A D.C. City Council committee yesterday declined to act on legislation that would allow tenants to deduct apartment repairs from their rent, instead giving preliminary approval to a measure that tenant advocates said is inadequate.
The action by the council's Committee on Housing and Economic Development, headed by mayoral candidate Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), disappointed the more than 50 tenant activists who had filled the council chambers yesterday in support of the rejected "repair-and-deduct" measure.
The committee unanimously approved a measure, introduced by Jarvis, that would hasten an already established process authorizing the mayor to have building code violations corrected on behalf of tenants and then add the costs to the building's property taxes. The bill also would assess the landlord an administrative fee.
Jarvis, who has been criticized by tenant groups for allowing the "repair and deduct" legislation to sit in her committee without action, said the measure passed yesterday was more in line with her philosophy of protecting tenant interests through improving administrative remedies rather than creating new legislation.
More laws, Jarvis said, will only result in "chaos and nightmare." The action taken by the committee yesterday means that the repair-and-deduct legislation remains technically alive, but has no practical chance of passage unless Jarvis chooses to bring it before the committee for a vote. The legislation has sat without action for about a year.
Members of the public were not allowed to speak at yesterday's committee meeting. Instead, council members spent about an hour debating the repair-and-deduct issue, and then Jarvis suggested her alternative measure.
David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1), a sponsor of repair-and-deduct, challenged Jarvis' assertion that the best way to ensure Washington tenants decent and sanitary dwellings is to have current laws enforced.
"The approach which you speak of, administrative vigor, is one that is not in the hands of this council to ensure," Clarke told Jarvis. He said repair-and-deduct legislation "allows for the correction of the problem."
John Wilson (D-Ward 2) also endorsed repair-and-deduct, and said afterward he felt yesterday's meeting had "accomplished nothing."
Keary Kincannon, speaking for the tenants of the D.C. Housing Action Council, said Jarvis' bill will not defuse the support for repair-and-deduct.
"We will not accept it as a substitute, we do not see it as a substitute," Kincannon said, pledging that tenants' groups will continue to lobby for their measure.