D.C. housing activists, their hopes buoyed by two leadership changes in the City Council, are gearing up a new effort to win support for legislation that would give tenants limited rights to repair their apartments and deduct the costs from their rents.
The "repair and deduct" legislation, which many landlords have vigorously opposed, was reintroduced last week by council member Hilda Mason (Statehood-At Large). Similar legislation is expected from new Council Chairman David A. Clarke.
Both measures, which died in committee in December, were stymied for more than a year in the Housing and Economic Development Committee headed by Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), an opponent of the bills.
Under Clarke's council reorganization plan, however, the bills are being assigned to a new committee on consumer and regulatory affairs headed by John Ray (D-At Large).
Although Ray, too, has said he opposes the measures, the activists are encouraged by Ray's assurances to Mason that he would not bottle up legislation just because he is against it. Under council rules, committee chairmen have the power to set committee's agendas.
But Ray said in an interview this week that he is uncertain when the measures will be brought up.
"I'm personally opposed to repair and deduct because I don't think it will work," Ray said. He said he had to consider "whether it will pass the council. There's no use in voting out something from the committee that will be turned down."
In addition to the change in committee leadership, housing activists say Clarke's defeat of former chairman Arrington Dixon helped tilt the council more in favor of tenants' views. Dixon, who often disagreed with Clarke on housing issues, had opposed the bills.
A representative of the D.C. Housing Action Coalition, an umbrella group of several pro-tenant housing groups, said the coalition is renewing its lobbying of individual council members to gain support for a bill this year.
Under the measure Clarke is expected to introduce, tenants each month could deduct no more than their monthly rent for repairs after giving their landlord at least 21 days notice. Under Mason's bill, tenants could deduct a maximum of $500 a month for repairs, but only after housing inspectors had formally notified landlords of violations.
Mason's bill also includes a provision that would allow tenants to make repairs to common-use areas. That section is not included in Clarke's draft.
Both bills would allow tenants restricted rights to make certain emergency repairs immediately after making a reasonable effort to notify landlords.
Housing activists contend that the city's myriad tenant-landlord laws now result in months of litigation or negotiation before repairs are made.
Landlords contend that a repair and deduct law would be a financial disaster, siphoning rent money from landlords who contend the city's rent control laws already unfairly limit their income.