MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (WDVM) — After nearly three contentious hours of discussion and debate, the Montgomery County Council unanimously passed a rent stabilization bill, also known as the COVID-19 Renter Relief Act.

The council went back and forth on multiple amendments and interpretations of the bill, which would prohibit rent increases of more than 2.6 percent in Montgomery County during Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R-Md.) State of Emergency and several months after it is lifted.

Some council members were steadfast in their commitment to focus on the impact to renters, while others voiced concerns about the additional impact on landlords and property owners.

What were once voluntary rent guidelines in the county offered the suggestion of increases no larger than 2.6 percent for 2020.

After the vote, council member and co-sponsor of the bill Nancy Navarro tweeted, “I would have preferred no increases at this time, the position I supported from the onset, however the language in this bill will prevent residents from experiencing increases of hundreds of dollars. This is not an attempt to impose rent control in the County, but rather a way to provide some temporary relief for our residents as many of them are facing uncertain times.”

A big point of discussion during the meeting: what kind of increase constitutes “price gouging” and what doesn’t?

“This amendment sets a price gouging cap. This amendment finally gives teeth to the voluntary rent guidelines that have never been enforced because they’re voluntary,” said council member Evan Glass.

“I don’t share the view that setting the limit at 2.5 percent means that this is price gouging legislation. Price gouging is a 10 percent increase, 15 percent increase, a 20 percent increase,” said council member Hans Riemer.

The bill was first introduced after county residents raised concerns about being notified of increases in rent of up to 60 percent following the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

With the passage of the bill, those notices will have to be withdrawn or amended to reflect a smaller increase in rent.

About one-third of the county’s population are renters.