Renter Issues Related to COVID-19 Crisis
 

For Questions - Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs : call 311 (240-777-0311); olta.intake@montgomerycountymd.gov // online request

Information on landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities addressed in the County’s Landlord-Tenant Handbook.

Under the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act, how much can my landlord increase my existing rent? For example, how does it affect May 1 rents?

  • The COVID-19 Renter Relief Act (the Act), effective April 24, 2020, prohibits landlords from increasing existing tenants’ rent by more than 2.6% after April 24 and during the COVID-19 catastrophic health emergency signed by the Governor of Maryland on March 5, 2020.
  • For example, any rent increases scheduled for May 1, 2020 may not represent an increase of more than 2.6%.
  • For a summary of the bill (in multiple languages) visit: Summary of COVID-19 Renter Relief Act.
  • To see examples (in multiple languages) visit: Explanatory scenarios regarding the Act.

If my landlord already has already increased my rent, for example starting May 1st, how does the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act affect that?

  • Landlords who previously notified tenants of a rent increase in excess of 2.6% that would come into effect after April 24 and during the catastrophic health emergency or, who gave tenants notice of a rent increase of more than 2.6% since the start of the March 5 emergency, must either notify them to disregard that notice or notify them that the rent amount under the notice will be an amount representing an increase of no greater than 2.6%.
  • If a rent increase of more than 2.6% was charged and paid after April 24, the tenant should contact the landlord to work out a correction and refund of the differential. DHCA Office of Landlord and Tenant Affairs can help with explanations and working through any adjustments. Call 311 (240-777-0311)

How does the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act affect notices of rent increases my landlord has sent or will send to me?

The Act prohibits landlords from notifying tenants of a rent increase of more than 2.6% during the COVID-19 emergency (which began March 5) and for 90 days after the emergency ends.

What if I already signed a lease for a rent increase that exceeds 2.6%?

If the increase is scheduled to start after April 24, 2020 and the rent increase amount is more than 2.6%, the rent increase must be reduced to no more than 2.6%. If the rent increase took effect prior to April 24, 2020, the Act does not apply and you are obligated to pay the increase

If I sign a one-year lease or a two-year lease, is my rent increase limited to no more than 2.6%? 

Yes. For rent increases for which the landlord provides notices during the emergency or within 90 days after the emergency ends, the rent increases communicated cannot exceed 2.6%: 

  • By law all rent increases communicated during the emergency and for 90 days after the emergency cannot include a rent increase of more than 2.6% 
  • If you select a month-to-month lease, 1-year lease, or 2-year lease, your rent can increase by no more than 2.6% for rent increases communicated during the emergency or for 90 days after.
  • If you select a 2-year lease, your rent for the second year also cannot increase by more than 2.6% above the year one rent if the rate increase was communicated to you during the emergency or within 90 days after the emergency ends. A 2-year lease must state the rent amount for the full term of the lease; it cannot leave the second year rent amount unstated.

How often can my rent be increased?

Landlords can increase your rent only once every 12 months.

What if I already signed a lease for a rent increase that exceeds 2.6%?

Rent increases scheduled to start after April 24, 2020 must be reduced to 2.6%. However, if the rent increase took effect prior to April 24, 2020 and exceeded the 2.6% limit, it is not affected by the Act and you are obligated to pay the increase. 

I live in a building for senior citizens. Does the 2.6% rent increase limit apply to me?

If you live in a building for people age 62 and older that does not provide meals or nursing services, this Act applies to you. However, if you live in an Independent Living or Assisted Living building that provides meals or nursing services, the 2.6% limit on rent increases does not apply to you.

I rent a room in an owner-occupied house with no lease. Does this rent increase limit apply to me? 

No. This Act applies only to licensed residential rentals in Montgomery County, i.e., rental units in multifamily buildings, houses, townhouses, individual condominium units, and accessory dwelling units. It does not apply to tenants renting a room in an owner-occupied home, as those are not required to be licensed. However, such tenants may not be evicted at this time as ordered by the Governor of Maryland. Current eviction protections apply to all tenants in Maryland.

Does this Act apply to commercial property rents?

No. It applies only to residential rental units in Montgomery County with the exception of room rentals.

What guidance is available to tenants who will not be able to pay rent?

  • Any tenant who expects to miss a rent payment should contact their landlord to alert them and discuss options, such as partial payments or an agreement for future payments. Tenants are encouraged to keep written documentation of all conversations with their landlord including dates and times, as well as written receipts and records of all payments made. It is best to pay online or with a check, as this gives you written verification of payments made. If you have to pay with cash or money order, only do so if you receive a receipt upon transfer of rent payment to the landlord.
  • Before signing any payment agreement, talk it through with your landlord. You can also contact DHCA by calling 311 to review any agreement. 
  • Residents are encouraged to apply for unemployment benefits which have been expanded to include most workers, with significant increase in payment amounts. The Maryland Division of Unemployment Insurance advises that residents who are now totally or partially unemployed and have worked within the past 18 months can apply. In addition to wage and salary workers, self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig workers and others can apply for unemployment benefits online. Visit: http://www.labor.maryland.gov/employment/unemployment.shtml.
  • The COVID-19: Community Resources webpage provides additional information about available assistance.
  • It’s important to pursue the above steps, because if you end up in court, you will want to show the judge that you made every effort to receive all assistance for which you were qualified (such as unemployment, emergency assistance) and, that you tried to work with your landlord in good faith to establish some sort of a payment plan.
  • Additionally, renters may qualify for a tax credit (a check of up to $1,000). To apply, visit the Renters Tax Credit application website to determine eligibility and submit your application online or by mail. Applications must be submitted by September 1, 2020. Qualified renters will also be automatically enrolled to receive a 50% matching Montgomery County tax credit that will be mailed to them by the end of March 2021.

Does the limit on rent increases apply to all landlords in Montgomery County?

The 2.6% limit on rent increases and notices applies to all licensed residential rentals in Montgomery County, including rental units in multifamily buildings, houses, townhouses, individual condominium units, and accessory dwelling units.

How was 2.6% identified as the limit on rent increases?

  • The COVID-19 Renter Relief Act limits rent increases during and after the emergency to the percentage increase of the County’s 2020 Voluntary Rent Guideline (VRG) of 2.6%.
  • That number was established by the County Executive on February 3, 2020. Under requirements of the County law it represents the rental component of the Consumer Price Index for the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area and it is updated each year. The VRG cannot be changed until 2021. 
  • The VRG provides reference information for landlords and tenants to understand average rent increases from the prior year and before the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act had no impact on rent levels allowed in the County. 

If I have questions about this new measure, who can I call?

Tenants or landlords who have questions or want help can reach Montgomery County DHCA Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs by calling 311 (240-777-0311).

Does the County have any requirements related to maintenance or property management for the COVID-19 emergency?

  • Yes. The County requires multifamily properties to follow the CDC guidelines, Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility.
  • DHCA communicated this requirement in an email to all licensed landlords on April 10, 2020. DHCA communicated this requirement in an email to all Common Ownership Communities on April 17, 2020.
  • All multifamily properties must clean high touch surfaces in common areas at least once a day following the CDC guidelines, with recommendation for more frequent cleaning in high traffic areas.
  • All multifamily properties must post the CDC Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility three page guideline in a common area.
  • More information about multifamily property guidelines is available at the DHCA webpage of information for landlords.

What documents does Montgomery County require landlords and COC multifamily property managers to post during the emergency?

DHCA requires landlords to post three specific documents to inform residents, which are available from the DHCA website:

  • CDC provided Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Facility
  • County provided Guidance for Multifamily Building Residents:   -  -  -  -  -  -
  • County provided Tenants’ Rights Evictions Suspended.

DHCA requires Common Ownership Communities that are multifamily buildings to post:

Does the County have information in multiple languages to help residents maintain safety?

Yes. The County has printable flyers in multiple languages available at its DHCA webpage of information for landlords and COC multifamily property managers to print and post in common areas, addressing social distancing and safe practices in the home and in common areas.

What can residents safely do inside the building? Ride the elevator? Do laundry? Are the vents safe?

Guidance for Multifamily Building Residents addresses these and related topics. It is available in English and Spanish.

Does the County require landlords to tell tenants about the statewide eviction moratorium?

  • Yes. The County issued a requirement for landlords to post a Tenant’s Rights Evictions Suspended notice alongside the previously required Tenants’ Rights poster which informs tenants of rights to report concerns to DHCA.
  • The Tenants’ Rights notice includes information that rents remain due during the emergency; that while the Maryland Courts have suspended eviction actions no tenant can be removed for any reason; and, that the eviction moratorium is only temporary.

What guidance does DHCA have for tenants who test positive for COVID-19?

  • Residents are free to contact the Department of Health Services or to contact their landlord/property manager to ask for any assistance. Residents may contact the Montgomery County Disease Control Call Center if they have COVID-19 health and testing related concerns and questions. The Call Center is open Monday – Sunday, 8 AM – 8 PM, at (240) 777-1755.
  • Residents are not obligated to inform their landlord or other residents. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Maryland confidentiality laws, residents are not obligated to disclose protected health information related to COVID-19 to their landlord nor other residents. This includes patient health information related to COVID-19 test results, isolation, monitoring or quarantine status.
  • Landlords/Property Managers should not report to the Department of Health and Human Services information about residents and staff which may fall under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Maryland confidentiality laws. This includes patient health information related to COVID-19 test results, isolation, monitoring or quarantine status.
  • Landlords/Property Managers are requested not to share with other residents any health-related information about individual tenants, whether the information identifies the tenant or not. Landlords/Property Managers should not share information about residents and staff which may fall under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Maryland confidentiality laws. This includes patient health information related to COVID-19 test results, isolation, monitoring or quarantine status.

How long will the eviction moratorium last?

The moratorium is temporary, with no set time period. The Governor’s Executive Order, “Temporarily Prohibiting Evictions of Tenants Suffering Substantial Loss of Income Due to COVID-19” states that the moratorium on eviction of renters with income loss due to the emergency will remain in place ‘Until the state of emergency is terminated and the proclamation of the catastrophic health emergency is rescinded...” For more information, see “Evictions and Mortgages” at COVID-19 Pandemic: Orders and Guidance.

Can any tenant, including room renters, be evicted during the Maryland eviction moratorium?

  • Landlords cannot force a tenant to leave their rental home without giving proper written notice and obtaining a court order.
  • If a landlord attempts to physically evict a tenant during this moratorium, the tenant should call the police non-emergency number (301-279-8000).

Can Landlords send collection letters and pressure tenants while the eviction moratorium delays actions?

Yes, landlords can continue to pursue collection activity, including issuing paper and electronic notices, as allowed under the leases with tenants. Landlords also can continue to charge late fees.

What programs ar‚Äče available to help with paying rent?

Montgomery County rent support programs are completely subscribed; at present, no new rental support is available. Please call the DHHS Housing Stabilization offices in Rockville or Silver Spring if you are facing housing loss: 

  • Rockville Office: 1301 Piccard Drive, Phone: 240-777-4550
  • Silver Spring office: 8818 Georgia Avenue; Phone 240-777-3075

The County recommends that all residents suffering income loss should apply for Unemployment Benefits, which have been expanded to include most workers - with significant increases in payment amounts.

Call DHHS Housing Stabilization (240-777-4550 or 240-777-3075) for assistance in understanding and applying for Unemployment benefits, filing income tax returns and learning about social service benefits that may be available.

The COVID-19: Community Resources webpage provides additional information about available assistance.

At what point can a renter pay past due rent to avoid eviction after the moratorium ends?

Renters have the right to pay owed rent at any time, and the landlord must accept it and cancel the eviction process if rent is brought current.

How many months can I go without paying my rent without being evicted?

  • A landlord can sue for failure to pay one month’s rent on time. While the moratorium is in place and courts are closed, no evictions can occur.
  • Once court opens again, your landlord can sue for failure to pay rent and you may be evicted. The County Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs recommends that tenants work with their landlord on a plan, track all funds paid and keep receipts. The landlord and courts will use these records to determine what you owe. If you pay nothing, you will need to make up all past due rent and fees to avoid eviction.

Significant numbers of eviction requests will be backed up when the moratorium comes off. How will that process be controlled?

The Court system will manage the scheduling of cases. The DHCA Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs will help tenants by answering questions, making efforts to mediate and connecting them to available resources.

If I rent a room or basement in someone's house, can they kick me out because I lost my job or because I tested positive for COVID-19?

  • No. Landlords cannot force a tenant to leave their rental home without giving proper written notice and obtaining a court order.
  • If a landlord attempts to physically evict a tenant during this moratorium, the tenant should call the police non-emergency number (301-279-8000).

If I rent a room and I have been diagnosed as having COVID-19, where do I go?

  • You should contact your health provider for medical advice. Residents may contact the Montgomery County Disease Control Call Center if they have COVID-19 health and testing related concerns and questions. The Call Center is open Monday – Sunday, 8 AM – 8 PM, at (240) 777-1755.
  • You can shelter in place if it allows you to stay away from the other members of the household. Anyone who has no place to stay should contact the County Health and Human Services Crisis Center at 240-777-4000.

What can property owners do if tenants simply refuse to pay rent, regardless of whether they have lost their job?

Tenants who fail to pay rent can be sued for possession of the property through eviction when the courts reopen.

Can Management access apartments for non-emergency issues given concerns regarding maintenance staff and outside contractors in units and the issue of spreading the virus?

  • Management must obtain tenant agreement for access.
  • The Office of Landlord and Tenant Affairs can be contacted by calling 311 (from a non-local number dial 240-777-0311) to obtain guidance or assistance in working with property management.
  • The Stay at Home order and guidance on social distancing and avoiding contact recommends only emergency-related interactions.

Are real estate agents allowed to show units to prospective buyers during this period?

  • No. Consistent with guidelines on social distancing and the Stay at Home order.
  • Real estate companies and activities are not included in the State’s list of essential services and are not exempt from the Stay at Home order.

What should tenants who are scheduled to move out of their current apartment do considering delays due to the Stay at Home order and tenants’ inability to move? Will they be penalized? 

  • Tenants whose lease has expired and do not have the ability to move due to the Stay at Home order cannot be evicted. Arrangements with their current landlord need to be negotiated to extend the lease.
  • The County’s Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs can be contacted by calling 311 (from a non-local number dial 240-777-0311) to obtain assistance.

What about tenants who are scheduled to move into a new unit and cannot, due to the Stay at Home order; how can this be negotiated with both the new and current landlords?

The County’s Office of Landlord and Tenant Affairs can be contacted through the 311 service (from a non-local number dial 240-777-0311) to obtain assistance.

For tenants who were scheduled for eviction prior to the declaration, will there be additional time once the courts re-open?

The Courts will determine how to manage the process. The County recommends that tenants and landlords work on payment options or arrangements to reduce evictions.

Will landlords be compelled to work out payment agreements for tenants who have fallen behind in rent, or will they be able to move forward with a failure to pay rent case?

The government has no structures to compel or force landlords and tenants to enter into agreements but has encouraged communication and negotiation to benefit both parties.

What information has the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) provided to voucher holders about recertification and interim recertifications where there has been a change in income? How can that be reported to ensure that tenants are paying the correct amount in rent?

The HOC is working directly with voucher holders on recertification and managing individual situations.