The D.C. City Council disappointed an angry audience of about 200 District tenants last night by postponing action on new legislation to replace the city's controversial rent control law that expires in April.
On the recommendation of Chairman Arrington Dixon, the council agreed to reschedule consideration of the bill for a special session beginning at 5 p.m. tomorrow. Dixon argued that council members needed more time to study 57 proposed amendments to the measure, some introduced just hours before last night's meeting.
In its basic form, the new legislation would scrap the current system that calculates rent increases on the basis of how much rental income a landlord spends for operating expenses and replace it with one tied to the area's Consumer Price Index. But those increases would be limited to a maximum 10 percent even if the CPI exceeded the figure.
The new bill also would make the Rental Accommodations Office -- now an independent agency -- a part of the city's housing department and abolish the nine-member Rent Control Commission, which is composed of landlords, tenants and nonaligned members, and replace it with three lawyers who would be city employes. The commission hears appeals from tenants and landlords on decisions made by hearing examiners.
"There is no intention not to move the legislation forward," Dixon told the audience of disgruntled tenants in an attempt to reassure them that the delay was not an attempt to kill or sidetrack the bill.
Council member David Clarke (D-Ward 1), whose staff drafted major portions of the new measure, was the lone member to object to the postponement, saying, "There just comes a time when the bullet has to be bit . . . I just think we should be ready to go forward."
Minutes before the meeting, leaders of an informal coalition of tenant groups held a news conference in the hallway outside the council chamber to display a petition signed by 6,000 city tenants urging council members not to water down the rent control law now in force.