Since early this year, the Rental Housing Commission, the appellate panel charged with enforcing the Rental Housing Act of 1985, has been essentially defunct. The terms of its three members expired on January 17th, and one staff member has been logging cases as they are appealed from the Office of Administrative Hearings, with no action taken—keeping landlords and tenants waiting indefinitely for resolution of their disputes.
It’s not for lack of nominees—Mayor Adrian Fenty sent down his picks last year. One of them was an existing Commissioner, Peter Szegedy-Maszak. But the other two—Jeffrey Poydras and Chantal Jean-Baptiste—are Howard University law school graduates and personal injury attorneys with zero experience in D.C. family or rental housing law.
Councilmember Marion Barry was so insulted by the nominees’ lack of appropriate qualifications that he refused to even hold hearings to confirm them while he still chaired the Housing and Workforce Development Committee back in January. When he did hold a hearing, new committee chairman Michael Brown found them woefully underprepared, and asked the executive for new nominees. He even made some suggestions, mostly experienced people from the Office of Administrative Hearings.
But the Mayor only sent back the same people. “That’s just a slap,” said Brown—almost as much of a slap as Fenty’s unsuccessful attempt last year to absorb the Rental Housing Commission into D.C. Superior Court. The issue between Fenty and the Council has become so raw that it came up in a mayoral debate earlier this month.
While he wrangles with the Mayor, Brown introduced an emergency bill at yesterday’s legislative session to allow the Commission to temporarily function with a quorum of one—Szegedy-Maszak, the only one of Fenty’s nominees he’s been willing to confirm. It passed 10-3, which will allow the “Commission” to at least start hearing cases. For the longer term, Brown has proposed legislation that would require nominees to posess experience in appellate, administrative, and housing law.