About 100 Silver Spring-area tenants filled a meeting room at the Silver Spring Civic Center last week for the first in a series of regional meetings of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance Inc.
Formed in 2010, the nonprofit organization is working to educate renters as well as advocate for their interests. The group began actively recruiting this spring and now has a list of about 2,000 renters, said Matt Losak, executive director.
“What we have now is the beginning of an organized, county-wide effort,” said Losak, a renter himself. “When renters realize that there are hundreds of renters out there experiencing the same challenges, who are equally as concerned about the stability of their homes and are seeing some the same abuses going on, when they see they have this in common, we have people who identify themselves as class of people who can work together.”
He said nearly 30 percent of Montgomery County residents rent, citing 2010 U.S. Census Bureau statistics. That is up from 2008 when about 25 percent of the county rented.
The meeting Oct. 2 was designed to give renters a forum to express concerns, learn about their rights and meet elected representatives, he said.
Similar meetings will take place in Bethesda and Rockville, and potentially other parts of the county, but dates have yet to be finalized.
Renters who attended the meeting told stories of high rent increases, eviction, fees and alleged retaliation and humiliation.
Victoria Price, a resident of Charter House, a Silver Spring apartment building for tenants age 55 and older, told of residents in her building being treated like children, ostracized from common areas or even charged a pet fee for a service dog.
Kathy Wright, a resident of Colesville Plaza, said lease renewals in her building require residents to carry the landlord as a beneficiary on renter’s insurance.
After 37 years of living in the Blairs, Joyce Hymes had her annual lease rescinded and a month-to-month lease imposed because of her tenant advocacy, Losak said. With help from the Renters Alliance, her annual lease was restored.
“I urge you to stand up and fight for your rights because it’s very important,” Hymes said. “If you don’t fight for yourself nobody’s going to fight for you.”
The Maryland Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection Division often can investigate abuses, said Philip Ziperman, the division’s deputy chief.
His office has gone after landlords and management companies that have charged fees improperly or failed to return security deposits, he said.
But little will change if renters don’t get organized, Councilman Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park said.
“You need to give people a reason to worry about you,” Elrich said of elected officials. “They have to think you are going to go to the polls, they have to think you are going to show up at meetings.”
Del. Tom Hucker (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring suggested organizing a renters night in Annapolis where renters meet with lawmakers and lobby for tenant interests.