About 100 District tenants, housing activists and community leaders gathered Sunday in Anacostia Park in an emotional display of support for stricter rent control legislation. The current legislation, enacted in 1977, expires in September.
Sponsored by the City Wide Housing Coalition and about 24 other housing and community groups, the rally was held in support of legislation drafted by the coalition which would strengthen the tenant's legal position in housing disputes and reduce the number of buildings now exempt from rent control.
"The People's Rent Control Bill fills in the loopholes in the existing law," said rally coordinator Loretta Ross. "Right now, there are too many exemptions (in the present law) to make it effective."
The 1977 Rent Control Law allows owners to raise rents after a unit is vacated, and exempts luxury apartments and buildings with four units or less from rent control provisions. Ross said that the coalition found that owners are selling apartments within the building, sometimes to members of the families, to be eligible for the four-units-or-less exemption.
The coalition's proposed bill would place more rental property under rest control, strenghthen the tenant's position in legal disputes with landlords provide stronger eviction controls and allow tenants to deduct repairs from their rent.
There are currently several rent control bills being considered by the D.C. City Council.
Michael Williams of the City Wide Housing Foundation, a nonprofit tenants advocacy group, said he is worried that the city council will fail to hold hearings and a mark-up session on the bill before the council recesses in August. "We do not wish to have an extension of the current bill unless necessary," he said.
The afternoon was marked by emotional speeches on tenant displacement and pledges of support from city council members. Near the close of the rally, all stood to sing a ballad on displacement.
"Everytime you get a raise in social security your rent goes up," said Howard King, 71, of 1809 Rhode Island Ave. NW. "My rent went up $20 at one time. We were supposed to have rent control."
"I'm having problems similar to many of these people," said Evelyn Chase, 2359 Ontario Rd. NW. "They had raised my rent three times before we found out out they didn't even have a license to rent the building. We're trying to get a (rent) rebate," she said. "I've been fighting all along."
Hank Leland, a resident of Beverly Court, cooperative in Adams-Morgan, said that ideally he would like to see rent related to changes in the tenant's income. "Wages lag behind prices and that's exactly the point," he said.
About two-thirds of the 170,000 rental units in the District are under rent control. The 1977 law established the Rental Accommodations Office which enforces the controls. The law puts a ceiling on the profit landlords can make on their buildings (8 percent) and restricts condominium conversion.