Montgomery County Renters’ Alliance reports the Maryland Legislative Environment and Transportation Committee (ETC) voted 17-2 against Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins’s Just Cause Eviction (JCE) bill. This JCE bill made it further than Del. Wilkin’s bill last session, but both times this basic tenant protection was killed by conservative Democrats who dominate positions of power in the Maryland General Assembly.
The ETC is a clear example of how impotent the Democratic majority in Annapolis can be when it comes to protecting the growing number of Montgomery County renters. There are at least six Montgomery County Democrats on the committee and District 17 Delegate Kumar Barve is the committee chairperson. But only two Montgomery County delegates on the committee cared enough to vote for tenants’ rights — stalwart tenant ally Del. Vaughn Stewart and Del. Sara Love (who may have been making up for her vote to protect country club tax exemptions a few weeks earlier). The rest sided with landlords (Del. Fraser-Hidalgo didn’t even show up to vote, he was presenting a separate bill to another committee at the time, but he made his anti-renter views apparent in earlier votes). Even worse is the Democrats in power who are actively enabling false or misleading talking points regarding Just Cause Eviction.
Kumar Barve squirmed his anti-renter views into the landlord journal of record, Bethesda Beat, parroting the same tired argument’s he and apartment building lobbyists have been leveraging from the start of the Just Cause Eviction campaign. On Twitter, Del. Barve claimed preventing tenant displacements and evictions is, “bad public policy” and defended “liberal Democrats” who joined him on the side of landlords against MoCo constituents and local community leaders. Further, we have no evidence that Barve ever brought his bad-faith concerns about Just Cause legislation to the multiple listening sessions organized by Del. Wilkins that bring stakeholders to the table to discuss the bill. We also learned Barve received $5,000.00 in campaign contributions from a single landlord lobbyist in the past 5 years alone.
Barve’s arguments dull arguments are easily debunked and range from basic misunderstanding of eviction law and procedures to the ultra-libertarian “property and contract rights über alles” views held by landlord lobbyist Ron Wineholt. The basic point remains the same: Why would do landlords as a class want the freedom to displace tenants without presenting a reason? It’s obvious they can’t abide Just Cause Eviction because it would weaken their position in landlord tenant court (as they’d have to provide evidence that displacing the tenant was warranted) and it’d make it more difficult to raise rents or redeveloping after displacing former tenants.
Just Cause Eviction is an anti-displacement measure, and considering the deep impact housing instability has on working families, it’s despicable that Montgomery County Democrats like Barve (D-17), Fraser-Hidalgo (D-15), Gilchrist (D-17) are utterly apathetic about renters’ rights.
Del. Wilkins submitted a similar bill late last year, which she was pressured to withdraw. Wilkins then spent summer of 2018 arranging meetings and public events with tenant and landlord stakeholders. We reported landlords and their proxies barely participated in these events, using them to get media attention and mischaracterize JCE, instead of cooperatively working towards a compromise.
Now it is obvious why lobbyists from the Apartment and Office Building Association didn’t care to cooperate on a passeable bill — there was enough anti-renter bias within the Maryland Democrats to deny Just Cause Eviction. When it comes to renters, a majority of Montgomery and Maryland Democrats just don’t give a shit. In Oregon, the three women who occupy the most powerful roles in state government endorsed and passed statewide Just Cause Eviction and rent stabilization. This is unthinkable in Maryland, due mostly to our General Assembly leaders and Governor being a triumvirate of conservative white men who are racist, protect other racists, and endorse racist voting policies.
Under leadership like this, it’s no surprise the injustice of eviction is permissible to the Montgomery County Democratic delegation.