider an appropriate increase -- last year's was 2.8 percent -- said Rick Nelson, director of the Department of Housing and Community Affairs. The guidelines are not mandatory, but Nelson said most landlords abide by them.
He said Montgomery County doesn't have a widespread problem with complaints against landlords. DHCA takes landlord-tenant complaints -- though Nelson said he didn't know how many the department had this year -- but he said most complaints deal with security deposits.
Losak said the alliance would like to see a change in the voluntary rent increase, as well as a law prohibiting landlords from evicting tenants immediately after a lease is up.
"If you enter the rental housing business, you must be responsible for community stability, ensuring your renters can predict the ability to afford their homes and be able to count on living in their homes as long as they need to," he said.
Despite the alliance's "anecdotal" evidence, Nelson said landlord abuses are few and far between in Montgomery County.
"Those are things that we don't have," Nelson said, referring to the proposed laws by the alliance. "At this point, we don't see the need to have them in Montgomery County."