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Remember how Urban Investment Partners won a Plexy last year for the fastest building buying spree in the city? Well, it continues apace—-the full-service development and property management firm has put the 488-unit, rent-controlled Capitol Park Towers at 3rd and G Street SW under contract. Now, the tenants have launched a bid to buy the building themselves.
The District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act gives residents the first right of refusal to buy their apartments, once a landlord finds someone they’d like to sell them to. Actually exercising that right is a huge challenge, requiring tremendous unity and energy from a strong tenants association.
The Capitol Park Towers tenants association, a very diverse group with many elderly residents, is at least accustomed to fighting. They’ve been battling the current landlord, American Rental Management Company—-which acquired the building for $38 million in 2002—-over housing conditions and rent increases since 2006. Currently at issue is the judge’s interpretation of a law the Council passed in 2010, which grants a tenant association standing to represent everybody in the building in any given case, without getting each individual to sign on. Three separate tenant petitions have been pending at the slow-as-mud Office of Administrative Hearings for over a year now.
You know it’s serious, because American Rental Management has landlord superlawyer Richard Luchs—-yeah, that guy—-in its corner.
The tenants now have more pressing issues to deal with. Tenants Association president Arlena Chaney says she got a call from a UIP executive on March 11th saying that tenants would be receiving an offer of sale the next day, giving them 30 days to respond with documentation proving that fifty percent plus one of the tenants are interested in purchasing their units. Despite some confusion over delivery of the notices, Chaney says she’s got the numbers she needs, and will be able to file on time.
She’s by no means in the clear, though. Getting enough low-to-middle income tenants to go forward with purchasing their apartments as condos is a tricky thing, especially when financing is hard to come by. The Housing Production Trust Fund, the city’s pot of money set aside for assisting tenants in this situation, has recovered substantially from its recent low—-but is still over-subscribed with a long list of other projects.
Meanwhile, UIP already has a website up for tenants to register their information, and has been sending postcards making all sorts of promises: That they will keep the building as apartments, not raise rents more than is allowed by law, and make lots of improvements to the units and common areas (generally in the interest of charging higher rents for apartments that tenants voluntarily vacate). One of the lists reads:
1. Will UIP increase my rent? NO*
2. Do I have to move out? NO
3. If I want to move out, will UIP pay me? YES
4. If items in my apartment need repair, will UIP fix them? YES
5. Will UIP replace broken appliances? YES
6. Will UIP improve the heating and air conditioning? YES
7. Will my rent increase because of these improvements? NO
8. Will UIP put everything that we agree to in writing and let our attorney review or write the agreement? YES
9: Has UIP done this before? YES, UIP has more experience working with residents and tenant associations in DC than anyone else.
10. Does UIP own the management company? YES
* We will not increase rents to existing residents due to improvements made. Your rent will only increase per DC Rent Control Law; CPI + 2% (CPI only for Elderly and Disabled Tenants)
UIP’s charm offensive is based on experience: Having your building change hands is a scary event, and an unhappy tenants association can be a time-consuming and expensive thing to deal with. “When a building is sold, rumors are distributed to frighten or coerce residents into taking some form of action,” wrote UIP principal Steve Schwat in a letter to tenants.
The warning is well-founded—-at least in the sense that information gets around. On Saturday, the tenants met with Marbury Plaza tenants association president * April Goggans, who is none too happy with the job UIP and the city did in her complex on Good Hope Road SE. She provided an overview of everything they’d gone through, first in an attempt to buy the building—-which foundered in the economic collapse—-and then a successful settlement that required certain improvements be made. Over a year later, things had improved, but she says a lot still remains to be done.
When she read the postcard that had been sent to the Capitol Park Towers tenants, Goggans said, “we couldn’t stop laughing.”
* CLARIFICATION, April 15: According to the Marbury Plaza tenants association bylaws, Goggans technically could no longer be president after she was evicted for non-payment of rent in January, but she has been allowed to serve out her term in absentia.