If you are a landlord seeking to raise rents, what steps must you take? If you are a tenant concerned with the inadequate delivery of rental services to your building, where do you complain?
In the District there is a rental accommodations office, headed by the rent administrator who is appointed by the mayor. The primary functions of this office are to assist landlords and tenants with their problems and concerns, whether rents should go up or down.
The new D.C. rent control law, which recently went into effect, did not really change the operations of the rent control office. This office is charged by city council regulations with handling complaints, petitions from landlords or tenants seeking an increase or a decrease in rent levels, evaluating and analyzing statistical data dealing with rentals and publishing materials outlining tenants and landlords rights, obligations and rent control procedures.
According to Bowles C. Ford, the rent administrator, this printed material will be available shortly.
When a petition is filed, a hearing examiner in the rental accommodations office will decide, on the merits of the petition - and possibly a public hearing - whether or not to grant the petition. If either the landlord or the tenant is dissatisfied with the hearing examiner's decision, an appeal may be taken within 10 days to the Rental Accommodations Commission. This commission is composed of nine members, appointed by the mayor with the advice and consent of the council. Each commission member serves two years. The commission is composed of three types of members. Three members must represent the interests of landlords, three must represent the interest of tenants and three must represent the public at large - being neither landlords or tenants.
The commission's principal function is to hear appeals and determine procedure for the administration of the rent control law. The commission is required to issue its decision with respect to an appeal within 30 days after the appeal is filed. This should eliminated the delays which were symptomatic of rent control proceedings in previous years.
The new law contains an interesting feature (Section 805), entitled "tenant hotline." Under the law, the commission is required to establish a telephone hotline, whose primary purpose "is to provide assistance to low and moderate income tenants." Among the specified functions to be included with this hotline are:
Answering rent control procedural questions,
Providing advice on housing code violations,
Explaining rent increases,
Providing guidance in resolution of water, heating, repairs and other problems,
Providing guidance when tenants are faced with eviction.
There have been many criticisms in recent years about the operation of the rent control office. This observer has noticed a significant change in the level of consumer assistance presently given by the new office - to both landlords and tenants. Indeed, the rental accommodations office has recently published two items of general interest to District citizens.
1. "A Codification of Rent Control Decisions Under D.C. Law 1-33," available for $3.
2. "RAO Update on Rent Control," a free bi-monthly newsletter.
Both publications are available by writing to the D.C. Rental Accommodations Office, Munsey Building, Room 439, 1329 E St. NW, D.C. 20004.