Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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To help keep D.C.’s limited rental-housing stock safe and habitable, several District lawmakers have declared their initial support for legislation that would reward landlords for fixing their units.

On Tuesday, At-Large Councilmember Robert White proposed a bill meant to improve housing conditions, especially among older buildings where code violations are common. White says the measure would “make it cheaper and easier to be a good housing provider, while making sure slumlords don’t profit off our residents.” He adds that renters face seemingly intractable issues.

“Unfortunately, even the most organized tenants can find that our housing code is not set up to actually fix problems,” White said when introducing the legislation. “It can result in inspection after inspection without a fine, or abatements that are often little more than a fresh coat of paint to conceal the impact of a leaky roof.” Landlords can also challenge code citations, he noted, and the agency responsible for policing housing conditions “can refuse to take forceful action.”

The bill would create a special fund to expedite repairs, compensate tenants harmed by issues, and reimburse landlords who either fix code violations before reinspection or don’t receive them, for inspection fees. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs would administer this fund. D.C. would have to issue an annual report on total fines, reimbursements, and other data.

DCRA is currently under scrutiny due to reported gaps in its ability to enforce laws designed to shield residents from various building deficiencies.

White’s measure would also feed the D.C. attorney general’s office referrals of buildings in which there are consistent code violations. That could bulk up the office’s litigation on housing matters, which incumbent Attorney General Karl Racine has made a priority. Furthermore, the bill would provide noncompliant landlords six months to pay fines for or remediate certain code violations.

White says he worked with tenant advocates and the Apartment and Office Building Association on the legislation. The measure “recognizes that not every landlord is a slumlord,” he explains.

A majority of the council cosponsored the legislation. A hearing on it has yet to be scheduled. It isn’t the only recent proposal intended to make housing conditions for D.C. renters more livable.

Councilmember Elissa Silverman introduced a bill this month to impede the worst violators of D.C.’s housing code from opening new businesses, and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has been conducting a series of oversight hearings on DCRA to improve the agency’s performance.