Q: Recently, the D.C. City Council enacted some far-ranging amendments to the rent control laws. The press coverage of this new law highlighted some of the major changes, such as the decontrol of single-family houses, and the increase in the hardship petition provision to entitle a landlord to a 12 percent rate of return rather than 10 percent. However, I know that the bill was rather technical, and would like to know whether you have any observations on some of the other provisions of that law.
A: The old rent control law for the District of Columbia expired on April 30. On the same date, the D.C. City Council enacted a rent control law (D.C. Act 6-18) that will have to go through the congressional review period required for all D.C. laws. However, the council also enacted this law as emergency legislation, which means that it is now in full force and effect pending the congressional review.
You are correct that the press has highlighted only some of the significant aspects of the rent control law. For example, under the hardship petition, the landlord is now entitled to a 12 percent rate of return. Additionally, any single-family housing accommodation that is not owned by more than four persons, and that is vacated voluntarily (or is vacated as a result of a legal eviction or termination of tenancy for any lawful reason) is exempt from rent control. There is one requirement: The housing accommodation must be in substantial compliance with the housing regulations when placed back on the rental market.
In addition to these highly publicized provisions, there are a number of other provisions in the new law that will be of interest both to landlords and tenants. Although the following is not intended to be a complete analysis of the rent control law, it will highlight some of the major new provisions.
* Base Rent. Before the new law, the base rent was calculated from February 1973. Landlords were required to document all increases since that time. Under the new law, the base rent is defined as the rent as of Sept. 1, 1983, plus legal increases since then. Of significance to landlords is the fact that whether the rent in September 1983 was legal or not, that is now the floor for the new legal rent. As both landlords and tenants have known for a long time, the determination of base rent has been most dfficult in the District of Columbia, and has been the subject of many hearings before the rental housing office and the courts. The new law clarifies the situation and is designed to avoid the many confrontations that have taken place in the past.
* Registration Requirements. The new law requires that all landlords not registered under the old Rental Housing Act must register their property within 120 days of the effective date of the act, which will be Aug. 28. Any person who becomes a landlord covered under the act after April 30 must register within 30 days of becoming a landlord. Of significance to landlords is that no penalties shall be assessed against landlords who register by Aug. 28, even though they might not have registered their units under the old law. This has been called an "amnesty" provision by officials of the rental housing office. In effect, the D.C. City Council has gone on record to state that if a landlord registers his or her property now, his or her failure to register in the past will not be penalized. However, all landlords are cautioned to register by the August deadline if they are covered under the act.
* Statute of Limitations. Under the new law, a tenant may challenge a rent adjustment by filing a petition with the rent administrator. There is a statute of limitations, however, built into the new law that bars rent challenges that are filed more than three years after the effective date of the adjustment. Furthermore, tenants have only six months from the date that the landlord files his base rent to challenge that new base rent provision. Under the new law, a landlord registered under the prior act who takes the automatic increases ordinarily would not have to file a new or amended registration statement. However, landlords would be well advised to file such a new statement, so as to cut off future challengers to the base rent.
These are but a few of the highlights of the new rent control law. Incidentally, it should be pointed out that landlords now are known as "housing providers." Both landlords and tenants are encouraged to obtain a copy of the new law, and scrutinize it carefully.