Dear PoPville – Lease Changed to Charge $1500 for a new Roomate!?!

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I live at the Allegro apartments on 14th street NW. It is currently managed by Bozzuto after they took over about a year ago. I have been in the building for almost two years and we’ve had to replace roommates twice. We were never fined or asked to pay any kind of roommate transfer fee to switch names on the lease and release the old tenant from legal obligations (in legalese: novation).

That is, until recently. At the start of September, we got a new roommate and are now in the process of transferring names on the lease. However, when we looked over the new lease we saw one very serious change. Contained in the Occupancy section at the very end of the paragraph in normal type and font is a clause that says for any future name changes on the lease, the tenants must pay a non-refundable roommate release fee of $1500.00! It is worth noting that this was in an uninitialized section of the lease and there has never been any building-wide announcement of the change. After some inquiry, we learned that this fine will also be imposed at lease renewal if one of the current tenants leaves and the lease must be changed. So essentially departing tenants are penalized for leaving the apartment at the end of their legal obligations to the building, and remaining tenants are penalized for choosing to stay if at least one person leaves. The administration has also refused to recognize the tenants association that was started when they came on last year, and will only handle problems on an individual basis and wouldn’t give us any contact information for the Association.

Basically, I’m interested in learning what folks out in PoPville land know about such novation/release fees and what is reasonable under DC tenant law. I always thought that such penalties were instituted to cover the costs associated with having to rewrite the lease, not to be used as a weird form of extortion.”

45 Comment

  • Seems pretty silly to charge $1500 to change a piece of paper when the cost of painting, and the wear on moving in and moving out.

    From what I remember of a friend living there is that building was poorly built and the noise issues are terrible. Use this as an opportunity to move if your negotiations fail.

    • Emmaleigh504

      Move to a Bernstein building, Bernstein is awesome!

      • I’ll second that! Although if you’re looking for super-modern construction with lots of amenities, a lot of the Bernstein buildings might not be for you. (My building has a laundry room and an exercise room, but if you want all the bells and whistles like roof deck, media room, billiard room, or whatever else they put in shiny new buildings these days, then no.) But management seems to do a decent job of communicating with tenants, and I’ve always had prompt and effective responses to repair requests.

        • Honestly, that’s all I want in a building and I wish more DC apartments just had honest to goodness normal rooms and more affordable prices. I wish it wasn’t a choice between an overpriced monstrosity of a luxury building or an (overpriced) single room in a rowhouse.

  • When I was looking to move, I looked into the Allegro and did some internet research. Most of what I read was negative (many ending with DON’T LIVE HERE!) because the management was so terrible. Sorry, dude,

  • I lived in Highland Park, another Buzzuto property, and I have to say they are the WORST management company ever! They nickel and dime you for everything and are completely unwilling to help you. My advice is to NEVER rent in a Buzzoto property

  • Bozzuto is the most inept and unethical management company I have ever come in contact with. I am not surprised one bit.

  • So, is this excessive? Yes. Is it legal? Of course.

    Lesson? This is what happens when you want to live in boomtown…no scratch that…this is what happens when you want to live in one of the top ~3 desireable locations to the tens of thousands of new residents moving to boomtown every year.

    I don’t know what was in your lease, but property management companies are elike the airlines, they charge you for every minor thing, and they do this because they can get away with it, especially now and especially here.

    From their perspective, the worst thing that happens is:

    1. The remaining roommates simply eat the additional cost of the departing roomate in which case they still get their full rent.
    2. Everyone in the unit decides to leave, and they probably get to charge you for breaking a lease, then get to raise the rent and pick someone off a waiting list to fill the unit tomorrow.

    Boomtown…get some.

    • Do you seriously talk like a shiesty used car salesman in person?
      Anyways, I lived in a large group house and we would have roommates regularly come and go throughout the year. Eventually, the landlord got sick of redrafting the lease every few months and said that a person departing mid-lease would need to pay $150 for redrafting costs. That seemed fair. $1500 is atrocious.
      And charging $1500 at the end of the lease period for adding a new roommate is ridiculous. I have a feeling it’s not legal either, as it’s a method to force out existing tenants who are legally allowed to stay. That doesn’t pass the smell test and I’d haul my butt to the Tenant Advocate’s Office immediately. DO NOT SIGN THAT LEASE.

  • Wow, that is insane. It definitely sounds like they are trying to get rid of current tenants in order to raise the rent more than they could otherwise. I don’t know if it’s legal, but it definitely sounds excessive. You should contact the Tenant Advocate’s office and see if there is anything they can do for you:

  • The Allegro is a frat house. Bro-Central. Move out and say good riddance.

    • I’ve been to the Allegro a few times to visit friends and it always seems like a ghost town. Granted, the last time I went was about a year ago. Anyone have any idea of their vacancy rate?

      And yes, it is frat central. At one point, Bozzuto (or maybe a corrupt security guard?) was renting out empty apartments to residents for a single night so they could throw parties. Went to a few of those in grad school in 2010.

    • Why is there a constant turnover with roommates? There seem not to be any stability with this tenants. I can understand why the landlord is charging to change the lease because these tenants seem to have a constant turnover of people living there. Are these undergraduate college students, medical students, or graduate students?

      • Twice in two years is “constant turnover? What difference does it make what kind of students they are?

      • What is your point? The “landlord” is a huge management company, not a single person trying to cover cost of living. What difference does it make if the tenants are students as long as they’re paying their rent and not trashing the place? Also, charging to change the lease is one thing (and I still think $1500 is beyond ridiculous). Charging for a roommate to move out at the end of the lease term doesn’t sound legal to me.

  • justinbc

    It doesn’t sound to me like it’s something your departing roommate would have to pay, that would be (even more) absurd. Sounds like it’s just something the new guy would have to pay (or split with you) in order to get on the lease. I’m guessing this is done because they’re only able to raise your rent so much each year, so under a normal situation you would move out at the end of your lease or renegotiate, but since you’re not actually leaving you’re just amending, this is a way for them to recoup what they actually WANT to charge you if you were a new tenant moving in and paying a higher rate.

  • I work in property management and while this is legal, it is excessive. But as others have pointed out, it is a way for them to counteract rent control. Not saying I agree, just explaining why they are doing what they do. Many rental companies don’t even let you change your lease at all.

    And I have to be honest, it can be a headache and tons of work to change a lease. It isn’t just signing a piece of paper. The security deposit sticks with the lease, meaning we have to track down the initial leaseholder months or years later once that lease is terminated. Often times, issues can arise between the new roommates and suddenly they want to break the lease. It is a whole new application to process which in and of itself isn’t the quickest and easiest thing. Again, NOT defending their choice to charge that much, but just take it from their perspective. The odd thing is, most companies consider it a new lease once the original leaseholders are gone and then raise rent up. I would assume Bozzuro does this, almost making the $1500 charge unnecessary if they are worried about units being stuck at way below market.

    • What rent control applies to the Allegro?

      • In DC if a person or company owns more than 4 units they are subject to rent control. That means that they can only raise rents for an occupied unit up to the city provided percentage. Once a unit it vacant the owner has much more flexibility in increasing the rent.

        • I actually just looked this up b/c I thought so too, but rent control does not apply to buildings built after 1975.

        • But that doesn’t apply to the Allegro. Any rental units built after 1975 are exempted from rent control regulations. This property was developed only 5 years ago.

  • Question: does DC tenant law allow for a leaseholder to have an unnamed roommate? I’ve seen this question of changing names on the lease mid-lease come up a few times on here. I can understand why there would be pros to having all occupants named on the lease. On the other hand, there might cons to that as well. In my previous city, a leaseholder of an apartment that was at least one bedroom was entitled to have a roommate without having that person on the lease. In fact, at least among a few of my friends, joint lease-holding on shares was pretty rare.

  • Rather than add new roommates to your lease with the company, why don’t you just have one person on the lease and then do your own sublet contracts with roommates?

  • I wish someone cared when my renter stopped paying rent and ended up living free for eight months. No one from Popville would have stood up. Justice goes one way on this thread. Screwing over landlords is fun but having a renter accept the possibility of paying money of accepting responsibility is impossible. Forcing renters to accept the cost of their decisions is insane. Why!!

    • don’t be a fool.

    • Sounds like you need to do a better job of screening tenants.

    • That is why it is so important to rent legally, C of O and basic business license, in DC. It is also important to start eviction on the 6th of the month. Rent is due on the 1st and is considered late if not in by the 5th. If you don’t have rent then start the process early and don’t take any excuses or sad stories. If your legal and they don’t have any honest complaints then start the process the second they go wrong and the city will back you.

      • My understanding was that even in a best-case-for-the-landlord scenario, it can still take months to evict a tenant.

  • The roommate-change thing is built into the standard Bozzuto lease agreement. It’s somewhat ridiculous that they have it, but it’s a good way to squeeze out a little extra cash in high-turnover areas. Since Bozzuto took over more than a year ago, presumably you signed the lease with this clause. So there’s not much you can do. There’s nothing illegal about it. I know I read my entire lease (all 37 pages) before signing, but looking back now, I can’t find a dollar amount specified. I see something saying that permission of the lessor is required to change occupants, but I can’t find a fee mentioned. Yet somehow I was aware of the fee before signing my lease, so perhaps it’s buried somewhere else.

    That said, I am either confused by your post, or you may be misunderstanding something. You only have to pay this fee if the change occurs during the period covered by your lease agreement. e.g., if your lease is Jan 1 – Dec 31, and you take on a new tenant in Sept, then you have to pay the change fee. If you take on someone new on Jan 1 of the following year, however, a “renewal” is no different from a new lease agreement.* There is no fee associated with changing the roster arbitrarily at this time.

    Moreover, you only pay the fee if the lease is actually changed. You are required to get the lease changed if a new tenant moves in, as only the people specified in the lease are allowed to occupy the apartment. But you are NOT required to change the lease when someone leaves. The leaving party would still be equally responsible for the property, e.g., if you guys default on payments, but (s)he doesn’t have to actually live there. If the departing party insists on changing the lease to cover his/her ass, well, then that person should probably pay the fee—after all, that person is breaking his/her agreement.

    *If the idiots in the management company are telling you otherwise, just tell them you want to sign a new lease rather than renew.

    • I live in the Allegro now – that’s the reason they have this fee – they want people to sign new leases vs. renew their old ones because then they can raise the rent by however much they want.

      After Bozzuto took over from Kettler a couple of years ago, they raised the rent significantly for new lessors. As a result, tenants who have lived in the building since the Kettler days and renew their leases each year are paying much less for their apartments than people who started renting recently.

      I got my apartment from someone moving out on short notice – he basically re-signed his lease and then transferred it to me, so I’m paying the Kettler rates, which is great for me but I’m sure pisses Bozzuto off to no end. For most building, turnover means additional costs (cleaning the apt, finding new tenants, etc.), but for some units in the Allegro, turnover = a lot of money for the management. Anyways, long story short, I agree this is completely ridiculous, but I would guess this is why Bozzuto initiated this roommate transfer fee.

  • Really, three roommate changes in less than two years? Seems rather excessive. Perhaps you’re the problem? Or perhaps you should move out and find somewhere you can afford without roommates?

  • Just want to second the idea that Bozzuto is a terrible management company. Lived in another of their buildings, and while amenities are nice, they’re complete jerks. Give me an older building with an honest manager instead.

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