The D.C. Rental Accommodations Commission recently denied a rent rollback to tenants of the Farnsboro Apartments at 2129 Florida Ave. NW. Residents had sought the reduction so the building would fall below the rent level guidelines for converting the units to condominiums.
The commission voted 5 to 2 with one abstention to approve a motion by landlord member Raymond Howar to deny the tenants' petition and affirm a March finding of the Rental Accommodations Office hearing examiner that gave the tenants a $3,100 rebate for a decrease in services.
Another motion at the hearing to award the tenants damages for a decrease in services was denied.
The decision apparently clears the way for conversion of the Farnsboro to condominiums unless a tenant appeal is successful.
"We're disappointed in the decision. There should be some recourse. We haven't been given any remedy for the enormous number of housing code violations that were in existence for several years. We feel that it's unjust and illogical that the rents could be in creased above the base rents when the building was not in compliance with the housing code and had hundreds of documented violations outstanding," said Bill Kennard, treasurer of the Farnsboro Tenants Association.
The six-story brick building near Connecticut and Florida avenues contains 50 units. Most of the tenants are single professionals and elderly people, some of whom have lived in the building 20 to 30 years.
The Farnsboro was given a certificate of eligibility to convert to condominiums in April. The Neighborhood Improvement Administration (NIA) of the Department of Housing and Community Development revoked it, however, because "at the time the application was filed the rents had been ordered rolled back" and the building did not qualify as a "high rent" one, Abe Greenstein of the NIA said.
Before an owner can convert a building to condominiums he must get an eligibility certificate from NIA. The department uses a complex formula to evaluate the rent structure of buildings to determine if they are eligible for conversion.
Greenstein said the NIA had reissued a certificate of eligibility for the Farnsboro conversion "in the last two weeks." He added that the department had "received a letter from the tenants association's lawyer, saying that the rents listed for the building are not valid. They are sending us more information. We'll look into it and see if they are correct and uphold or revoke the certificate."
Kennard said the tenants "are going to work to get the certificate of eligibility revoked," but added that "some tenants in the building are interested in buying units if it converts."
In March 1977, city housing inspectors listed about 250 housing code violations in the Farnsboro. They ranged from peeling paint and plaster to running faucets and roach infestation.
Last summer tenants filed a petition with the Rental Accommodations Office seeking a correction of the violations and a rent rollback.
In September the commission ordered the rents decreased to the 1973 base rent level. In November, however, it reversed the decision because the landlord, Lester Carpenter Leonard Jr., was hospitalized and was unable to attend the September hearing. The rents went back to the pre-September level.
Tenants returned for another hearing in December. In March they were awarded a $3,100 rebate for lack of hot water, gas and heat for periods in January and September 1977.
At the recent hearing, Deborah Luxenberg, lawyer for the tenants, said the tenants were asking for a rollback tothe 1973 base rents because "no order was made by the rent administrator in the March decision to correct the housing code violations."
John Evans, the attorney for International Realty Consultants of Bathesda, the company that has a contract to buy the Farnsboro, testified at the hearing that "as of April 28 there was an abatement of all the housing code violations" at the Farnsboro.
Evans and Tom Borger, the real estate agent who is negotiating the sale, both said that International Realty Consultants has signed a contract to purchase the building but that the title has not been transferred yet.
In the meantime, tenants at the Farnsboro received a 7 percent rent increase as of May 1. The current rents range from $161.50 for a bachelor (one room) apartment with no cooking facilities to $338 for a two-bedroom unit, according to a tenant.
Melvin Fox, a housing inspector for the Department of Housing and Community Development, re-inspected the Farnsboro for violations in late April. He was accompanied by "the prospective owner, the resident manager and the property manager. Ninety percent of the work had been complied with. The original list of 250 violations has been abated," he said. "A lot of complaints by the tenants were questionable."