Rent control is the District’s largest affordable housing program, covering more than 80,000 units and protecting hundreds of thousands of tenants from displacement. It also is a program under attack. Too often, landlords are able to take advantage of loopholes in existing law to impose large rent hikes, at times to levels far above market, forcing long-time residents out of their homes and eroding the long-term affordability of rent control units.
The Washington City Paper published an article last week highlighting an abusive practice that some landlords engage in once they take these large rent increases. Landlords will advertise and charge lower rent amounts, offering tenant “rent concessions”. Tenants are told that higher rent levels are on the books but will not be charged. But when it comes time to renew a tenant’s lease, many of these landlords threaten to impose the higher rent amount and coerce the tenant into agreeing to a rent increase far higher than what rent control ordinarily would allow.
A bill to regulate rent concessions and end these abusive practices is one of several pieces of legislation before the D.C. Council right now that contain common-sense changes to close loopholes in existing law, strengthen rent control, and stop the loss of affordable housing. Legal Aid also supports B22-025, the “Rental Housing Affordability Stabilization Amendment Act of 2017,” which would limit the annual and vacancy rent increases that landlord can charge in rent control units, and B22-100, the “Preservation of Affordable Rent Control Housing Amendment Act of 2017,” which would prevent current tenants from entering voluntary agreements with large rent increases that would only be paid by future tenants. Both of these bills have received widespread support from the community, as well as Councilmembers, and Legal Aid and other advocates have been urging Housing Committee Chair Anita Bonds to move these bills forward before the end of 2018.
Legal Aid is part of the Rent Control Coalition, a group of tenant leaders, organizers, and legal services attorneys that have been working closely with Chairwoman Bonds and her staff for several years to ensure that rent control remains an effective tool for affordable housing preservation. We are joined in these efforts by advocates from Bread for the City, the Coalition for Non-Profit Housing & Economic Development, Housing Counseling Services, Jews United for Justice, the Latino Economic Development Center, Law Students in Court, Legal Counsel for the Elderly, and others.