A full house is expected in the audience at the City Council chambers today when a council committee is scheduled to discuss a proposal to grant tenants the limited right to make repairs to their apartments and deduct those costs from their rents.
Tenant groups, whose recent demonstration at the District Building helped prod the council into calling the meeting, contend that thousands here live in unsafe or unsanitary conditions because the laws covering conditions of rental properties are cumbersome, time-consuming and poorly enforced.
Landlords say the legislation, proposed in two similar bills by David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) and Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large), would give tenants an unfair advantage to decide what repairs are needed. The legislation also could result in fewer repairs being done, because landlords could not control rental income and could possibly be forced into bankruptcy.
G. V. (Mike) Brenneman Jr., president of the Washington Board of Realtors, said recently that such "repair and deduct" legislation "would hammer the last nail in the rental housing coffin."
James G. Banks, executive vice president of the board, said last week that the Realtors believe Washington's rental housing market already has suffered because of rent control and other regulations that owners say increase operating costs and discourage the construction of new rental housing.
The tenant groups, led by the D.C. Housing Action Coalition, say that landlords who maintain their buildings will not be affected adversely by the law.
Both of the repair and deduct bills under consideration would require tenants to notify owners of impending repairs so the owners could make the repairs or contest them. Clarke's bill would limit repairs to a person's apartment, while Mason's measure would include common-use areas.
Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), chairman of the housing and community development committee, opposes the legislation. She agreed to bring the bills before her commiittee--with no promise of a vote on the measure--after a stormy 1 1/2-hour meeting with tenants June 21.
Jarvis told the tenants that she believes the city should enforce the laws it has before enacting others. She said the city itself could not afford to allow such legislation to be used in its nearly 12,000 public housing units, many of which need repairs.
An aide to Jarvis said last week that Jarvis has talked with Mayor Marion Barry about increasing the number of housing inspectors and encouraging the corporation counsel to prosecute vigorously those landlords who do not maintain their buildings.
The aide said that Jarvis' refusal to schedule a vote on the legislations is not related to her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for mayor in the Sept. 14 primary. "She said she doesn't approve of the legislation" and "is looking for a compromise," the aide said.
A public hearing was held on the measure last February.
Members of the housing committee are Jarvis, Clarke, John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2), Jerry A. Moore (R-At Large) and Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large).