Salisbury landlords sue city for “unconstitutional” ordinance

SALISBURY, Md. – More than a dozen housing rental companies have filed a lawsuit against the city of Salisbury. They claim the city’s ordinance preventing evictions, rent increases and late fees is unconstitutional but the city says they’re protecting residents.

“It’s our belief that we’re doing the right thing by our citizens,” says Ron Strickler, the Housing and Community Development Director for Salisbury.

The city of Salisbury is named in a lawsuit recently filed by several landlords in Maryland. Fourteen Salisbury rental companies say recent ordinances related to the pandemic, that prevent them from increasing rent or charging late fees, are unconstitutional. The companies involve Tide Mill Realty, Adams Housing and twelve others that are linked to owner Gary Chandler including GNI.

This comes after the city approved its ordinance on June 1st. “Salisbury went to the next step and said landlords won’t be able to evict or impose rental increases on properties as well as late fees,” says Strickler.

The city also requires the landlord to work with the tenant on a payment plan for any rent backlog. The attorney representing the companies says the acts are unconstitutional because they, “cancel out contractually agreed upon rent increases that were noticed and in some cases went into effect many months before Governor Hogan declared a Covid-19 Emergency and well before the Acts became law.”

However, the city believes the original intent was to protect citizens. “I think the city wanted to take a proactive approach with people losing their jobs, not having money to pay rent,” says Strickler.

The attorney also claims these laws are indefinite by nature since the ordinance is in effect until 90 days after the state of emergency ends. Therefore it, “inhibits the housing providers’ ability to financially prepare and jeopardizes their ability to keep up with their obligations as housing providers.”

Now this lawsuit does not go after the state’s ordinance because that’s related to preventing evictions. The companies are focused on fighting the ordinance implemented by the city that prevents them from increasing rent.

The rental companies are looking to have the laws overturned. They would also like the city to make up for rent increases they weren’t able to put in place during this ordinance.

The city of Salisbury says they believe their ordinance is constitutional adding, “we are in extraordinary times and felt that this ordinance was necessary under the current circumstances.”