The D.C. City Council's housing committee approved legislation yesterday that would allow landlords to raise rents next year from 3 to 15 per cent, depending on what services they provide to tenants.
The rent increases will affect more than 500,000 of the District of Columbia's citizens who live in the city's approximately 180,000 apartment units. The legislation approved yesterday now goes to the full City Council, which in the past has not substantially changed bills approved by the housing committee.
The proposed legislation also would provide for a new rent subsidy program for poor persons who pay 35 per cent or more of their incomes for rent. The proposed subsidy program would be administered by landlords, who would subtract up to 10 per cent of the rent they charge tenants and then deduct an equal amount from the property taxes they owe the city.
The legislation approved yesterday also would tie future rent increases (after Jan. 1, 1979) to the Consumer Price Index for the Washington metropolitan area, a step long sought by city landlords who have argued that the Council has not allowed them increases equal to inflated utility and other costs.
Washington's current rent control law, which would be replaced by the bill voted on by the housing committee yesterday, is known as the strictest law of its kind in the country.
The new bill, if passed by the full Council, appears to be victory for the District's landlords because rents will be increased by the amount of inflation begining in 1979. Also, the rents no longer would be tied to a rate-of-return formula that allowed no increases if a landlord was earning more than an 8 per cent return on the assessed value of his property.
Nadine Winter (D-six), chairperson of the Council's housing committee, called the bill voted on yesterday a compromise between an earlier bill drafted by her and another bill drafted by Council member Arrington Dixon (D-four) that had support from the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, the landlords' trade association.
After a month of drafting the compromise bill and 17 committee meetings, Winter said, the housing committee met for only 25 minutes yesterday morning before passing the legislation.
Councilman David A. Clarke (D-one), a committee member who missed the meeting, called the housing committee's swift action a "railroad" attempt that favors landlords more than tenants.
Winter denied that the committee hastily and said that all members of the Council had an opportunity to offer recommendations and comments on the bill, which will replace the city's current rent control law that expires Nov. 1.
"I don't think that landlords, the mayor or the tenants will be happy with this bill," Winter said. "But the reality is that all utilities have gone up and someone has to pay these costs."
"I hope this bill will help keep moderate income people in the District of Columbia," she said. "We have two classes - the very poor and the very rich. The very poor have federal subsidized housing programs to help them, but there is nothing for the moderate-income people in this city."
Under terms of the bill passed yesterday, landlords who provide:
No fuel or utilities will be allowed to increase rents by 3 per cent next year.
Heat and hot water will be allowed to increase rents by 10.5 per cent next year.
Heat, hot water and electricity will be allowed to increase rents by 12 per cent next year.
Heat, hot water electricity and cooking fuel will be allowed to increase rents by 13.5 cent next year.
All utilities, including air-conditioning, will be allowed to increase rents by a full 15 per cent next year.
Housing committee members Winter, Dixon and William Spaulding (D-five) voted in favor of the bill. The other members of the committee, Clarke and the Rev. Jerry Moore (R-at large), missed yesterday's meeting and did not vote.
After the committee meeting, Clarke issued a statement critical of the bill and Winter's handling of it.
Specifically, Clarke was critical of one provision of the bill that allows landlords to charge rent increases up to 200 per cent of current rentals if there is substantial renovation of a rental unit. The bill does require landlords for the first time to pay relocation costs of tenants forced to move due to demolition or renovation of rental structures.
Clarke also challenged a provision that said the new rent control commission would have only 60 days to resolve a tenant-landlord conflict. If the commission under the new proposals, does not resolve the conflict within the specified time period, the case would be dropped and tenants would have to go to court.
The new bill also gives landlords authority to charge tenants for a portion of any capital improvements on apartment buildings. Capital improvements include such things as new security systems or new roofs.
Despite some definite benefits for city landlords compared to the District's present rent control law, Raymond Howar, a landlord member of the D.C. rent control commission, expressed unhappiness with the bill approved yesterday.
"Any increase is long overdue," Howar said, "but [the 3 to 15 per cent increase in the bill] are not enough."