Mayor Marion Barry supports the continuation of rent control in the District and believes that a proposal to lift controls on housing units as they become vacant is premature, D.C. City Council members were told yesterday as three days of hearings on rent control concluded.
But representatives for the Washington Board of Realtors and other industry organizations took the opposite position, recommending that the council exempt more property from controls and eliminate all restrictions on the repair and rehabilitation of rental units.
Both sets of recommendations were in response to two bills now being considered by the council to replace current rent control, which expires April 30. The council's Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Committee will review the testimony before making a proposal to the full council.
One bill, introduced by City Council Chairman David A. Clarke would extend the provisions of the current law for another four years. The other bill, sponsored by John Ray (D-At Large), would extend rent control for six years while lifting all controls on units as they become vacant.
Barry's position, presented by Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs director Carol Thompson, called for a six-year extension of rent control and the retention of the present methods used to raise rents.
Barry also rejected Ray's vacancy decontrol provision, which has angered tenants who fear that such a provision will decrease the amount of affordable housing and force residents out of the city. Barry maintains that any consideration of vacancy decontrol should follow a full study of the rental housing market.
At the same time, the mayor's premise was that the rent law has "generally achieved" its goals of stabilizing the city's rental market and should "remain an integral feature of the District's comprehensive housing program" because the city continues to have a shortage of affordable rental housing.
In addition, Barry supports establishing a program to improve distressed property by providing $15 million rent subsidy to tenants and financial assistance to property owners who want to repair or renovate their buildings. The subsidy is identical to that proposed in Ray's bill, which also contains a one-time waiver of property taxes and water and sewer fees for distressed property.
The City Council received a sharply different view of rent control from the real estate community, which has consistently maintained that rent control has contributed to a decline of the quanity and quality of the District's rental housing stock.
Richard Harps, president of the Washington Board of Realtors, said the rent law has not accomplished its purposes and that both of the bills before the council are unacceptable.
Harps and other industry representatives suggested that the council lift controls on units as they become vacant, eliminate all controls on units that only well-to-do persons can afford and end the practice of requiring landlords to obtain permission from the city before repairing or rehabilitating rental units.
Irving Kriegsfeld, a past president of the Apartment and Office Building Asociation, told the council that each of the pending bills contains provisions that could lead regulation that is arbitrary and unfair.
"We urge the council," said Kriegsfeld, "to take some bold initiatives in restoring balance to the landlord-tenant relationship and in altering the District of Columbia's image as a place where the ownership of rental housing finds geometrically more people trying to get out of the business than into the business."