Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Nearly 80,000 D.C. households, or more than 10 percent of residents, live in rent-controlled buildings, and today, District policymakers moved forward a pair of bills that could make those families’ monthly expenses less onerous.

The D.C. Council’s Committee on Housing and Community Development approved the legislation, which the full council is set to consider before the end of the year. One bill is designed to protect elderly and disabled tenants from rent increases that result from capital improvements, services and facilities upgrades, and hardship petitions, through which landlords can request higher rental adjustments if they demonstrate small returns on investment for their properties. It also raises the maximum eligible income for such exempted residents from $40,000 to $50,000.

A second bill would cap “conditional rent increases” in rent-controlled units to 5 percent of the rent charged to a tenant. These jumps can occur when the city hasn’t decided whether to grant a landlord’s hardship petition within 90 days of filing. According to At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, who chairs the housing committee, roughly 100 hardship petitions were recorded between 2007 and 2013, leading to significant rent increases for thousands of residents. In one example the councilmember cited, a group of rent-control tenants in Ward 7 were charged a 34 percent annual increase through a hardship petition and threatened with eviction before opting to sue their landlord.

D.C. “is confronted with an accelerated affordability crisis that threatens the very fabric of the District’s diversity,” Bonds said. “[This] requires immediate action by the council … Our first efforts should be directed at the city’s most widespread affordable housing program: rent control.”

The committee’s vote comes after Bonds introduced sweeping rent-control reforms last month, which seek to limit allowable increases in rent. Its next meeting is Oct. 19, when it will hold a hearing about “rent concessions.”