Three D.C. City Council members have accused Council Chairman David A. Clarke of distorting facts about the new rent control legislation in his fall constituent newsletter and questioned whether a reference to a referendum seeking to alter the legislation violates guidelines for using government funds for newsletters.
Council members Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6), Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) and John Ray (D-At Large) sent memoranda to Clarke stating that he deliberately left out details about the impact the rent control legislation adopted in April would have on some vacant property. Clarke opposed the legislation that was approved.
"I find this disgraceful and shameful and I would suggest that you immediately pay out of your own pocket to send a corrected report to all who received the newsletter," Ray said in a three-page memorandum to Clarke. "If you choose not to do so, you should reimburse the government for the cost of the newsletter."
Clarke responded by sending each of the council members a letter saying that he had "no apology or reimbursement to make."
In his letter to Ray, Clarke said the intent of the legislation "was to provide for the decontrol of many vacant" housing units. "For some reason now you have begun to pick at straws to try to prove that you have not done with single-family houses what you said all along that you wanted to do with the overall rental market," Clarke said.
Clarke's newsletter said the council's legislation "provided for decontrol of vacant single-family houses, vacancy decontrol of all apartment buildings which were 80 percent or more vacant as of last April 30."
The article also said that if a majority of voters supports the rent control referendum in the November general election, provisions that would lift controls on some properties would be removed from the law.
The legislation states that rent controls will be lifted from the vacant single-family houses that are owned by not more than four persons, that become vacant when the tenant moves or is legally evicted and that are in compliance with housing regulations when they are re-rented.
In the case of buildings that are 80 percent vacant, the legislation states that the city rent administrator must grant approval before controls can be lifted.
Before voting, the council was divided over whether to lift rent controls from properties as they become vacant. Winter, Schwartz and Ray had supported amendments to remove controls from some properties while Clarke and five other members supported extending the existing rent control law.
Winter, Schwartz and Ray asked the council's general counsel to determine whether Clarke has violated the council members' franking privilege by addressing the referendum issue. Clarke said the general counsel's office had reviewed the newsletter before it was mailed and found no violation of council's guidelines.
Each council member receives a $6,735 budget to cover printing, postage, supplies, travel and staff training, according to Russell Smith, the council's secretary.