Dear PoPville – Is This Legit?

Photo by PoPville flickr user Rukasu1

Dear PoPville,

I moved into a new building last summer on a one-year lease. The management company set the rent at the maximum allowed under DC rent control ($2,009 a month), but as this was significantly higher than the market rate for the apartment, they took a $214 “concession” out of my rent per month. So for the past year, my effective rent has been $1,795 per month. I just received a letter from the management company telling me that to extend the lease another year, they want to raise the rent to $2,122, which is 5% above last year’s maximum rent allowed but a whopping 18% increase over the rent that I actually paid last year.

Is this allowed? I know that DC has regulations on how much rent can be raised year-over-year, which it seems like they are trying to get around by having had an “actual” rent and an “effective” rent for last year. I’d really prefer not to move, and I kinda feel swindled. Really appreciate any advice!

32 Comment

  • When you say “new” building, do you mean it was new to you or that the building was newly constructed? Buildings built after 1975 can be exempt from rent control.

    • JS–I meant new to me. The building is not exempt from rent control.

      • I’d contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate. I’m not sure the law makes a distinction between listed rent and effective rent. If it doesn’t, you may be out of luck. Then again, I am not a lawyer, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

        • I’d love to hear if this works. I had a situation a few years back and called and called and called the Office of the Tenant Advocate. I left numerous messages over a few weeks but never heard back and nobody ever picked up no matter what time I called. I eventually gave up. I kind of think this office doesn’t actually exist. It was maddening.

  • This happened to me back in 2005. I exercised my tenant rights by moving (actually I ended up buying a place and paying less in mortgage).

  • I’ll defer to Joker on this one.

  • Could this have been done under one of those “first month free” specials? I had this in my first DC apartment–the month of free rent was applied as a $200 reduction from each month’s rent. This only applied to the first year of our lease, so when it expired, our rent went up by that amount PLUS the regular annual rent increase. So we didn’t stay there. It was more than a 5% increase, but I think it was legal.

    Disclaimer: I don’t really know what I am talking about, but this sounds similar.

  • I know ArchStone and some of the other larger rental groups do this. If a property is vacant for a certain amount of time, they start lowering the rent daily until it’s rented.

    Once it’s rented the rent jumps up to the maximum again after the year is done and the cycle continues.

  • My guess would be that you can file a complaint with RACD and get it knocked back down. That said, your best option for information is the Office of the Tenant Advocate. Their website is

    • The thing you’d file would be a tenant petition, which actually gets heard by the Office of Administrative Hearings. You file them at DHCD. But for the reasons others have already outlined, I don’t think it would be successful.

  • You’re shit out of luck. Rent control properties have to register their rental rates with the district to make sure they are in compliance. They registered $2,009, and then charged you $1,795, so charging you $2,222 would be allowed when DCRA compares last year to this year.

    • they are allowed to register false rates?

    • Seems like while that might be “allowed” under current law, it really amounts to fraud and a complaint to DCRA might get somewhere. Particularly if you have proof of the rent you paid each month for an entire calendar year.

      • Yea, there is an even greater case for this when you consider that the rent advertised in the original listing was the lower of the two amounts.

    • This happened to me in Silver Spring. My rent started at $1192 three years ago and jumped to $1317 and now $1475. Sucks.

  • Is this not the exact situation rent control aims to prevent? By limiting how much rent can be raised each month you are preventing LLs from forcing people to choose between being displaced from their homes or paying a huge increase in rent. Here, it seems like companies are exploiting the rent control system to do just that.

    • well, when a unit becomes vacant landlords are allowed to take up to a 30% rent increase in order to bring it to market rate. After that, the landlord can only take an increase of CPI+2% each year (and only CPI on elderly/disabled tenants), although there are some exceptions. So in general I think it’s a pretty fair rule. If the $2009 rent was recorded at DHCD and that was market rent (and it’s not hard for a landlord to prove it’s market rent–they just find a couple other units in the area that rent for that amount), then I don’t think the OP has any rights other than to pay or move. Perhaps the LL would be willing to negotiate, but he doesn’t have to.

      • Oh, I see. ‘Market rent’ doesn’t mean what someone will pay for it on the market. It means what someone will pay for it plus some other amount of money that the owner thinks they are entitled to. That is where I was confused.

        Also, you are still failing to understand why they can only take cpi+2% each year. That is to prevent this exact situation.

        • while market rent does have to be somewhat supported by the market, the fact that someone is paying less than $2009 doesn’t prove whether $2009 is market rent. And if the tenant takes the landlord to OAH, all the landlord will have to do is find other comparable places that rented for $2009 to win. That may be easy or difficult (is this a basement studio in Congress Heights? Or a 2br in Chinatown?) but it’s up to the OP whether he wants to fight it or move.

  • What is the base rent in your lease? If it is 2009, then yes – what they’re doing is perfectly legal and an industry wide practice.

  • Call your property manager. Usually those letters are sent automatically from a computer system. You likely need to only pay the increase over your effective rent.

    This is how its worked in my situation in the past.

  • Friends of mine had a very similar situation – moved into a new building with 2 months free, then got a letter stating the rent would increase by over $200/month from what they were paying (their effective rent averaging the 2 months free over the year). They were able to negotiate a much smaller rent increase. It’s worth a try.

  • This is perfectly legit (I’m a real estate lawyer and deal with rent stabilization issues all the time). Your landlord essentially gave you one month of free rent (spread over the course of the year) as an incentive to get you to move in.

    I’d be annoyed just like you, but the bottom-line is that you got a deal for a year and now you are no longer going to get that deal.

    • this whole ‘you got a deal’ thing is bogus, if they could have rented it without the ‘deal’ they would have.

    • P–
      Thanks for your response. The advertised rate for the apartment was the lower of the two numbers, does that change anything?

  • Why don’t you just call your Property Manager/Landlord? As another commenter noted, these are automatic letters sent out by a computer. If you have been a good tenant and paid on time, I’m sure there is incentive for the owners to keep you in the apartment. I’ve been able to re-negotiate my increase in rent to my satisfaction over the years living in NYC and DC by a simple phone call and/or letter.

  • I’m honestly confused – did the OP not expect their rent to be raised by this amount after a year when they initially signed the lease? I thought it was understood by renters that any promotional rate (what the OP calls their “effective rate”) expires at the end of the lease term and is subject to a rent increase (as allowed by their lease) once they go month-to-month. I feel bad if the OP was lied to by their landlord, but given my dealings with landlords in MD/DC if they have a nice property you should expect them to charge you as much as they possibly can for it.

  • I understand that it’s probably not the answer you are looking for, but seems within the law to me. This is very similar to the “move in now, get 1 month free” deals. The property management sees these schemes as a way to get people in and then be able to jack rents up based off of the “per month” rent within the contract.
    If the new rent is considerably higher than market rate, you could always call the PM and see if they’ll give you another concession if you threaten to move out. I was able to do this for a couple years back before the rental market started going nuts.
    If the new rent is about market rate, than be happy that you got a good deal for a year and you don’t have to deal with the hassle of moving somewhere else.

  • Did I see that they advertised $1,795 as the rent? You might ask if there are truth in advertising issues here.

  • If you can’t afford to pay what it costs to live in the city, then move. Rent control is just another example of “gaming the system” to get something for less than what it is really worth. A reasonable increase is proposed and all you can do is whine about your “entitlement”. I can’t wait until we can get enough council members on our side to get rid of this stupid rent control law that is keeping large parts of our city a dilapidated pest hole.

  • While we cannot offer legal advice in this forum, we encourage you to contact the OTA at 202-719-6560 to discuss this matter with a case manager. As a general matter, the term “maximum allowable rent” comes close to the definition of “rent ceiling,” which the DC Council abolished in 2006. Since then, rent increases for units under rent control are supposed to be calculated using the actual rent charged. Some argue, however, that “rent concessions” should be encouraged by allowing for rent increases to be calculated using the full pre-concession rent amount. Resolution of this matter may require an interpretation of the 2006 reform statute by the DC Rental Housing Commission.

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