The D.C. City Council voted yesterday to sent the contrtrol bill back to its housing committee after its general counsel said that the 73-page bill was "legally insufficient."
The Council's action made it doubtful that any new rent control legislation would be passed before the Council's August recess. The current law expires Nov. 1.
The proposed rent control bill would affect more than 500,000 residents by raising rents across the board from 3 to 15 per cent this year. It also would institute a rent subsidy program for some middle-income residents that landlords would have to administer, and would begin a process of systematically decontrolling all vacant apartments by 1979.
Edward Webb, general counsel to the City Council, told the body yesterday that he had three objections to the proposed bill.
Webb questioned the validity of the subsidy proposal that would require landlords to handle the paperwork for tenants who pay more than 35 per cent of their gross income for rents and who do not receive other subsidies. Those tenants would receive rebates of up to 10 per cent, which the landlords would have to pay. The landlords would receive property tax credits from the city for assistance given the tenants.
Webb said he questioned whether the city could require landlords to administer such a program.
His second concern, Webb said, was that rent control legislation could be construed by the courts as an emergency action to remedy a housing crisis. "But the legislation does not say when that emergency ends." Webb said. His third objection was that the bill did not offer an estimated of long-range economic impact, a requirement imposed by the Council itself.
But even before Webb's statements, Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-six), had moved that the bill be sent back to committee.
Several members had prepared amendments to the bill. At least one, David A. Clarke (D-one), appeared to be disgruntled when Winter withdrew the bill. Clarke said that he and his staff had worked hours to draft 37 amendments to the rent control proposal.
"We are going to have to consider this thing sometime, the bullet is going to have to be bitten, and we are all going to have to take some heat," Clarke said.
Last week, Winter had persuaded the Council to support the bill in a work session yesterday so that it could be considered for first reading today before the August recess.
Winter said she withdrew the bill after several members had insisted that legal insufficiencies would prevent them from even considering a bill that neither landlords nor tenants favored.
"At this point whatever we do will have to be considered as emergency legislation," Winter said. "I will work through the recess to make sure that the bill will be ready by the second work session in September."
Landlords have criticized the paperwork that the bill would require, and tenants said they were not in favor of across-the-board rent increases. Tenants also said they objected to eventual decontrol of vacant apartments and luxury units and the provision that granted landlords the administration of the subsidy program.
Winter said she was prepared yesterday to cure with amendments all the legal insufficiencies in the bill but one - the requirement for landlords to administer the rent subsidy program.
But she said she elected to withdraw the bill after the feelings of other members became apparent. Because of the timing involved, the move means that any new rent-control bill must be considered as emergency legislation.
Emergency legislation does not require the normal 30-day congressional layover period, but remains in effect for only 90 days. Before this interval has passed the Council is expected to pass new legislation in the area that would be subject to routine congressional overview.
Winter said that a study completed this weekend by the staff of the housing committee indicated that about 24,000 households would qualify for rent subsidies at a cost to the city of $4.5 million in property tax rebates to landlords.