The District's rent administrator, Raenelle Humbles Zapata, who was publicly criticized by her boss for performing "sloppy work," will be replaced as the monitor of more than 100,000 rental units in the city, according to the director of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.
Patrick J. Canavan, under pressure from the head of the D.C. Council committee that oversees his agency, said yesterday that Keith Anderson, a lawyer, will serve as the city's acting rent administrator. Anderson is a hearing examiner at the agency.
Zapata, a lawyer who has been the rent administrator since May 2002, left the job Tuesday. Canavan said he could not comment on Zapata's sudden departure because personnel matters are confidential. The rent administrator is responsible for enforcing the city's housing codes and adjudicating rent control disputes.
Zapata declined to say yesterday whether she resigned or was terminated.
Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), chairman of the Committee on Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, said he met with Zapata on a rent control issue Tuesday but had no indication that she was leaving the government the same day.
Graham had pressed Canavan in a council committee hearing last week to make changes in the rent administrator's office.
During the hearing, Zapata was harshly criticized for erroneously approving a landlord's requests to move tenants out of four buildings while they were repaired. The requests were made under a provision of the Rental Housing Act that permits landlords to vacate buildings temporarily while eliminating hazardous conditions.
The landlord's requests were accompanied by a report that said the repairs were necessary because the apartments contained lead paint and asbestos. But the study used to support the requests was based on a building in Leesburg.
In August, Zapata approved the requests, which gave residents 120 days to move out of 111 units. She rescinded her approval in October, when she discovered the error. Woody Bolton, a partner with Perseus Realty LLC, which owns the buildings, said that the wrong study had been submitted and that the repairs are still needed. He has submitted new requests to remove tenants while repairs are made.
Graham, who admonished Zapata for being careless, said she almost emptied four buildings -- one near Capitol Hill, one in Shaw and two in Adams Morgan -- without proper justification. He said landlords had turned the rental law's provision for repairs into a "scheme" to clear buildings to create market-rate rentals. In some cases, housing advocates say, landlords have taken years to make repairs, and tenants have not returned.
"Making a decision that could have cleared four buildings of tenants on the basis of a study done for a building in Leesburg, Va., is gross negligence," Graham said. "It shows that the rent administrator did not read the application, but she approved the application within 48 hours of receiving it."
Zapata has acknowledged that she made a mistake but defended her role as rent administrator.
"I've had excellent reviews while at DCRA," Zapata said. "I've made a lot of changes in the rent administrator's office. I take responsibility for my errors."