College Park City Council voted down a measure that would have seen the city endorse a letter from area elected officials calling on landlords to be lenient with student tenants who may not be returning to campus this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The vote took place during a special voting session held after Council’s regularly-scheduled Aug. 4, 2020, worksession.
College Park Mayor Patrick Wojahn, explaining his support for endorsing the letter, said University of Maryland officials expect about half of their students to attend class remotely this fall. Some students, as reported by The Diamondback and The Baltimore Sun, are now scrambling to cancel their plans to live on or near campus as a result of the pandemic’s impacts on in-person schooling. Some of those students who signed leases before the full scope of the pandemic’s impact on higher education was apparent, are now struggling to get out of those leases if they can take classes remotely.
“People are already moving in. We’ve heard significantly from residents that feel like they have to come back to College Park now because they’re stuck in a lease,” said Wojahn during the meeting. “I really think that by not taking a position on this we are leaving them high and dry.”
Councilor Robert Day, opposing the measure, wondered how landlords would react to College Park’s endorsement of the letter encouraging landlords to be lenient with their tenants.
‘Have we thought about what that would mean to the city and how we respond to the businesses that we’re going to affect, especially the big apartment complexes and things like that,” wondered Day.
“A lot of students – who have no business to be on campus – are jammed,” said Councilor John Rigg, whose district in Old Town College Park is the heart of the city’s off-campus student population.
Councilor PJ Brennan said the letter “does nothing” while also being an example of government over-reach.
“It certainly oversteps our role as a government interceding in those contractual relationships, simply because us asserting this does nothing. It’s simply a suggestion,” said Brennan. “Why should a landlord who has obligations to a bank, to mortgage-holder or lender, be put in a position to go bankrupt?”
“I honestly didn’t think this would be a controversial issue because all we’re doing is asking landlords to consider offering leniency to their tenants to allow them out of their leases,” said Wojahn later during the meeting. “We’re not putting any landlords under any hardship by asking them to consider that.”
In the end, the measure failed by a vote of three-to-five, with only Councilors Kate Kennedy, Maria Mackie and Rigg voting in favor of endorsing the letter. Wojahn, who only casts tie-breaking votes, said he would endorse the letter on his own behalf.
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