Housing Complex

Permanent Rent Control Could Get Sticky in D.C. Council

As currently written, D.C.’s rent control laws expire every five years, and the current cycle ends with 2010. Rather than simply re-authorizing the regulations, the city council wants to extend the renewal period to at least ten years, if not indefinitely—at their last legislative meeting, all 13 members co-introduced a bill that would make rent control permanent.

Tenant advocates argue that the shortage of affordable rental housing in the District makes long-term protections essential for ensuring the stability and quality of the housing stock. And Councilmember Jim Graham, perhaps the Council’s loudest defender of tenants rights, says it’s just making rent control like any other law.

“It is the unanimous view of the council that rent control should be made permanent in the sense of other laws, and if we want to change it, we can amend the law,” Graham said. “We don’t sunset other laws, and I think the view of the council is that we shouldn’t sunset this either.”

At a round table on the subject today in the council's Committee on Housing and Workforce Development, however, housing providers put up a staunch defense. Rent control makes it difficult for small apartment building owners to use property as a long-term investment, complained Borger Management chairman Thomas Borger. Nicola Whiteman, of the Apartment and Office Builders Association, maintained that the council shouldn’t undertake an indefinite extension of rent control without first updating its comprehensive housing plan.

Those arguments aren’t likely to sway a critical mass of councilmembers, especially if the bill comes to a vote before the September primary—who wants to be the scrooge who voted against rent control? What could pose a greater threat in the longer term, though, is a constitutional challenge: The District’s rent control laws are authorized on the basis of an “emergency” situation. As Borger put it, “that would be saying an emergency exists in perpetuity, and that flies in the face of reality.”

That was why Council Chairman Vince Gray declined to support the indefinite extension of rent control at a TENAC mayoral forum, his subsequent co-introduction of a bill to that effect notwithstanding.

An actual would-be killer of indefinite rent control appeared in the form of Vincent M. Policy, a real estate attorney at the firm of Greenstein DeLorme and Luchs, who said he would sue if such a law were enacted.

“I have no doubt that I can find a client to do that,” Policy told Graham, who stared daggers at the panel of landlords and their advocates.

The sunset period may hold one important advantage for tenants, however. Three members of stakeholder working groups sponsored by the Office of the Tenant Advocate had other proposed changes to rent control laws—lowering the allowed rent increases and getting rid of loopholes, mostly—that they said would be most efficient to do when the set of rules comes up for review.

“Reauthorization, yes, but with reform,” said Mary Young of the Idaho Terrace Tenants Association. “It would be simpler and less time-consuming for the Council to address the issues at the same time.”

That’s the function that the sunset period for rent control has served already: It forces lawmakers to look at the rules and see if anything needs changing, for better or for worse. Without that defined period, it happens in bits and pieces, or not at all.

  • JACQUES.CHEVALIERlandlord

    Rent control hurts us landlords sometimes and at times it does indeed help tenants procure an affordable rental in D.C. Surely, a lifetime (perpetuity is a bit much) for small landlords like myself are harsh and maybe we can be granted/grandfatehred in a tax rate equal to homestead exemption levels if we accept rent control.
    Currently, it is unreasonable,unfair and a lil un-American to tax the small landlord property owner,under rent control (last year gave me a .09 increase plus 2%)rent increae and a tax bill of almost $4000.00 not to mention combined debt service to maintain the property and keep the fmailies safe at cheap rents.
    So, frankly I do not mind offering lower rents, being a native Washingtonian I am happy to do so, just find a way to compensate like you councilmembers wanted to do for Northup-Grumman, Marriot, BET and the like.

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    A question to 'JACQUES.CHEVALIERlandlord', where are your properties and are they up to code?

  • Sally

    A small-time landlord has absolutely no chance of surviving when dealing with the maze of laws in DC's landlord-tenant world.

    I'd be interested in seeing constitutional challenges for rent control. Something that was instituted as an emergency during the WWII era can't possibly still be an emergency, otherwise that word has no meaning. I hope a collection of small landlords sue and wipe the floor with Graham's smug little troll smirk.

  • Brian

    I agree with Sally and Jaques. I am also a small landlord and I have a case in Tenant/landlord court for tenants that have not paid since March....MARCH!!!!

    I have my c of o, my business license, all inspections necessary and required (all of this took 3 months by the way) DCRA required me to fix things that the tenants broke, such as a limestone threshold in the brand new kitchen with new SS appliances and a door to the laundry room that did not open with ease. (yes you had to actually pull the door). These were considered violations.

    Now I have to go through hell and back to take these losers to court, pay for lawyers, and allow them to live in my property now for 4 months wiht no rent. It goes both ways, there really is no incentive for people to own property and rent it in the District when the tenants have all the rights. And then then people wonder why rents are so high in DC. This is ridiculous, I could have lost my property if i didn't have the money to pay the mortgage, and those tenants would have been able to live there forever while it went through forclosure. These councilmembers are out of touch.

  • Mrs. D

    Oh pity the poor landlords, they can only get a rent increase above inflation. Clearly they're the few landlords in this city that don't pull every dirty trick in the book to spend as little as possible on their rentals while jacking the rent up as much as possible.

    You're not going to find much of a sympathetic ear among people who have had landlords try for ridiculous rent increases (11% in a recession when she had done zilch to the place, including basic maintenance and upkeep!), refuse to replace barely-operative 30+ year old appliances (that one actually asked "is it still on?" "yes" "then I'm not replacing it"), try to rent patently illegal places (no windows in a bedroom? 6' ceilings?), try to dupe the average consumer (all appliances except electric included, show up and the whole place is electric; promise to make repairs/upgrades and then either never do them or apply for a capital improvement rent increase once their done), and threaten tenants with eviction or non-renewal when they balk.

    How is it that whenever a story about landlords pop up, all the "good ones" come out to complain about how they can't get by, while a survey of my friends would reveal a severely limited number of sane, responsible, professional landlords?

  • PK

    "threaten tenants with eviction or non-renewal"

    Unless you're not paying market rate for your rental, I'd laugh in the face of any landlord who threatened non-renewal. I know a friend who, contrary to my advice, got a "I'm not going to renew your lease unless you sign another year-long lease" and believed her, signing a year-long lease WHEN SHE DIDN'T HAVE A JOB! Probably because she knew she had Daddy to fall back on.

  • Mrs. D

    Non-renewal is easy: send the tenant a letter stating that you are terminating the agreement at the end of the rental period under the terms of the lease with the proper notice, and letting them know they have to be out by X date and, if you want to be nice, that they're entitled to a walk-through and their deposit back in 45 days. There's nothing preventing a landlord from declining to renew your lease at any time the terms of the lease stipulate is okay, with proper notice. It's certainly not an eviction.

    It's a good tactic, too. Under rent control, the landlord can increase the rent more for a new tenant than a continuing one.

    I mean, some idiot could always just stay, but then you DO end up with an eviction for failure to surrender the premises when given proper notice.

  • Mrs. D

    And, yes, I have always lived in market-rate places. I've never qualified for a subsidized rental.

  • PINKY

    Jacques Chevalier is a slumlord that treats his tenants horribly. He was in court with one tenant on national TV. He lost the case and the lady tenant he sued said not only did he mistreat her as a tenant, but said he sexually harassed her underaged teenage daughter. He is the worst landlord in S.E. He has put out and abused so many helpless people. Chairman Gray and Councilmember Graham, please be ware of this man and look up his record at Landlord and Tenant Court. He is a racist and a rager. He targets women to demean and belittle them.

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    So 'JACQUES.CHEVALIERlandlord', you didn't answer my question, but by the comment by, 'PINKY' I feel it has been answered! People like you need to be tared and feathered and run out of town or be forced to live in these shit holes you rent to people!

  • fix both sides

    I don't really mind the rent-control. However, if a building is subject to it, then other city-expenses should also be limited by the designation. Taxes, etc. If not, then at a minimum, increases should reflect property taxes, water/gas/electric rate increases, and some metric to account for the inflation on repair costs.

    As Brian/Sally mentioned, this city goes above and beyond in tilting in favor of a tenant. Stop paying rent for any reason and you can live for half a year at least. Move it in-line w/ MD or other jurisdictions. If you stop paying rent, you get evicted w/in 45 days. If there's a code problem, that's a different story, however fix the system so that you as a tenant must report the violation prior to you stop paying. If you as a tenant do not to this, you get evicted.

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