A D.C. City Council committee yesterday approved a bill that would permit condominium conversions only with the support of a majority of tenants and would provide lifetime tenancies to low-income elderly renters in converted buildings.
But the measure approved by the committee, which now goes before the full council for a vote, deleted a section of the original bill that would have strengthened laws giving tenants first chance to buy their homes and apartment before landlords could sell to outside developers.
Council member Willie J. Hardy (D-Ward Seven), who is chairman of the housing and economic development committee, yesterday deleted the section from the condominium bill, saying she would bring it before the committee later.
"I'm not so sure this is the right bill to have it in," Hardy said. Currently, tenants have first chance to buy their buildings and homes under the city's rental housing law, which expires in September. Efforts are underway now to rewrite and strengthen that law.
Committee member John Wilson (D-Ward Two), who with committee member David Clarke (D-Ward One) protested the deletion during yesterday's meeting, said he backed off at least temporarily because he feels he has "much better options" than allowing Hardy to delay amending and voting on the bill in committee for another two weeks.
"I will discuss those options when I get the bill on to the floor," Wilson said after the meeting.
Wilson was principal sponsor of the original bill introduced last November, which was co-sponsored by eight other Council members. The bill also would levy a tax of up to 4 percent on condominium sales and would grant tax benefits to landlords who sell or continue to rent to low-income tenants.
Rick Eisen of the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association, noted that the committee bill excludes low-income elderly residents, who have lifetime tenancies from voting on a building's proposed condominium conversion. Such a procedure will be "an administrative nightmare," and the elderly should have been included, Eisen said.
In a memorandum to Hardy, D.C. housing director Robert L. Moore said his "major concern" about the new bill is that allowing conversions city-wide only by a majority vote of tenants "causes developers to focus on buildings occupied by low and moderate income renters."
Tenants in such buildings are less sophisticated, and developers may perceive they can "buy" their consent to conversion, Moore wrote. "The effect . . . is to protect the higher income tenants and prevent conversions of luxury apartments units where the tenants are better able to fend for themselves while the lower income tenants are displaced," he added.
There is a temporary moratorium on most conversions in the city while the council considers the new legislation. The moratorium expires Aug. 20.