A coalition of landlords in College Park is looking to get two proposed charter amendments on a special election ballot, but city officials say the measures would have disastrous results.
The Prince George's Property Owners Association has been working for more than a year to gather the 2,880 signatures needed to put the charter amendments to a vote. One amendment would limit the amount of revenue the city could collect from property taxes to 2011 levels, and the other would prohibit the city from making any distinction between different types of housing, preventing the city from imposing different regulations on rental properties, apartments and owner-occupied homes.
The measures take a swipe at city-imposed rent control regulations of rented single-family homes, which landlords say puts them at an unfair advantage compared to apartments, which are not regulated by rent control. Members of the association say rent stabilization makes it less profitable to rent out homes, and makes landlords less willing to make improvements and keep up the physical appearance of the homes.
“Rent stabilization has been proved to cause negative impacts wherever it is tried,” said Lisa Miller, association president. “It's never had a positive effect on the community.”
The association submitted the petitions in March, and the City Council voted Tuesday to refer them to city election supervisors to verify the authenticity of the signatures and to legal counsel to ensure the measures are appropriate for referendum.
City attorney Suellen Ferguson said the city has 60 days to verify the petitions, and the council must vote on a resolution to put the amendments on the ballot. If approved, a special election must be held within another 60 days.
Rent-control measures in College Park were passed by the City Council in 2005, and upheld in 2010 by the courts after a challenge from individual property owners. Landlords of single-family homes, duplexes, triplexes and quadraplexes can charge no more than the Housing and Urban Development D.C. Metro Area fair market value of $2,522 per building; the documented rent in 2005; 0.6 percent of the assessment value of the home for single-family homes; or 1 percent of the value for multi-family dwellings, whichever value is highest. Apartments, hotels, motels, fraternity and sorority houses are exempt from rent control.
The rent stabilization ordinance was passed, officials say, to prevent unwarranted rent increases, which could price out lower-income renters. However, opponents of rent control say the city is attempting to reduce the number of students living in the city's residential neighborhoods by making it unprofitable for property owners to rent their homes.
City officials say the association is misrepresenting what the amendments to the charter would do if passed, saying the measures have very little to do with rent control and would have far-reaching effects.
“There would be grave outcomes based on unintended consequences of these amendments,” Ferguson said.
Officials say that if the city could not distinguish between rental and owner-occupied homes, they would not be able to conduct yearly inspections of rental properties without also inspecting owner-occupied properties, and the charter amendment could disqualify homeowners from receiving the Maryland Homestead Tax Credit, a tax break for homeowners on their primary residence property tax.
But council members say they are confident that if the measure does make it to the ballot, it will be rejected by voters.
“If they did [get the referendums on the ballot], they'd get crushed in such an overwhelming fashion,” said Councilman Marcus Afzali.
The rent stabilization law in College Park is set to expire in September, though the council has not committed to letting it expire and could re-approve the measure.