A plethora of proposed legislation pending in the District would have wide-ranging effects on tenants and homeowners, builders and developers, if the bills become law.
If the number of cosponsors is any indication, two pieces of legislation would seem almost certain to pass.
One bill, introduced by H.R. Crawford and co-sponsored by 10 others on the 13-member council, would afford residents of condominium and cooperative housing units the same city trash collection that residents of single-family housing get. Now the city does not generally collect from multi-housing units, such as condos and co-ops. Despite the bill's wide backing, however, one veteran says the bill's cost makes its passage unlikely.
Another well-supported bill is designed to reduce the permissible lead content of paint used in and around residential buildings. Introduced by Charlene Drew Jarvis and supported by nine council members, the measure would allow the city to inspect any residence where there is reason to believe that lead may present a health hazard to children under 8.
During the inspection, if there peeling paint or loose plaster if found, or if there is any other reason to believe a health hazard exists, the agent is authorized to collect samples and have them analyzed. If the presence of lead exceeds a given standard, the city's department of housing and economic development would notify the inhabitants and owner that a lead poisoning hazard exists and that the owner is responsible for removing the material containing the lead. decides other bills have priority, one source says.
A very controversial bill would give tenants the right in some circumstances to make repairs in their apartments and deduct the cost from their rent. The same "repair and deduct" legislation, introduced by Hilda H.M. Mason, languished in a committee last year but has been sent to a different panel this year under the council's reorganization.
The bill would allow tenants to make repairs that affect maintenance, security or the sanitary condition of a rental unit when there are either violations of D.C. law or a breach of a lease agreement. For a violation of law that has not been fixed within the period required by the city, the tenant would be authorized to write the landlord of the intention to correct the conditions "in a reasonable manner at the landlord's expense."
If the conditions don't violate the law but represent a failure to repair or keep the unit in a sanitary condition, 21 days after the landlord has been notified of the conditions the tenant could tell him the conditions will be corrected at his expense. Two "reasonable" estimates of the projected repair costs must be submitted to the landlord and the lowest one picked. Under the bill, emergency conditions could be corrected after a 24-hours' notice to the landlord.
The tenant could deduct up to $500 from each rent payment for the costs of the repairs until the full amount is paid. Repairs for common areas could be divided up by the tenants and deducted from their rents.
These bills have been opposed by the city's landlords who contend it would siphon rent money from them. They argue that the city's rent-control laws already unfairly limit their income.
City Council Chairman David A. Clarke has said he favors enactment of a "repair and deduct" bill but not Mason's and plans to introduce his own soon. Although John Ray, chairman of the regulatory and consumer affairs committee, opposes the legislation, he has said he won't bottle it up if seven members of the council support it. The current count: six in favor, four opposed, three undecided.
Three bills would directly affect residents in multi-family units. One bill, introduced by Mason, would require owners of multi-unit dwellings to equip the outside doors with locks. A measure designed to reduce crime and deter loiterers, the locks required would allow entry only through use of a key or of a buzzer system. The bill, around for years, has been sent to a new committee this year.
Another bill, sponsored by Ray and sent to his committee, would require landlords to maintain mail boxes or receptacles in conformance with U.S. Postal Service regulations. Landlords aren't required to now, and the Postal Service can suspend mail delivery to an address where the receptacles don't conform, a source said.
Another Ray-sponsored bill would require owners to keep in good working order elevators in an apartment building or house with five or more floors. Repairs on an out-of-service elevator would have to be made promptly. The current housing code doesn't require landlords to keep the elevators working. Out-of-order elevators are especially hard on the elderly, Ray said.
There is strong opposition to the bill, a council source said. Many landlords oppose the bill on grounds that the cost of repairing outmoded machinery is prohibitively high, sometimes requiring specially-tooled replacement parts. However, if the bill is voted out of the committee, it will probably clear the council, the source said.
Recognizing a steady reduction in the availability of low- and moderate-income housing, a bill introduced by Ray seeks to provide incentives to stimulate and facilitate construction of more affordable housing. The bill seeks expedited administrative review, zoning and tax incentives to increase the economic return on housing projects to make it economically feasible for developers to provide units at reduced prices and rentals.
The bill calls for expedited review of subdivision, building-permit and alley-closing applications; relaxation of floor-area ratio and height allowances; reduction or elimination of fees for zoning applications, condominium registration, subdivision and building permit applications; and abatement of real property, corporate and investment tax laws for housing projects certified by the major as eligible. "A good idea but too vague," said one council source, predicting the bill's failure.
Another bill designed to reduce the cost of construction would adopt uniform building, mechanical, fire prevention, plumbing and energy conservation codes as the construction codes for the District. The codes would apply to all buildings constructed, altered or repaired in the District, except those occupied by the United States or foreign governments. The code bill, which is generally supported by builders, was introduced by Jarvis.
A similar but slightly different bill introduced last year would have adopted the Building Officials and Code Administrators code, a series of codes adopted in most jurisdictions nationwide and in force in area suburbs. The bill was voted down by the council after the strong opposition from Ray, whose committee got the new bill. Its chances are rated slim.
Contractors and subcontractors with contracts of $10,000 or more with D.C. agencies for the procurement of property and services, including construction, would be required to take affirmative action to employ veterans, minorities and women under a bill introduced by Wilhelmina J. Rolark. Under the bill, contractors would be required to list openings with an appropriate local employment office. A proposed complaint procedure is also outlined, which includes the voiding of a contract and barring the contractor from future contracts for violations of the provisions. The bill has been scheduled for hearing.
The purposes of some pending bills seem at odds with the purposes of others. For instance, while some bills seek to reduce the cost of construction and thus encourage it, one bill would add costs by letting the city tax real property in its various stages of construction, including new construction, construction in progress, and rehabilitation and remodeling of existing structures at the estimated full market value. The bill, introduced by Clarke at the request of Mayor Marion Barry, would assess on-going construction at its estimated full-market value.
Another proposal, introduced by Clarke at the mayor's request, would impose a 2 percent tax on each sale or transfer of a cooperative apartment, 1 percent on the seller and 1 percent on the buyer.
One bill that's incurred the firm opposition of the Washington Board of Realtors is the mayor's proposal to boost water and sewer service rates, part of an overall tax and fee increase package. The increases--about 178 percent over the next five years--were called drastic, inflationary and inconsistent with the city's development goals by Bette June Ingham, president of the Realtors. She told the City Council during hearings that the proposal would especially burdens the owners of multi-family rental properties subject to rent control that do not have individual meters and cannot automatically pass the increase on to consumers.
The mayor contends the increases are needed to cover the costs of the system so that general taxpayers don't subsidize the water and sewer services. Past proposals to raise fees weren't adopted, partly because of continuing criticism of the city's billing and collection procedures. The bill is scheduled for markup by the finance and revenue committee next week but its chairman, John A. Wilson, has been quoted as saying there aren't enough votes to pass it.
Legislation to renew the condo conversion law, which expires in September, is expected to be introduced, Clarke told a meeting of the District of Columbia Builders Association this week. The current legislation requires elections before a conversion, gives elderly tenants earning less than $30,000 annually the right to remain tenants at rent-controlled rents and mandates that tenants be given the opportunity to purchase their building before it made available for purchase by an outsider.