Property Rules Eased for Inauguration Rentals

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 21, 2008

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty signed an executive order yesterday suspending District regulations and allowing residents to rent their properties for the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama without obtaining a business license.

The move, which also suspends requirements for property inspections, will be in effect from Jan. 13 through 27. It is aimed at satisfying the record demand for housing from out-of-town visitors who plan to attend the Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony and parade. Some city officials said it is the first time they can remember the licensing requirement being suspended.

Officials have said they expect more people on the Mall than the record 1.2 million who attended Lyndon B. Johnson's inaugural. Hotels are mostly booked, and thousands of Washington area residents are offering their apartments and houses for thousands of dollars.

This week, the city's Office of Tax and Revenue announced it will suspend a 14.5 percent sales tax on property rentals to transients for residents who want to rent their apartments or homes to out-of-towners for the inauguration.

Fenty (D) said it would be virtually impossible to regulate the market in such a condensed period.

"The government does not have the resources to go around and regulate all of the thousands of deals that are being negotiated," the mayor said at a news conference.

District law requires landlords to obtain business licenses from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The licenses cost $130 to $303, depending on the number of units and the type of building or business.

But requiring thousands of novices to file for such licenses, and obtain property inspections, would be burdensome and create confusion, officials said.

Still, city officials and attorneys warned that both sides should be cautious when entering into an agreement and be as specific as possible about price, expectations, security deposits, length of stay and the condition of the rental unit.

D.C. Attorney General Peter Nickles and regulatory chief Linda Argo said they would develop a sample contract and post it on the city's Web site, http://Dc.gov, for people to use as a template as they make rental deals.

"Human nature being what it is, there's usually a misunderstanding," said Kenneth Loewinger, a lawyer who specializes in landlord-tenant issues.

City officials said they will probably order the suspension of construction in the downtown core during inauguration week and create special zones for the many vendors expected on the Mall.

Asked whether he was hosting any out-of-town inauguration-going guests at his home in Northwest, Fenty smiled.

"Yes, but I'm not going to charge them," he said.

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