One may be the loneliest number, but apparently one documented claim of a rent increase was enough for Councilmember Will Jawando (D-At Large) to introduce rent control legislation that governs the entire county.
When he introduced his emergency rent control bill in response to the pandemic, I made repeated requests to Councilmember Jawando’s office for any evidence he had of rising rents that inspired him to file the bill.
I eventually received a public comment but not a scintilla of hard evidence, so I submitted a formal Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request on April 19 via his official email account: “Please consider this a request for any and all documents covered by the Public Information Act you have received related to rent increases during the pandemic. Thank you.”
Cecily Thorne, Jawando’s Chief of Staff, contacted me on April 21 after I wrote my initial post about the lack of evidence or logic “even from an amoral greed perspective” behind the rent control bill. She stated that “Councilmember Jawando asked me to forward some of the information we have been receiving from tenants related to rent increases” and included four redacted pieces of information.
Only one of these documents made a claim of a rent increase that was made both prior to the bill’s introduction and during the pandemic. (Another was notification given prior to the pandemic, while one involved late fees, not rent, and the last one was a somewhat complex situation sent after the bill’s introduction in any case.)
I spoke with Ms. Thorne shortly after receiving the information and told her directly of my MPIA request in the course of our discussion. Nonetheless, my request went completely ignored in violation of the law.
When I followed up on May 30 – after the mandatory 30-day disclosure deadline in state law had passed – Ms. Thorne remembered being made aware of a request (“You mentioned you made a request”), but also texted that “I have not seen one until now in writing” and “I did not receive a request formal from you” despite my having sent it to Councilmember Jawando’s official email and having mentioned it during our call.
The lack of response suggests that either (1) Councilmember Will Jawando’s office is highly disorganized, or (2) unaware of its legal responsibilities under the Public Information Act, or (3) willfully ignored the request in violation of the law. It could also be a combo platter.
Thanks to the efforts of Legislative Attorney Amanda Mihill, I received most, though not all, of the documents late last week. However, Jawando’s office excluded the unredacted copy of a previous document until I made mention that it was missing. Their response still excludes many documents attached to emails in violation of the law.
What’s Not in the Documents?
Despite Councilmember Jawando’s media claims, he had virtually no documentation that this was occurring before he decided to file the bill. Although Cecily Thorne stated that the emails she sent were only “some of the information,” the documents sent show otherwise. There was literally only the one claim mentioned above.
There are no copies of phone records listing people who called with complaints. Nor is there any evidence that the Councilmember’s staff contacted the landlord.
The only other evidence within the documents involves a few back and forth strategy emails with the Renters Alliance in which Councilmember Jawando says “as many examples as you can send will be helpful ahead of bill introduction.” The reply references only increases being seen in the same building as the sole complaint from a renter.
No wonder Councilmember Jawando was unresponsive to queries on this topic from not just myself but others despite the claims he made in the media.
Glass Bill Provides Meaningful Help
Fortunately, the Council took other action to address the larger problem, which is that many people who have lost their jobs, if only temporarily, cannot pay regardless of the level of rent.
The Council passed legislation introduced by Councilmember Evan Glass (D-At Large) that, among other provisions, appropriated an additional $2 million in rental assistance. This money helps people facing eviction directly. The county has also loosened the requirements to receive rental assistance in light of the ongoing crisis.