A growing number of people are choosing to rent rather than buy homes in Montgomery County.
Matt Losak, executive director of the Montgomery County Renters Alliance, says more than 25 percent of the county rents—with about 70 percent of those renters living in greater Silver Spring and Wheaton.
There are many reasons why. Some renters don’t want to be burdened with high taxes or home maintenance while seniors and immigrants are more often choosing rentals, Losak said.
Rockville rental numbers
In Rockville, land is an issue.
The city is expected to grow “by just over 21,000 by 2040,”according to a publication on housing trends published by the City of Rockville in June.
“Because of the shortage of land within or immediately outside of Rockville available for single-family housing, it is expected that the large majority of the approximately 10,000 new housing units will be multifamily (apartments and condominiums),” the city’s Housing Scan stated.
Renter-occupied units in Rockville increased from 32 percent in 2000 to 40 percent in 2010, according to the report. Montgomery County as a whole saw a smaller increase during that period, with renter-occupied units accounting for 31 percent in 2000 and 33 percent in 2010.
The report also found that at $1,601 a month, average market-rate rents are higher in the City of Rockville than in any other part of the county except Bethesda-Chevy Chase, where they average $1,914.
The average rental rate increase in the Rockville market area (which includes an area beyond the city limits) between 2005 and 2011 was 21.58 percent, the report found. Bethesda-Chevy Chase (a 30.47 percent increase), Silver Spring-Takoma Park (27.28 percent) and Wheaton (22.02 percent) all saw a greater increase during the period. Rockville’s increase also was lower than the countywide average increase of 23.56 percent.
Advocating for renters’ rights
Regardless of whether market forces or personal motivations lead a person to rent, he or she wants the same security and protections as homeowners, Losak said.
That’s where the Alliance comes in.
After a Tenants Work Group suggested the county form a group to advocate for renters’ rights, Losak’s organization began to form “a presence and a voice for renters that didn’t exist before,” he said.
The bigger issues that the Alliance are calling for include protection from “unreasonable” rent increases and no-cause eviction, which is when a person’s lease isn’t renewed or he or she is asked to leave even if the rent is paid on time, Losak said.
“With as little as 60 days notice, a landlord can tell a renter he’s not going to renew a lease for no reason at all,” he said. “From my experience talking with hundreds of renters across the county, they are living in fear of losing their home.”
An intimidation factor is at play for some renters and landlords, Losak said, like the woman who told him she was forced to go from a 12-month lease to a month-to-month lease after complaining that a fire door wasn’t opening easily enough. A month-to-month lease is less desirable because the rent could increase each month or the lease could be canceled on any given month.
The changing face of renters
Many renters today are residents who could have afforded mortgages in the past.
“The historical and national idea of a renter has changed … housing has become mathematically out of reach for people’s finances,” said Losak, citing homes listing for half-a-million dollars in Silver Spring.
“You have to be fairly well-to-do to buy a modest house in Silver Spring,” Losak said.
Where does that leave renters? Wanting a sense of permanence and community just like homeowners, according to Losak.
“It used to be renters were not considered permanent or full-class citizens,” he said. “Nowadays renters are demanding it.”
The group is holding its first meeting next month in downtown Silver Spring.