Just Cause Eviction Goes Before County Council Housing and Public Safety Committees

Now is a critical time to contact your delegates and county council members about Del. Jheanelle Wilkins’s bill MC 22-19 “Just Cause Eviction.”

This legislation empowers tenants who may find themselves at the mercy of landlords who can force an eviction without providing any justification or reason. Tenants feel more comfortable speaking up knowing that there is a more thorough process for evictions.

A joint Planning, Housing & Economic Development & Public Safety (PHED/PS) meeting on January 24, 2019 brought together tenant advocate John Marshall (Maryland Legal Aid), Timothy Goetzinger (acting director of  Department of Housing and Community Affairs), Rosie McCray-Moody (DHCA Landlord-Tenant Mediation Office), and lobbyists from property management companies Southern Management, Bozzuto Management Company and the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA).

Two recurring opposition talking point from the property management owners included (a) the number of eviction treated by this bill are too small to warrant regulation and (b) Just Cause Eviction prevents evicting “problem tenants” who obstruct the landlord’s, “safe and clean communities,” for “law-abiding families with children,” (these are the landlord lobby’s phrases). 

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At-Large County Councilmember Will Jawando didn’t accept the apartment lobbyists discounting the experience evicted tenants who would have had a right to due process under Just Cause Eviction.

The number of evictions that Just Cause Eviction would prevent is a diversion by the landlord lobby. At-Large Councilmember Will Jawando recognized it as such when he acknowledged that someone’s right to have a place to live outweighed the landlord’s expense of accounting for legitimate eviction. And he reprimanded Gabrielle Duvall of Southern Management who by focusing on the minimal number cases that appear in court also minimized the experience of evicted tenants who might otherwise have been protected under Just Cause legislation.

It’s true that of the three common ways a landlord can evict a tenant in Montgomery County – failure to pay rent, lease violation, or tenant “holding over” ie: remains on the property after a lease is expired – the latter is the least common to make it to court. The whole purpose of the bill is to protect the tenants who are “holding over” by requiring landlords to provide a reason for not renewing a tenants’ lease.

Claiming a landlord can’t get rid of problematic tenants under Just Cause is ludicrous. If the landlord cannot validate an eviction under the generous list provided in MC 22-19, any other action that impairs the “safe and clean communities,” for “law-abiding families with children,” can be prohibited in the tenants lease. This is already the case for behavior like smoking, selling drugs or keeping certain pets which are commonly prohibited in residential leases. 

Landlords want to claim that under Just Cause Eviction tenants would have to testify in a court of law against one another. On this point there was some ambiguity, pushed primarily by the landlord representatives, on what constitutes evidence to justify an eviction. At-Large Councilmember Will Jawando, the sole lawyer on the Planning, Housing & Economic Development & Public Safety (PHED/PS), pointed out that reports and complaints of illegal or eviction-warranted activity would be sufficient to pass the generous stipulations of Del. Wilkins’s bill.

John Marshall of Maryland Legal Aid added the realistic perspective from his career representing tenants in court. With Just Cause Eviction, if a tenant came to his practice saying they were facing eviction because they allegedly were a disturbance to the community, a justifiable eviction “cause” under MC 22-19, then Marshall would first contact the landlord’s attorney to request evidence. If that attorney provided evidence of complaints, police visits, or breaking up parties, then Marshall wouldn’t accept the case and the issue is resolved. No neighbor testimony or court case.

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John Marshall of Maryland Legal Aid, a non-profit law firm providing a full range of free civil legal services to low-income people statewide

But the point is, Marshall said, “there are times when the tenant has reason to believe they’ve been wrongly accused, or there is no reason [for being evicted] and they have no recourse.” Currently, a landlord acts as both accuser and judge of what is a just cause to evict a tenant, MC 22-19 ends that injustice.

The Planning, Housing & Economic Development & Public Safety committee meeting adjourned without making a decision on whether to support basic rights for tenants . Readers can interpret what they want from the hearing, but it appeared as though District 1 Councilmember Andrew Friedson and At-Large Councilmember Gabriel Albornoz are very hesitant to support the bill. At-Large Councilmember Hans Riemer didn’t appear to fully support it during the hearing (talking about the bill’s effect on the housing market) but clarified online he supported the bill as amended by Del. Wilkins. District 3 Councilmember Sydney Katz seemed in favor and Councilmember Will Jawando should be commended for taking a strong pro-tenant stance and deflating many of the landlord lobby’s obtuse claims.

There is no scheduled date for the County Council to return to the subject of Just Cause Eviction. And there is no update on the Maryland General Assembly Economic Matters committee regarding the bill. It is crucial right now to contact your representatives to urge them to support Just Cause Eviction. You can do so with our prepared template below.

Just Cause Eviction Letter to Representative

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