Letter to the Editor: Just Cause Evictions Ill-Advised
By Harvey Jacobs Candidate for State Delegate, District 15
We are writing in response to the Local Opinions Dated August 19, 2018 entitled “Landlords in Montgomery should have to give just cause for evictions” by Matthew Losak.
The legislation Mr. Losak refers to (House Bill 995) was withdrawn by the Montgomery County Delegation last March as an Ill-advised usurpation of private property rights, among other deficiencies. This bill, sponsored by the all-Democrat Montgomery County Delegation, would have prohibited landlords from non-renewing residential leases, absent a showing in court of “Just Cause.” The bill enumerated 11 vague circumstances that would constitute “Just Cause,” allowing a landlord to either evict or refuse to renew a lease at the end of its stated term.
Allowing tenants to unilaterally decide whether or not to leave their rental unit at the expiration of their contractual lease term would have turned basic contract law on its head and would have resulted in an explosion of landlord-tenant lawsuits. Allowing the government to intrude into the sanctity of contract law is simply a bad precedent.
Mr. Losak engages in the fallacy of logic by citing the government’s role in ensuring safety in the drug, airline and toy industries to try and justify economic regulation of the housing industry. There are already many laws on the books that require landlords to provide safe housing. The common law provides tenants with an implied Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment in all leases, warranting the right to habitable housing. Applying Mr. Losak’s safety argument, one would have to assume that if a tenant felt that his/her apartment was unsafe, the last thing that tenant would do would be to stay in that unsafe environment after the tenant’s lease expired. The governmental role in regulating safety does not support the governmental trampling of the public’s private property or contractual rights.
The Just Cause Bill would have the opposite effect than that which was intended. When landlords have to go to court to regain their property rights, there are costs incurred. Those costs can either be absorbed by the landlord, and thus reduce their profit, or be passed along to renters in the form of higher rents. When a landlord’s cost of doing business, due to ill-conceived laws such as the Just Cause Bill, gets too high to be absorbed by the landlord, or the tenants are unable to afford the increased rental rates, the supply of affordable rental housing will decrease. The economic laws of supply and demand take over. If there are fewer landlords willing to do business in a jurisdiction with a Just Cause Eviction statute on the books, rents will rise since there are fewer rental units available for the same pool of renters.
At the February 21, 2018 Montgomery County Delegation Hearing, Gabrielle Duvall, General Counsel of Southern Management Corporation, which has 4400 rental units in the county, testified that “Southern does not own or manage any rental properties in the District of Columbia due to the fact that it has a similar law on the books. Southern can’t continue to operate in Montgomery County if there are these continual attacks on landlords.”
Ronald W. Wineholt, Vice-President of Government Affairs-MD of the Apartment and Office Building Association (AOBA), testified that if the concern was “retaliatory evictions, those are already illegal, and the landlord & tenant courts are already dealing with those claims every day.” Clark Mellilo, President of Kay Apartment Communities, which has 12,000 rental apartments in the Washington, DC suburbs, testified that the bill would have “certainly increased operating costs and reduced affordable housing” in Montgomery County.
If the Maryland House of Delegates is truly interested in maintaining a stable supply of safe, affordable housing, it must abandon these ill-conceived, landlord-unfriendly bills and look for ways to make rental housing less expensive to build, maintain and manage and therefore, more affordable.
Harvey S. Jacobs, Esq.
Real Estate & Small Business Attorney
Jacobs & Associates, Attorneys At Law, LLC
Rockville, MD 20850
The House Lawyer Columnist for The Washington Post
Candidate for Maryland House of Delegates for Legislative District 15