Community

Efforts to Extend, Strengthen Rent-Control Policy Coalesce

D.C. Council's Bonds to Meet With Coalition Members Next Week

As a rent control extension bill makes its way along the legislative process, tenants and rent control advocates have issued a call to the D.C. Council for tighter laws that prevent what they describe as the rampant tenant and building neglect that exacerbates displacement.

Some of the people leading this charge live in 220 Hamilton Street NW, a rent-controlled apartment that the DC Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs cited for more than 170 housing violations last year. When tenants attempted to purchase the building under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act three years prior, their landlord filed bankruptcy and sold it to another party.

Rent-control protections allowed tenants to petition the new owner for substantial rehabilitation. Legal negotiations made it so that the more than 20 people temporarily leaving 220 Hamilton Street NW at the end of this year can come back to their newly furnished abode within 18 months and without incident.

However, to pay for the substantial repairs, rent will increase 10 percent. Landlords can also lease vacant units at market rate.

During a recent gathering on the lobby steps of 220 Hamilton Street NW, some tenants recounted the aforementioned events and alleged landlords’ abuse of current rent-control laws as a key factor in building vacancies and sales across the city.

People like David Bonilla said D.C.’s current rent-control law doesn’t include enough units, and enables landlords to further deplete the amount of available housing..

“Simply reauthorizing rent control isn’t enough. It keeps us locked in the housing crisis,” said Bonilla, a member of Reclaim Rent Control, a campaign centered on stronger protections for rent-control tenants and expansion of the rent-controlled housing stock.

The demands of Reclaim Rent Control, comprised of nonprofits, tenant unions, and advocacy organizations, center on qualifying four-unit apartments and early 21st century buildings for rent control. Advocates also want new buildings to gain eligibility after 15 years. Proposed changes to the substantial rehabilitation petition process would better hold landlords more accountable to building and financial management, a write-up by campaign organizers said. Reclaim Rent Control has also touted eliminating voluntary agreements, which they said landlords have used to force rent increases.

“We need to expand the units covered under rent control and make it harder to convert them into market rent housing,” Bonilla said. “D.C. residents cannot afford the delay; countless residents will be displaced, our communities will be disrupted, and our crisis will be more settled.”

The Rental Housing Act of 1985, only relevant to units built before 1976, will expire at the end of 2020. It has kept living cost increases at less than 5 percent for rent-control tenants and less than 3 percent for D.C.’s rent-control seniors. Over the years, as more renovated and newly constructed buildings replaced older units, the District’s stock of rent-controlled housing fell by the tens of thousands.

Some legal adjustments, the D.C. Council’s repeal of the rent ceiling provision in 2006 for example, have also played a significant role in shrinking rent-controlled housing.

Since September 17, Bonds’ Rental Housing Act Extension Amendment Act has been under the review of the Committee of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, on which she serves as chair. A representative of Bonds’ office said hearing should be scheduled shortly. In the meantime, the council member will meet with members of the Reclaim Rent Control Coalition most likely sometime next week.

“It is a complex topic, but the council member, the staff of the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, and the committee members will review the details and work towards developing an approach that meets the needs of District residents in a responsible manner and satisfies the Council member’s ultimate goal of maintaining and expanding rent stabilization policies in the District,” Emmannuel Brantley, Bonds’ director of communications, wrote in an email.

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