Takoma Park apartment building residents upset over steep rent hikes

Hundreds of families in a Montgomery County apartment building are facing steep rent increases that may cause them to move because they just can't afford it.

The city of Takoma Park normally has rent control, but the owners of the building were able to get around it and it has left these residents upset.

Some of the tenants were given a deadline to sign new leases on Monday, and if they didn't sign, they would have 60 days to vacate their apartments.

One resident named Miatta has been living at the Hampshire Tower Apartments for 26 years. She is upset about the poor state she said her apartment is in. Yet, she has been notified her rent is going up 25 percent.

"They have never changed my rugs, they never changed my kitchen cabinets and the roaches and the rats run around," she said.

She is not the only angry resident in the building. Others held up signs saying they received notices of rent hikes of 40, 60 and even 78 percent.

"We have an older lady who makes $1,600 a month -- $800 every two weeks," said Tenant Association member Leroy Books. "Her rent increased to $1,704. She is leaving and I met her today. I walked her into the office and I met her in tears."

Takoma Park has rent stabilization laws in place, but this building is exempt because the county reached an agreement with a previous owner.

"You guys are ground zero because of the Purple Line," said Montgomery County Councilmember Marc Elrich.

The new property owner, The Orlo Fund, said when they bought the building in March, it was deteriorating and had 580 code violations.

They released a statement that said in part, "A third party property condition assessment identified $3.6 million dollars in needed repairs. The Tenant Association wanted the building fixed by a new owner, but the rents were too low to justify the significant investment required."

The Orlo Fund said the tenant association agreed to allow rent increases in exchange for repairs.

"We ring the alarm to tell every taxpaying voter who rents or may rent in Montgomery County that this can happen to you," said Margaret Buraimoh of the Tenant Association. "It will come to your block, it will come to your building, it will come to a neighborhood near you."

The Orlo Fund added there are caps and protections for low-income families. They said a quarter of the residents will only see increases of about two percent per year.

But other residents who are facing bigger hikes are asking for them to happen slowly over time instead of all at once.