The D.C. City Council, using its emergency powers, passed legislation yesterday to prohibit landlords from cutting off utility service to apartment tenants.
It added the provision to a measure that already bars the gas and electric companies from disconnecting service because of overdue bills at apartment projects where energy consumption is measured by one master meter and paid by one individual, usually the landlord.
The measure will become law immediately if, as expected, it is signed by Mayor Marion Barry, and will remain in effect for 90 days.
While it has citywide application, council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) said the provision will have its first effect in barring the owner of a 56-unit, garden apartment complex in her Southwest Washington ward from cutting off gas service to his tenants.
Rolark, chairman of the council's Public Services and Consumer Affairs Committee, said landlord Alfred L. Black had instructed the Washington Gas Light Co. to terminate gas service next Monday to the Elmwood Apartments at South Capitol and Danbury streets SW.
Rolark said the gas company notified a representative of the tenants that it was required under existing law to cut off service when the landlord served notice that he was ending his account with the utility.
Robert L. Moore, director of the D.C. Housing and Community Development Department, said Black was badly delinquent in paying his utility bills. Moore said the department had stepped in and paid more than $100,000 in city funds to maintain service. In such cases, the city takes a lien against the property.
Attempts to reach Black for comment were unsuccessful. A request was made through a lawyer who represented him in dealing with the gas company, but the call was not returned.
The measure approved by the City Council yesterday to bar landlords from terminating service also extended the effectiveness of an earlier emergency law, passed last Sept. 25, that bars utility firms from cutting off service to delinquent master-metered customers.
The council's power to extend emergency legislation in this manner by passing it two or more times has been challenged in a lawsuit now pending before the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Because of the new provision effecting landlords, the law is so different from the original one that it should not be vulnerable to legal challenge, council member Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large) stressed.
Ordinarily, passage of an emergency law is followed by permanent legisation that goes into effect after being sent to Congress for review. Such legislation has been cleared by Rolark's committee, but is still pending before the council's Housing and Economic Development Committee.
When a landlord becomes delinquent in paying utility bills, both the emergency and proposed permanent legislation call for tenants to pay their rent into a special fund that is applied against the debts to the gas and electric companies.
Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward 7), the housing committee chairman, said during debate yesterday that any landlord who cuts off utility service to tenants would be immediately subject to prosecution for housing code violations.
The measure was approved unanimously by voice vote.
On another matter, the council postponed for two weeks its consideration of Mayor Barry's request that it restore $601,000 that it had eliminated earlier from the city's proposed budget for the 1981 fiscal year.
It did so despite a warning from its own chief lawyer, James M. Christian, that the delay would miss a reported White House deadline of next Tuesday for the city's submission of the full $1.5 billion budget, which must be considered and enacted by Congress.
The biggest item in Barry's request is for 11 more employes in the mayor's office and related offices. The council's earlier elimination of the funds is the subject of a tug-of-war between the council and the mayor over control of city finances.
Barry called several council members into the hallway yesterday to argue for the funds before the council voted 11 to 2 to postpone action. The two dissenting votes were cast by Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large) and Council Chairman Arrington Dixon, who indicated that they would reject Barry's funding request outright.