Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The District’s rent-control laws could get even more restrictive under a new bill proposed today.

Anita Bonds, who chairs the D.C. Council’s Committee on Housing and Community Development, introduced legislation that would cap annual rent increases in D.C.’s 80,000-plus rent-controlled units. First, the bill would limit such hikes to the Consumer Price Index—a measure of inflation—which varies from year to year but is now zero. Under current D.C. law, landlords of rent-controlled buildings can raise rents by 2 percent of a tenant’s payments plus the CPI, up to 10 percent, except for elderly and disabled tenants, whose rent can only be raised by the CPI alone. Second, the legislation would eliminate vacancy increases: When a rent-controlled unit goes vacant today, a landlord can raise the rent on it by 10 percent if there’s no comparable unit on the property—or by 30 percent if there is a comparable unit.

These policies (and the circumventing of them) have permitted savvy owners to institute significant increases on their units. From the dais, Bonds said the intent of her bill is to “protect low- and moderate-income tenants from the erosion of their income from increased housing costs,” citing studies that have found that almost half of all renters in D.C. pay between 30 and 50 percent of their income on rent (meaning that they’re “rent-burdened”) and that almost a quarter of the rest pay more than 50 percent. The at-large councilmember added that the legislation strikes an “appropriate balance” between the interests of tenants and landlords, and would preserve affordable housing.

The bill is likely to face pushback from owners of rent-controlled properties, many of whom already file hardship petitions with the District since they’re entitled to a 12 precent rate of return on their investments under D.C. law. They can also ask to raise rents after capital improvements, changes to services, and rehab work.

“Housing is very complicated, Mr. Chairman,” Bonds quipped at the end of her remarks to Phil Mendelson.

Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, Phil Mendelson, and newly installed Robert White co-introduced the bill.