Commercial Property Removed from Rent Control Bill

By Adam Pagnucco.

In another twist to MoCo’s rent control saga, commercial property has been removed from Council Member Will Jawando’s rent control bill.

The original draft of the bill posted on the council’s website did not distinguish between property types, but because it added language to a section of law covering housing, it did not cover commercial property.

Yesterday, a new draft of the bill showed up online explicitly including commercial property. I took a screenshot of that version proving commercial property’s inclusion.

Today, a third version of the bill now excludes commercial property. It also narrows the definition of public emergency to just a “catastrophic health emergency,” a change sought by Council Member Nancy Navarro and made in the second version of the bill. The third version language below has removed all mentions of commercial property. In his verbal comments on introduction, Jawando confirmed that it now applies only to residential property.

So what happened? After the second version showed explicit coverage of commercial property, the business community erupted in outrage. The chambers of commerce representing the county, Silver Spring and Bethesda sent the letter below regarding statements made by Jawando about the bill.

Bruce Lee, President and CEO of commercial property owner Lee Development Group, made the statement on Facebook below. Lee is a member of the boards of the county and Silver Spring chambers.

What has the chambers, Lee and others in the business community upset are Jawando’s claims made in this video that he has received multiple reports of rent increases of 20%, 30% and 40%. In his remarks at the bill’s introduction, Jawando alleged that tenants in the following properties had been notified of the following increases.

The Gallery in Bethesda: 35% rent increase
Quebec Terrace in Long Branch: 9% rent increase plus late fees
The Grand in North Bethesda: 14-60% rent increases

Jawando will no doubt be called on to prove the existence of these increases.

Jawando said the Department of Housing and Community Affairs is hearing about this “every day.” He also offered praise for other landlords such as Southern Management and Wilco for working with tenants rather than imposing large rent increases.

It’s typical for bills to go through multiple drafts before introduction. That’s the result of feedback and the gathering of co-sponsors and is a normal part of the legislative process. But that usually goes on before a bill is published on the council’s website. In this case, because the bill addresses an issue that the lead sponsor believes is urgent, the bill has been changed in real-time online. I have been writing about county politics off and on for 14 years and I don’t remember the last time I saw the same hyperlink leading to three different versions of the same bill over three days prior to formal introduction. That means that, depending on when one viewed the council’s website, a person could have seen one of three versions of the bill and drawn very different conclusions about it. That confusion has stirred even more controversy than this bill might normally generate.

With four council members listed as sponsors (Jawando, Navarro, Craig Rice and Sidney Katz), only one more vote will be required for passage. Expect amendments to be considered.