By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO

Relief for Baltimore renters moved forward to committee April 27.

Bill 20-0526, titled Baltimore City COVID-19 Renter Relief Act, proposes to prohibit the increase in rents and assessment of certain fees as approximately 300,000 Baltimore renters attempt to navigate the twin crises of extreme health risk and extreme economic downturn.

The bill, as currently drafted, will apply relief back to March 5, when Governor Larry Hogan first declared a state of emergency. Protections are proposed to continue throughout the length of the state of emergency, and 90 days after the state of emergency concludes.

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott (Image Courtesy Baltimore City Council)

As drafted, the bill prohibits landlords from not only sending notice of increased rents, but also demands that landlords send in writing to tenants that any notice of rents during the crisis be disregarded.

Further, late fees are forbidden for the duration of the crisis and 90 days beyond.

Baltimore City’s Department of Planning last published that 55 percent of Baltimore City residents rent.

“We understand and we know that Baltimore is a city where renters are a huge part of our population, and any time we’re dealing with government, especially during an emergency like COVID-19, we must deeply consider their needs,” City Council President Brandon Scott said of the bill at the April 27 City Council meeting. “When you don’t know where your next check is coming from, you shouldn’t have to stress about whether your landlord is raising rent during the biggest health and economic emergency of our lifetime.”

The bill comes as additional relief for Baltimore renters. The moratorium on Baltimore evictions is ongoing.

While these measures await approval by the Land Use Committee, the city, through resolution, has appealed to Congress for direct aid to Baltimore renters.

The resolution, Council Bill 20-0216R, cites a global, national and state emergency and ongoing economic interruption and disruption. The resolution goes on to advise Congress that 44 million Americans rent with a median income of $41,000 and so concludes “the Council calls on the United States Congress to create a direct Rental Housing Assistance fund to assist residents and stabilize communities.”

“We know that our wonderful folks in Congress have been working towards trying to aid the American people,” Scott said. “But what we’re saying with this resolution is that we know that renters need direct assistance as well, just as homeowners and other individuals.”

At the time of this writing, Congress has passed three stimulus bills targeted at business interests, but nothing so specifically geared towards renters.

“What we’re asking them to do is consider adding in resources directly to impact renters ability to have assistance from their government,” Scott said. “Simply just doing what they’ve done for so many different organizations through taxes of American citizens.”