Rent control in College Park to remain after city reject landlords’ petition

Council to determine next steps at Tuesday worksession

by Holly Nunn, Staff Writer
Friday, April 27, 2012

A landlord association’s attempt to stop College Park from distinguishing between rental and resident-owned housing has hit a roadblock, leaving the city able to enforce rental controls that landlords and some residents say hurt the area’s housing market and deter renting.

Lisa Miller, president of the Prince George’s Property Owners Association, which submitted petitions signed by about 10,000 residents to amend the city charter, said the group is consulting with lawyers to determine what to do next after city attorney Suellen Ferguson ruled the documents invalid.

“I’m not surprised that the city is doing this, but I think it’s unconscionable that they’re disenfranchising thousands of citizens this way,” Miller said.

College Park’s rent-control law applies to single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and quadraplexes — but not to apartments, hotels, fraternities and sororities — and was enacted in 2005 to protect tenants from unwarranted rent increases.

Landlords of single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and quadraplexes can charge no more than the Housing and Urban Development D.C. Metro Area fair market value of $2,522 per building; or the documented rent in 2005; or 0.6 percent of the assessment value of the home for single-family homes; or 1 percent of the value for multi-family dwellings, whichever value is highest.

Opponents of the law say that it decreases home values for all property owners because potential homebuyers are less likely to buy if they cannot cover their costs by renting, especially in an area with a significant student population.

The petitions, which the Prince George’s Property Owners Association submitted to the College Park City Council in March, did not include the signers’ election district, and are therefore invalid, according to Ferguson and the Board of Election Supervisors.

The petitions propose two amendments to the city charter — one that aims to repeal the city’s rent-control law by prohibiting the city from making distinctions between different types of housing, and one to limit to 2011 levels the amount of money the city can collect through real property taxes.

In a report to the city council on Tuesday, Ferguson also said that the proposed amendments to the city charter are inappropriate for referendum because of the way they are worded and because they impose major limitations on the council.

The council accepted the reports — one from Ferguson and one from the Board of Election Supervisors — but did not take action. The council will discuss the petitions and reports at their Tuesday worksession and will determine their next steps, said Janeen Miller, the city clerk.

In the report to the council, Ferguson also said that the amendment dealing with distinction between types of housing, titled Non-Discrimination in Housing and Rental Laws, is not proper charter material because it seeks to repeal the Rent Stabilization Law but does not mention the law in the title of the amendment, as is required by law.

The second amendment, Ferguson said, is not proper amendment material because it seeks to transfer the ability to set tax rates from the council to the voters, which she said in the report “is an unreasonable limit on the council’s legislative power.”

The limitation imposed by the amendment — freezing property tax revenues to 2011 levels — ”would eventually so hamper the city government that it would be unable to perform the duties required of it by law,” Ferguson added in the report.


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