I recently toured a new apartment building. Everything about it was stunning – its rooftop terrace and pool with a sundeck, its fitness center and resident club room. I briefly considered leaving my rent-controlled frill-less apartment for this renter’s paradise.
And then I ran the numbers. My two bedroom, two bath, 1,250-square-foot rent-controlled apartment currently rents for $2,500. The two bedroom, two bath, 1,175-square-foot non-rent-controlled apartment starts at $3,955.
And then there are utility costs. My rent includes all utilities – gas, electric, water, sewer and trash. The new apartment charges for water and electricity and depends on use. I’ve added $100/month for this additional cost in my figuring. The bottom line: $2,500 for rent-controlled vs. $4,055 for non-rent-controlled apartment. This is a difference of $1,555 a month – or $18,660 a year.
Rent increases are the great unknown
The new apartment only offers a one year lease. What happens after the lease expires?
At that point you must sign a new lease – and your new rent is completely at the landlord’s discretion. Anything goes. And anything does go – I know of renters who have received notice of rent increases in the hundreds of dollars.
Downsizing from the neighborhood or upsizing from a center city micro-unit? Consider a rent-controlled apartment
Rent-controlled apartments are NOT low-income housing. My neighbors include a hospital administrator, non-profit executives, and federal government contractors. Only apartment buildings built before January 1, 1976 are covered under rent-control.
If you meet the apartment building’s leasing requirements, you can rent a DC rent-controlled apartment.
Under the rent control law, what is “controlled” is how often and by how much DC landlords can raise the rent. Landlords are only allowed one annual standard rent increase to keep pace with inflation.
The amount of my rent increase is based on 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. The CPI-W is announced in February, and the rent control year starts on May 1st and goes through April of the following year. The 2016 rent control year began May 2016 and ends April 30th, 2017.
My rent-control increase in 2016? ZERO!!
There are two levels of rent control increases:
REGULAR: CPI-W plus 2% for most rent-control renters.
REDUCED: CPI-W for seniors (62+) or the disabled (any age) but must register
I had NO rent increase this year because the 2016 CPI-W was 0% and I applied for the reduced increase once I became eligible under the age requirements. There are no income requirements for seniors or the disabled to register for this reduced rent increase rate.
Other renters in rent-controlled apartments should see their rents rise no more than 2%.
Know your DC renter rights
After my initial lease term expired, my rent-control lease automatically converted to a month-to-month lease. This lease will be in effect as long as I stay in my apartment – and allows me to continue to receive those low CPI-based rent increases.
All DC rentals should be following the Tenant Bill of Rights. An explanation of leases – including the application process, signing a lease, discrimination, the meaning of lease clauses and prohibited clauses – and DC rent-control- is found in the Washington DC Survival Guide, Eighth Edition, May 2013. The guide is available only in hard copy from the Harrison Institute for Housing and Community Development, 111 F Street NW, Suite 102, Washington, DC, 20001, 202-662-4232.
Any DC renter – renting an apartment, condo, coop or room(s) in a house, can get a FREE review of their lease by an Office of Tenant Advocate (ota.dc.gov) caseworker. Call for an appointment – 202-719-6560.
The other side of rent control
All is not perfect in DC’s rent control world. The Washington City Paper recently reported on how some management companies use “rent concessions” to jack up the rents by more than their tenants would expect under rent control. A bill co-introduced by Council members Mary Cheh, Anita Bonds and Elissa Silverman would regulate the practice. As Council member Cheh tells the City Paper.
“Tenants expect, and we believe the law provides, that rent increases are increases on rent actually paid…. What some landlords have been doing is offering lower rents to lure tenants in, but later charging increases based upon what they say was ‘real rent.’ To me, this is a form of cheating and this bill addresses that.”