From the editors: This piece has sparked quite a conversation – among readers and District officials. The Office of the Tenant Advocate differs with this take on how rent-controlled landlords may apply last year’s 0% rent increase for seniors and those with disabilities. Read its response here.
We’d also like to note that Barbara is not offering legal advice, but listing the steps she took in challenging her notice.
by Barbara Cline
As residents of a rent-controlled apartment, we receive this DC rent increase notice once per year.
RAD Form 8 is the annual rent increase notice from the Department of Housing and Community Development, Rental Accommodations Division (RAD).
There was nothing unusual about our 2017 notice – except that it arrived three months early, advancing our increase from August 1st to May 1st.
The property management’s explanation: Our lease expired in 2016 because we had no rent increase for 12 months. Management claimed our lease’s expiration gave them the right to advance our rent increase date to May 1st – the first day of the effective 2017 rent increase.
My take: First, our lease never expired. After one year our lease converted to a month-to-month lease and has been in effect since 1979.
Second, we had no 2016 rent increase because of two legal reasons:
We are “elderly” (62+) and registered in 2009 for a reduced and permanent annual rent increase under a special and often unknown provision in the DC rent control law that ties our one annual automatic rent increase for inflation directly to the CPI-W.
And in 2016, the inflation measure used by the District of Columbia rent control law as the baseline for the one annual automatic rent increase, the CPI-W, was 0%.
We challenged the rent increase notice – and won. Here’s how.
Our outcome: We received a written correction within the required three days. And the annual rent increase notice was changed back to original August 1st date.
What is a rent-controlled apartment?
Rent-controlled units are neither federally- nor District-subsidized. Anyone who can meet a building’s leasing requirements can lease a DC rent-controlled apartment.
My neighbors include non-profit executives, federal government contractors, a UDC professor, and one of my favorites – a Shakespearean actor/director.
Only buildings built before January 1, 1976 are covered under rent control.
In my Connecticut Avenue neighborhood you can have a rent-controlled building across the street from a brand new apartment building. Residents share the same neighborhood conveniences – at a fraction of the cost.
How rent control works
What is “controlled” under the law is how often and by how much DC’s landlords can raise the rent. Landlords are allowed only one annual automatic rent increase to keep pace with inflation.
The amount of this rent increase is tied to the Consumer Price Index for urban workers (CPI-W), the Department of Labor’s measure of the average annual cost of living increase for wage earners in urban areas.
For 2017, the CPI-W is 1.1% – up from 0% in 2016. Here’s a history of allowed rent increases, going back to 1985.
And the 2017 once-annual automatic DC rent increase rates for rent-controlled apartments are…
For most renters: ￼The rent control formula for computing the one annual automatic rent increase tied to inflation is CPI-W 1.1% plus an additional 2%.
That means, during the 12 months beginning May 1, 2017 and ending April 30, 2018, the annual rent increase is capped at 3.1%.
For renters aged 62+ OR for renters with a disability (any age): Same as above, unless you have registered for the “elderly and disabled provision.” More on that in a moment.
In years past, the annual rent increase for this group was capped at the CPI-W without the additional 2%.
This year, it’s different. The 2017 1.1% rent increase would have been a considerable savings in its own right. However, on February 9, 2017, the District enacted Act 21-655, “The Elderly and Tenants with Disabilities Protection Amendment Act of 2015.”
Under this law, the 2017 one annual automatic rent increase tied to inflation is now based on the lowest of:
Since SS COLA is lower than the CPI-W, SS COLA is the rate used for the 2017 rent increase - 0.3%.
Again, this new law only impacts: Elderly (62+) renters or a renter with a disability (any age) who signed the lease and completed and filed the registration form linked here.
RAD 6 has no application fee, is filed only once and must be done at least 30 days before the date of your next rent increase. And there are no income requirements for this application, for either the elderly or tenant with a disability.
Show me the money! Why you should register if eligible
Let’s say you are not eligible or not registered for the “elderly or a tenant with a disability” provision.
If your current rent is $1,500:
– The 2017 standard rent increase would be CPI-W 1.1% + 2% = 3.1%.
– Your new monthly rent would be $1,547.
– Your rent increase would be $47 per month, and would add up to $564 over 12 months.
If you are eligible and registered for the provision as an elderly (62+) or a renter with a disability (any age).
If your current rent is $1,500:
– The 2017 reduced rent increase would be SS COLA= 0.03%.
– Your new monthly rent would be $1,505.
– Your rent increase would be $5 per month and would add up to $60 over 12 months.
That’s a savings of more than $500 over the standard rent increase.
Other allowable rent increases under DC rent control
A landlord can seek additional rent increases larger than the annual automatic increase by filing a petition with the DC Rent Administrator. There are five types of landlord petitions that can be filed:
We have the right to challenge any of these proposed increases. The resources below can teach you how.
Need more information on renting in DC?
Renters 101: The Office of the Tenant Advocate is holding monthly workshops this spring and summer on renters’ rights. Here’s the schedule.
DC Housing Expo and Home Show: The June 24th Expo at the Convention Center includes renters’ rights workshops and information sessions on aging in place.
DC renter handbook: The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing has an online copy of the 2013 Washington DC Tenant Survival Guide, Eighth Edition, for download (visit cnhed.org/policy-advocacy/research, scroll down to “Additional Research Information”). Pages 24-28 cover DC rent control. The guide also includes sections on leases, security deposits, evictions, housing code standards, repairs and renter resources.