New task force will spend year looking for ways to resolve rental housing issues
by Holly Nunn, Staff Writer | Wednesday, July 11, 2012
The College Park City Council voted Tuesday to stop enforcement of the city’s controversial rent control law for one year while the city works with landlords to resolve challenges in the rental housing market.
The council passed an ordinance to extend the law for one year, but then passed a resolution to suspend enforcement of the law until September 2013.
“This gives us one year to explore different ways to get at the same issues the rent stabilization ordinance was meant to address,” said Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1), who introduced the resolution to suspend enforcement of the law.
Some of the issues to be addressed, Wojahn said, include stabilizing the rate of owner-occupied homes in the city, public safety issues and code enforcement. The city has contended that renter-occupied homes lead to more code violations than owner-occupied homes.
While the ordinance — which caps rents for single-family homes and duplexes, but not for apartments or fraternity and sorority houses — was passed in 2005, it was not enforced until 2010, when it was upheld in court after a challenge from property owners.
A task force is being set up, Wojahn said, to decide how to address problems in the city’s largely student-occupied rental housing.
“We want to make sure all the stakeholders are at the table, including residents, students, the [University of Maryland, College Park], and obviously the landlords and the council,” Wojahn said, adding that there would likely be community forums to discuss how to resolve the problems, though none have yet been scheduled.
The most vocal opponent of the law has been the Prince George’s Property Owners Association, or PGPOA, a coalition of landlords in the College Park area. They have said the ordinance not only restricts how much they can invest in their properties while expecting a return on that investment, but also lowers the property values of owner-occupied homes in the city because it limits what owners can do with their property, making College Park less attractive to potential home buyers.
“We had many discussions with the council, and we all agreed that there’s a new path,” said Lisa Miller, a landlord in College Park and president of the PGPOA. “I must commend them for their vision and leadership in moving down this path to work together. It wasn’t an easy decision for them.”
The issue will come before the council again in September 2013, when the ordinance could be extended or allowed to expire. A year is not a very long time, Wojahn said, but the council and landlords will start working now to make progress.
“Our objective [for the next year] is to come up with ideas and possible solutions,” Wojahn said. “We’re looking to make progress, not solve the problems.”