Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The D.C. Council on Tuesday voted to exempt single-family homes from the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, or TOPA, a nearly 40-year-old bill that is ostensibly geared toward promoting homeownership among renters by giving them right of first refusal if their building or unit goes up for sale.

Advocates on the Council of the single-family home TOPA exemption bill (chiefly, Chairman Phil Mendelson and At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds) say that TOPA was never meant to include protections for single family homes. They argue that, instead of keeping tenants in their homes, it allows “bad actors” to drag out the sale of a home by indicating they plan on purchasing it, only to renege at the last minute. That dynamic, they say, costs realtors and homeowners hundreds of thousands of dollars annually—all to protect a bill that doesn’t actually help those who need it.

Opponents believe the Council’s bill is the “biggest rollback of tenants’ rights in a decade.”

That divide was on clear display Tuesday, as a spirited Council debate prompted Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau to compare Bonds’s bill to a “sledgehammer” against TOPA, while a semi-hostile crowd, largely comprised of realtors, developers, and homeowners, all booed lawmakers’ attempts to temper the Council’s bill.

By the end of the afternoon, the Council voted to adopt two amendments, one presented by Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh and one by Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White. Cheh’s amendment would continue to make it compulsory for landlords to notify tenants in single family homes of a sale within three days of listing the property; White’s wants to make it easier for seniors and those with disabilities to understand their TOPA rights. The bill will get another read and a final vote next month, where it’ll move to the mayor if it passes.