My grandma has a great one-bedroom apartment in Dupont Circle. She has lived there for over 50 years and has rent control—she pays about $650 a month for her apartment and a parking spot is included. Her apartment is where my mom grew up and where our family has spent many memorable holidays together. I’ve even lived there on and off for a few months at a time, and it’s where I’ve always felt at home since I’m from a military family and moved around a lot as a kid. Now that I (and my mother) are both back in D.C. for good, we want to keep this place in the family.
Grandma is uneasy about adding any family members to her lease because she thinks it will void the terms of the rent control. I’m pretty sure units like hers in the building are renting for at least double what she pays now and we don’t want to ruin a good thing. How can we keep the place and still retain the rent control when Grandma’s no longer with us?
—Future Roommate of Granny’s Ghost?
So, basically, you’d like to keep your Dupont Circle apartment at a Fort Totten price. I had some crippling jealousy issues to get over—$650 a month in Dupont! With parking!—before making a call on this one. But once I tackled my envy, Joel Cohn, over at the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate, ably assisted me. First off, as Cohn points out, the rent on your grandma’s place, whenever it becomes vacant, won’t suddenly double or quadruple as long as the building is still under rent control. But it could jump as much as 30 percent if there is a “substantially identical unit”—one that’s exactly the same down to the floor plans, square footage, amenities, etc.—going for well beyond her rent-controlled rate. If this is a large building, there are likely tons of units considered “substantially identical.” Three- or four-unit properties, on the other hand, may contain no such units. In that case, a vacancy would allow the rent to jump 10 percent.
But you don’t want any kind of increase. (Ahhh, staggering jealousy again.) And you needn’t have one—if someone in the family gets on the lease. So try harder. Your grandma can’t get her rent control revoked just for inquiring—that’s just old-lady, don’t-rock-the-boat paranoia speaking. If the landlord refuses, for whatever reason, to add you to the lease now, you can try to prove to the landlord later that you were effectively a tenant in the place, even though you were never on the lease, says Cohn. Did you ever write a rent check for the place? Make a repair request? Keep track of all that stuff. They could help prove your case that you’re a rightful renter, at the right price.
If none of that works, well, get your application in before everyone else! After all, you’ll have the best heads up when it’s being vacated.
Image by Bogdan Sudito, Flickr Creative Commons Attribution License.