D.C. Mayor Marion Barry yesterday signed rent control legislation that would allow landlords to raise rents 10 percent annually on most apartment units in the city and 20 percent on others.
Barry predicted that the bill, passed last year by the City Council, would be processed through the mandatory congressional review period of 30 legislative days in time to become law by May 1.
Barry signed the bill in a rare public ceremony. He was flanked by his housing director, Robert Moore, and five council members in a conference room packed with landlords and tenants. "We can't take this bill in a vacuum," Barry said. "It's got to be part of an overall housing program" that evenually will expand the city's dwindling housing supply, Barry added.
Council Member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), the new chairman of the council's Housing and Economic Development Committee, said she will be closely monitoring the new rent control bill in her committee "to see whether or not it works" to increase the city's housing supply.
The current rent control ceilings, in effect for the past three years, are due to expire in April. The bill Barry signed yesterday would extend rent controls through 1985, but would allow District of Columbia landlords a larger automatic annual rent increase of up to 10 percent.
In the event the bill is stalled in congressional review, the council can pass emergency legislation to extend the existing law.
In addition, landlords would be able to raise rents another 10 percent on apartment units that have been vacated and then are rerented. That provision was contested by tenants, who complained that landlords would be encouraged to accelerate tenant turnover to qualify for the additional increase.
Rent control nationally has come under attack as an idea whose time has passed. Even advocates of rent control have conceded that rent ceilings have not helped expand the number of available rental units in any area where they have been imposed.
Tenants, who have organized into one of the city's most effective lobbying organizations, have argued that lifting rent ceilings would price most low-and middle-income renters out of the housing market.
"The fact that neither the tenants nor the landlords like it means that it's a pretty fair bill," said Council Member Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3).
The new bill would establish a Rental Housing Commission made up of three full-time members -- two attorneys and one accountant -- paid at Gs-14 levels. Barry said yesterday that the city would have trouble finding the money to fund these positions. The commission will have subpoena power and can hold hearings and decide appeals by landlords and tenants.
One provision of the bill favored by tenants would prohibit the destruction of rental housing to make room for hotel expansion. Another protenant item makes it illegal for a landlord to take a vacated apartment building off the market and later bring it back onto the market as a condominium, hotel or anything other than an apartment building.
Landlords will be allowed a 10 percent rate of return on equity in their buildings, meaning that it will be easier for a landlord to claim hardship to impose an additional rent increase.