Prince George’s County renters and activists are pushing the county council to pass a permanent rent stabilization bill as the current, temporary policy is set to expire in April.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the county implemented a 2.6 percent limit on rent increases throughout Maryland’s state of emergency, which lasted until July 2021. After the limit expired, the county council enacted a temporary three percent rent stabilization rule in April 2023. This limit is scheduled to end on April 16.

Dozens of county residents rallied Friday outside of the Wayne K. Curry County Administration Building in Lake Arbor in response to the lack of a permanent rent stabilization policy. The rally was organized by Prince George’s for Housing Justice Coalition, which includes the county chapters of NAACP, CASA and ChangeMakers.

Community activists said the end of the rent stabilization policy could be devastating to seniors and low-income renters across the county. At Friday’s rally, advocates called upon the county council to implement a policy that includes a permanent three percent rent increase cap, fee regulations and vacancy control without any exceptions.

Fee regulations refer to a policy that prohibits landlords from masking rent increases through increasing fees for amenities, such as trash or parking. Rally attendees also demanded vacancy control to prevent landlords from evicting residents to raise prices for the next tenant, according to Jorge Benitez Perez, the lead organizer of the county’s CASA division.

The demands come after neighboring Montgomery County passed a permanent rent cap of the region’s consumer price index plus three percent in 2023. The policy also includes a six percent hard cap on rent increases.

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District 7 council member Krystal Oriadha, who was a rent stabilization advocate before becoming a council member, said she saw first-hand how many community members were impacted by rent increases.

“If I have to decide between less profit margins for the industry and homelessness for my residents, I’m always going to prioritize people being homeless over you making a million or $2 million less,” Oriadha said.

The proposed three percent rent cap takes inflation and rising prices into consideration, Oriadha said, but it would also enshrine that rent increases have to be reasonable and predictable.

Oriadha, the county council’s representative in the county’s rent stabilization work group, said she hopes to have permanent legislation ready to present within the next two months. There are also plans for a six-month continuation of the current legislation to ensure there is no gap between the current restriction ending and the next stabilization policy, she added.

Andrea Crooms, a candidate in Maryland’s 5th Congressional district who attended the protest with Democratic Socialists of America, said rent stability is crucial for ensuring certainty for county residents.

If someone moves to Prince George’s County, they must be assured that their rent will not outpace their salary, Crooms said.

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Sandy Scott, a resident at the Marwood Senior Apartments in Upper Marlboro, attended Friday’s protest with a group of other Marwood residents to emphasize the importance of rent stabilization for senior citizens.

Rent stabilization is especially important to seniors, Scott said, because many have no means to earn extra money if their landlord increases rent. This leads some seniors to move in with their children or grandchildren, Scott added.

“Have mercy on us, we need somewhere to live,” Scott said. “We still want to be independent.”

Several protest attendees, including Marwood Senior Apartments resident Clyde Hargraves, said that even with the current policy their landlords tried to raise their rates by more than three percent.

In 2023, Marwood increased his rent by $300 per month, Hargraves, an 84-year-old disabled veteran, said. The apartment was found in violation of the county’s rent stabilization law by county officials, ABC7 reported.

“It seems as if though they have lost their concern for responsible citizens just because you’re up in age,” Hargraves said at Friday’s protest. “If we don’t stand up for each other and fight for what’s right, we’ll go down with anything.”

Moving forward, Scott said she hopes for rent stabilization beyond Prince George’s County. The next step will be ensuring statewide stabilization, Scott said.

“We’re gonna continue to pursue this,” Scott said. “Even if we don’t pass this time … younger people, our grandkids… will have the rent stabilization.”