Issue Paper 2022 – Affordable Housing, Deborah Mitchell
For over forty years, inequitable access to an insufficient inventory of affordable housing in Maryland has been a problem. In the last two years, COVID-19 related economic challenges have exacerbated the problem with increasing housing instability—particularly in low-income minority communities. As revealed in a Community Development Network of Maryland report, approximately 79% of tenants behind on rent in Maryland are black and brown, 49% are unemployed, and 78% have an income of less than $50,000. In addition, tenants are more vulnerable to landlord’s unfair housing practices such as a low threshold “just cause” lease terminations and evictions.
The League of Women Voters of Maryland studied housing in 1982 and 1983. Research revealed a state policy on housing which was fragmented and lacking priorities. It proposed action to develop a state housing policy responsive to the need for more affordable housing and to clarify landlord/tenant relationships.
Congruent with the following LWVMD Housing position support statements:
- Housing programs targeted to those geographic areas with proportionally the highest level of housing assistance needs.
- The change of state landlord/tenant laws to require a clearly written lease which states the rights and responsibilities of both parties and includes a warranty of habitability.
- Requirement of landlords to state reasons for either terminating tenancy or initiating eviction proceedings.
Maryland lawmakers proposed a ‘Housing Justice Package’ for the 2021 Legislative Session. The package of bills included an overhaul of the state’s eviction process and new emergency restrictions on landlords. In addition, the legislation proposed to codify and expand current moratoriums on evictions through 2021 and prevent landlords from charging late fees or increasing rent during the state of emergency (Maryland Matters, Lawmakers Eye ‘Housing Justice Package’, December 28, 2020). Unfortunately, many of the “package bills” were not passed. An initiative to give tenants access to counsel in eviction cases was passed during the 2021 Session (Maryland Matters, Lawmakers Vow Renewed Push for Tenant Protections In 2022 Session, January 7, 2002).
For the 2022 Legislative Session, affordable housing proponents have pre-filed legislation to protect tenants.
HB134 Failure to Pay Rent Proceedings - Prohibition on Rent Increases and Sealing of Court Records has been pre-filed. A similar bill was introduced last session. It prohibits a landlord from increasing a tenant's rent because a judgment was entered against the tenant in a failure to pay rent action; requiring the District Court to seal all court records within 60 days after the final resolution of a failure to pay rent proceeding.
SB6 Landlord and Tenant – Residential Leases – Tenant Rights and Protections (Tenant Protection Act of 2022) has also been pre-filed and a similar bill was introduced last session. Landlords are required to disclose to prospective tenants if a ratio utility billing system is used; makes a lease provision unenforceable if the landlord fails to make the disclosure; requires a landlord to document a bill for certain utilities; ensures that a tenant organization has the right of free assembly during reasonable hours and on reasonable notice to the landlord; expands provisions of law regarding the rights of tenants to include victims of stalking.
Preventing unnecessary foreclosures and home loss, protecting the rights of tenants, and providing equitable homeownership opportunities, housing and community development partners can prevent the COVID crisis from further devastating the fragile home ownership ecosystem.
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