Right to Housing Alliance has been BUSY. With the release of the Justice Diverted report, Rally for Rent Court Justice, events at Red Emma’s Bookstore, Liberty Rec, and the Park Heights Community Health Alliance as well as lobbying up the members of the Baltimore House Delegation and growing the ranks with new 7K Families Partner organizations, including Baltimore Bloc, Chase House, Bristol House, Showing Up for Racial Justice, and Jews United for Justice, we’re well on our way to make substantive changes for Baltimore renters!
As you may know, this session we, along with our partners in the 7KF Campaign proposed a bill, the Fairness and Integrity for Baltimore City Renters bill. Our bill proposed cutting the massive number of filings in Rent Court in half, by proposing a fourteen day pre-filing notice period (Rent Court now operates on a “Sue First; Talk Later” basis), mandating that landlords come correct to court (with account ledgers, leases, proof of compliance with rental property registration and Maryland lead laws), and that an increase in filing fees (which still brings us well below the national average) would cover the cost of increased access to civil legal aid for tenants at Rent Court. It would also clean up the ambiguous definition of “rent” to ensure that renters are not facing judicial eviction for non-rent charges.
Because the bill—which was introduced by Del. Sandy Rosenberg, co-sponsored by Del. Oaks and Del. Anderson, and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Pugh—would only affect changes to Baltimore City, we sought the support of the Baltimore City Delegation prior to committee hearings, and had overwhelming support from delegates. Going into the legislative session, we anticipated that this bill was generate a lot of push back from the landlord industry and it certainly did.
We came strong to our first meeting with the Delegation. Members of RTHA, PJC, Bristol House, Chase House, Healthcare for the Homeless, Green and Healthy Homes Initiative, Jews United for Justice, and Park Heights Angel all showed up to support the bill.
Though landlord industry lobbyists were present, none testified. Instead, they pressured legislators to have another hearing the following week, and send the bill to a study over the summer. Their tactic, along with pressure from the Baltimore City Administration, worked, and before our bill could even make it to Committee hearings it was essentially dead in the water. When it became clear that there would be no Committee votes on the bill this session, we ultimately opted to forego hearings this year and focus on community building.
The Fairness and Integrity for Baltimore City Renters bill proposes leveling the playing field for renters, and eliminating violations of due process in Rent Court that landlords have been counting on for decades to reap profits off of poverty in Baltimore. That alone—an attempt at correcting the imbalance—was enough to get the landlord industry riled up enough to subvert the democratic process and work to have the bill killed behind closed doors.
Despite underhanded landlord industry behavior, we were able to educate our elected officials on the long overlooked issues facing renters in Baltimore, and to introduce a new level of discourse. That is a win. Hearing Baltimore Mayoral Candidates discussing the need for rent court reform this year is a win. Right to Housing Alliance, along with our other partners in the 7K Families Campaign, has already changed the conversation about renters in Baltimore and we’re just getting started.
Check out the latest RTHA Member victory!
Join Right to Housing Alliance, Baltimore Racial Justice Action and 7KF Campaign Partners on March 13th for 7000 Families: race and gender oppression in baltimore rent court!