Condominium owners in the District of Columbia must pay for having their trash hauled away, while the city provides the service free to homeowners. That disparity has long rankled condo owners, but they may get relief this year.
A bill introduced by D.C. Council Chairman David A. Clarke and awaiting action in the public works committee would mandate free trash removal for owner-occupied condominium and cooperative units. The proposed legislation also says a schedule of fees for nonowner-occupied units must be established.
The city's annual appropriations legislation approved by Congress has since 1902 contained a provision barring the city from providing free trash removal from buildings with more than four units. The city government asked for minor changes in 1975 but didn't request that the prohibition be completely deleted until last year, according to congressional records.
In a report accompanying the District's 1988 appropriations bill, the D.C. subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee said it would leave the prohibition out of the fiscal 1989 bill and that the subcommittee was "completely neutral" on the issue. A subcommittee source said members want the city to be fair to all residents, which means all rental and owner-occupied buildings and houses should get the same service.
When the subcommittee was considering the city's 1988 appropriations, Clarke told the congressmen that each year the city asks that the prohibition be removed, but that Congress has nevertheless retained the barrier. Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Calif.) said the subcommittee found it "hard to understand" why the city had submitted a solid waste disposal budget $600,000 lower than the previous year while asking for authority to increase service. Clarke replied that the city did not want to start looking for the money until it had the go-ahead from Congress.
Even without congressional opposition, however, council passage of a free garbage removal bill could be imperiled by the cost of the legislation. The city's Department of Public Works estimated that the startup costs for providing the service to condominium buildings would total $8 million, and that condo trash pickup would add $3 million annually to the city's public works budget.
Trash removal also is costly for condo and cooperative associations, which "expend between $2,000 and $10,000 for trash collection annually even though they are taxed at the same rate as single-family homes," according to the Association of District of Columbia Condominium Boards.
Although condominium owners have pushed for the same services given homeowners, the limitation of free trash pickup to owner-occupied units "waters down the attractiveness" of the proposed legislation, said Stephen L. Gibson, the association's president. Charges such as garbage removal are assessed according to a condo owner's percentage of ownership as expressed in the square footage of his unit, Gibson said. Since many condo units are being rented out by their owners, condominium boards could be faced with the job of figuring out the percentage of charges for each of the rental apartments, he said.
Gibson said owners of single-family rental homes don't pay for trash pickups.
Clarke, who attended a recent association meeting, conceded that there are inequities in the bill but said budget constraints make them necessary, according to association members who attended the meeting.
Two other bills affecting condominiums are awaiting action in council committees. The D.C. Condominium Reform Amendments Act of 1987 was introduced last year and hearings were held by the consumer and regulatory affairs committee. The legislation makes more than 100 technical changes in the condominium code. Condominium attorney C. William Tayler said the bill probably will be marked up in the spring.
Legislation limiting liability for volunteer directors and officers of nonprofit organizations, including condominium boards, is before the judiciary committee, where it reportedly faces opposition.
"There are so many things that need to be done for condos, because they're relatively new" and more legislative changes will be needed, said Jean Bowling, a member of the organization.
The association of condominium boards, made up of representatives from 37 condo developments, recently cooperated in a study of financial characteristics of Washington condominiums made by Alan P. Laskin, an independent financial consultant and condo dweller.
He found that the average total of funds reserved for future common expenses was highest per unit in smaller, newer high-rises in operation for less than seven years. Average reserves per 1,000 square feet, however, were higher in smaller, older high-rises, he said.