I am a member of Montgomery County’s 15th legislative district and a leader of Jews United for Justice, which organizes 5000 people around the state in support of local social, racial, and economic justice campaigns. I provide this testimony on behalf of JUFJ, in strong support of HB 821.
Our support for this legislation is rooted in Jewish values that recognize the fundamental importance of the home for a person’s wellbeing and the basic obligations of landlord to tenant. The Babylonian Talmud, a sacred text dating back over 1500 years, contains specific guidelines concerning the eviction of tenants (Baba Metzia, 101b). An enduring message is that the needs of the renter must be taken into account.
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book about eviction and poverty in America, Matthew Desmond painted a vivid picture of the harm that befalls an individual, a family and its community as a consequence of eviction. It’s a toxic blend of psychological instability, emotional turmoil, potential job loss, disruption of children’s education, loss of property, and degradation of community spirit. This problem exists in Montgomery County: last year 10,451 tenants faced eviction orders in our county.
To be clear, HB 821 would not affect most of these eviction cases. The majority of evictions in Montgomery County are due to a failure to pay rent; this is one of many “just causes” for eviction that are described in the bill. Nonetheless, the legislation would protect many county residents who have to leave their homes for no apparent reason. They pay their rent, do not damage the property, do not engage in disorderly conduct or unlawful activities on or near the premises. Opponents of this bill will say that they are not interested in removing such people from rental units, that they lose income when there are vacancies. While this may be true in general, the claim is disingenuous: vacancies are often easy to fill in a tight housing market and provide an opportunity to increase the rental rate. Requiring people to leave without giving a just cause also is a convenient way for landlords to remove tenants who have posed problems for them, such as asking for repairs of the rental property or other justifiable services incumbent on the landlord.
HB 628 would make it difficult for landlords to target tenants for eviction who deserve to remain in their homes. JUFJ therefore urges a favorable report on HB 821.