From the Forum – Columbia Heights outdoor movie nights? and Another Landlord Rent Issue

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Photo from 2011′s movie night by PoPville flickr user Mr.TinDC

Does anyone know what happened to the Columbia Heights outdoor movie nights?

“A few years ago some group hosted outdoor movies a few times over the summer in the soccer field at Tubman Elementary on 11th St NW. The events usually had a good turnout and folks seemed to enjoy them, but then they just stopped. Anyone know what happened?”

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Photo from 2011′s movie night by PoPville flickr user ep_jhu

Landlord raising rent on month-to-month lease:

“I’ve lived in a townhouse in NoMa for the last 3 years. My rent started out at an awesomely affordable $912.50/month (per person) and a year later, increased to $925 per person. After our first lease was up, our landlord switched to a month to month agreement (we didn’t sign anything). Since then, our rent has remained the same.

Since then, our landlord has become a completely different person – less cooperative, extremely rude and has made us feel like horrible tenants (even though we take wonderful care of the house). He has been less helpful than he initially was.

This past weekend, we received an email from him out of the blue, telling us he is raising our rent $150. No explanation – just a short, impersonal email that he’s jacking up the prices.

I know I’m probably up shit’s creek, being on a non-contracted month to month lease, but I wanted to hear people’s opinion on this. Is this a situation where I suck it up and pay the increase, or do I talk to him? I should mention that our town house is quite a bit older, old appliances, floors and fixtures. Am I getting ripped off, or is this place still a steal?”

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42 Comment

  • Landlords can typically increase the rent each year by CPI plus 2 percent. Depending on your total rent, there’s a solid chance that the rent increase (assuming it’s $150 total, not each) is perfectly legal.

    • I think that’s only if the property is under rent control. It sounds like this is just a SFH, so pretty good odds it’s not covered by rent control. If it’s not under rent control, the landlord can charge pretty much whatever he wants. The only stipulation is that he can only raise the rent once per year and he must notify the city (who can potentially reject it if it’s out of line with “market rent” – I have no idea how often they actually do this).

      • It’s not if it’s rent-controlled; it’s if the following criteria are met:

        (1) The building was built before 1978.
        (2) The building has four or more units.
        (3) The landlord does not permanently occupy one of those units.

        If these are all met, then yes, the rent can only be increased by CPI + 2%. If not, it’s a free-for-all.

        • I don’t believe number 2 is quite correct. It isn’t the number of units in the building, it’s the number of units the landlord owns.

          From http://dhcd.dc.gov/service/rent-control :

          The most common exemptions from rent control are for rental units that are:
          - Federally or District-subsidized
          - Built after 1975
          - Owned by a natural person (i.e., not a corporation) who owns no more than four rental units in the District
          - Vacant when the Act took effect

    • That’s if it’s rent controlled. If the landlord doesn’t rent out at least 4 units (? 5 units? somewhere around there) or the building is newer than the mid 1970s, rent control won’t apply.

      • Right, but if it’s legal for rent controlled properties, it’ll be legal for those that aren’t.

        • But it’s legal for non-rent-controlled properties to have the rent raised by MORE than CPI + 2% — clarifying Anonymous 2:20′s post, which implies that CPI + 2% is a universal limit.

    • I have another housing question:
      .
      My old landlord owns a bunch of SFHs in DC. I’d say his real estate portfolio in the District alone has to be worth at least $15-20 million, maybe more. I know multiple people in different properties he owns around the District. He rents out the houses primarily as group homes to students and young professionals in DC.
      .
      My question relates to rent control. According to DC law, if an owner has more than 4 rental units in the District, then his properties fall under rent control. However, our lease stated that the house was NOT covered by rent controlled and is filed as such with the RAD. Is this correct? He’s generally on the up-and-up with his properties – not taking the Homestead Deduction, properly filed as rentals with the city and has the Certificate of Occupancy posted, etc.
      .
      I’m just curious how a guy who owns so many rental unit can get away with not being under rental control. This SFHs were all definitely built before 1975.

      • I can think of a few possibilities: 1) It’s an honest oversight and the lease form he’s using dates back to when he owned fewer units; 2) he’s not the owner of record of all of those properties (family members, associates, etc. are on the deed); 3) he’s lying to the city and his tenants about the applicability of rent control to his properties. I’m sure there are more, but there’s no way to know without knowing more of the background here.

      • SOmeone the other day mentioned that he could have them listed as different LLCs, and if each LLC “owns” only a couple of units then they might qualify for exemption. [But it's possible I misunderstood this point or it is not true.....]

        • I could be wrong about this, but I think you have to be a “natural person” (as opposed to be a “legal person”) to claim the exemption. LLCs, corporations, limited partnerships, etc. can’t, if I remember correctly.

        • I’d be interested to hear if this was allowable. It seems like a glaring loophole to the rent control regulations.
          .
          That said, I did cut my rent check every month to his incorporated company. It was never a personal check to him directly.

          • I’m not sure it works this way. It is sound business to have each property under a separate LLC to isolate them from each other in case of lawsuit.

          • It is sound business, but the tradeoff is that you’re waiving your right to claim exemption from rent control. It’s pretty clear from RAD’s literature that you have to be an actual human being, not an LLC or corp.

      • does he have any openings?

      • You can find out if he is registered. I went through this same process a few years back, but forget how it’s done since but look into DC OTA and DHCD.

      • I believe the criteria is not whether they were built before 1975, but whether they were rentals in 1975. If they weren’t, he may not be controlled.

    • Assuming this is not rent controlled, with a 60 day notice he can increase the rent pretty much as much as he would like seeing that you are not in a lease. Do yourself a favor and sign a lease, this will prevent him from raising your rent during that lease. You can try to negotiate, but I suggest you do it politely. Otherwise he is within his rights to ask you to pay it or kick rocks.

  • I would talk to him and ask him if it’s Ok to sign a lease, with maybe only a $50 increase? after all you guys have been there 3 years which suggest steady long term renters which is what I look for….I’ve already told my tenants- that as long as they sign a lease each year- that I will NOT raise their rents while renting my home.(sure I can get more money over time- but I prefer long term tenants.)

  • Not true on the CPI. thats only for rent controlled buildings. this is not subject to rent control. After the end of a lease, DC laws guarantees the current tenent the right to stay month to month. Its automatic. The landlord can only kick you out if they plan to 1) sell the unit or 2) move back themselves as owner occupants. They have the right to raise the rent as much as they want though. The law was designed to protect you actually. DC is so tenent friendly that is actually backfires. Im guessing your landlord is expecting a massive property tax bill (not subject to the cap since its not owner occupied) and is trying to cover that or actually wants you to move out. Figure out how much you want to argue with this OP

  • Anywhere close to a metro where you feel safe and without housing code violations is a good deal at under $1000 a person in DC at this point.

    You could ask your landlord if he’d accept less if you were willing to sign a new lease. But then you have to deal with the unpleasantness of what happens if you want to leave before the end of the lease.

    Also, have you checked to see if the place is rent-controlled? Places are rent-controlled unless the landlord gets an exemption and tells you about it. http://dhcd.dc.gov/service/rent-control is good information. If it’s the only place the landlord owns, then it would qualify for an exemption. But I had a landlord who didn’t claim the rent control exemption (because he was shady and didn’t want to give up the homestead property tax deduction or tell his mortgage company he wasn’t owner-occupying) so it made it rent-controlled. With that said, they can raise the rent the CPI+2% each year if it’s rent controlled, and your landlord isn’t raising it much more than that. It depends on how you want to handle the situation–are you more of a status quo person, or a fight about the details type? Not saying one is wrong, but people have different personalities on this.

  • This place is definitley NOT rent controlled. Only multilfamily building units built in a certain year and number of units are rent controlled.
    Signed
    A former landlord with an actual business license

    • I don’t think it need to only be a multifamily building. I thought if you owned more than 4 rental units (e.g. a combination of SFHs and apartments) in the District, you got caught up in rent control?
      .
      “The most common exemptions from rent control are for rental units that are:
      Federally or District-subsidized
      Built after 1975
      Owned by a natural person (i.e., not a corporation) who owns no more than four rental units in the District
      Vacant when the Act took effect.”

    • You didn’t have to pass an exam to get that business license, so having one gives you no greater authority than anyone else.
      .
      Besides, you’re wrong. A single family rental house, built before 1975, that’s owned by someone who owns more than 4 rental units District-wide, is subject to rent control. Also, sbc @2:28 correctly identified a little-known group of properties that are, as well: properties that would be exempt, except that the owner didn’t register with RAD as exempt.

      • Amazing how few DC landlords have the business license. Maybe if tenants knew the havoc the could wreak on these illegitimate — and probably tax-cheating — scoundrels, more of us would get them. It’s no big deal. Takes about an hour at the SW waterfront offices.

        • I think the real burden would be for many landlords to bring their units up to code. For example, there are a lot of English basements in this city with code violations that can’t easily or cheaply be fixed — low ceilings, not enough exits, direct indoor access from the owners’ unit, etc. And that’s not counting the places that are just out and out dumps. But yeah, there could be some serious havoc beyond just being subjected to rent control. A knowing failure to register can subject a landlord to damages equal to triple the rent collected. It would have to be a particularly egregious case to get treble damages, but a partial to total refund isn’t out of the question.

  • I would negotiate. I would take the angle that you are a good tenant that pays on time and cares for the property. I think as a landlord that would be priority one. Also break down the math for him in how much money he will lose if you move out, he attempts to rent it higher and it sits empty. For example if your rent is 2k per month and it sits empty two weeks finding a new tenant he loses 1k to try to get his $150/mo increase. It will take him 6+ months to recoup that. If it sits empty for a month, it will take over a year to recoup at his new price, etc. I typically act like I am willing to move (though lets be honest, moving sucks), and use the numbers of his new asking price and the potential of lost revenue due to time not rented to keep my rent where I want it. A new unknown tenant and likely lost revenue between renters are the opportunity cost of raising the rent- those would be my concerns as a landlord- play to his fears.

  • I’d start looking for a new place to live. Unless you were getting such a huge bargain that you’re still below market rate even with the $150 increase, you can probably do better elsewhere. Bad landlords can make your life hell, so it’s only worth sticking with one if you’re getting a really good deal on rent.

  • Just to clarify, in DC after one year leases automatically go month-to-month, but all of the terms from the original lease still apply, so it’s not that you aren’t under any lease right now. I would check your lease to see what it says about increases, but in general the landlord can raise the rent once a year with adequate notice. It sounds like your rent hasn’t gone up in the last two years, so if that $150 increase is for the whole unit (and not individually), it still sounds like a pretty good deal to me.

  • You can ask your landlord to show you proof that he is exempt from Rent Control. I had to get that as part of my license to rent out my unit. Its a form stamped by DHCD.

  • Here’s a tip: the landlord is trying to get you to move out.

  • Under the Rental Housing Act of 1985, any increase in rent must meet these conditions:

    1.The new rent charged may not be more than the prior rent plus the allowable increase, as described below.
    2.The increase in rent cannot be more than the increase allowed under any single section of the Act.
    3.The last increase in rent must have been at least 12 months ago (unless the unit is vacant).
    4.The increase must not violate the terms of the lease.
    5.The housing accommodation must be properly registered with the RACD.
    6.The rental unit and the housing accommodation’s common elements must be in substantial compliance with housing regulations.
    7.The housing provider must give a 30-day notice of any increase in rent.

  • http://ota.dc.gov/page/allowable-rent-increases

    Key points are that you must get 30 notice so rent can’t be increased the same month and landlord can only raise the rent once every 12 months (even if you are month to month).

  • It’s still a pretty good deal for that neighborhood, even after the increase. Good luck finding anything at a lower price.
    .
    If you want to pay less, you’ll need to move up to Columbia Heights and even there competition is fierce for any opening.

  • You should decide if you’re going to stay or go. If you’re going to stay, tell your LL to stop acting like an asshole. If you’re not going to stay, start looking for a new place to live.

    Also, you need to bone up on DC rental law. So many of these posts are incredibly lazy. “This is happening, what should I do?” If you learn about DC rental law, you’ll be much, much more empowered.

    • One visit to a good K Street real estate lawyer costs about $120. Tax deductible for landlords, if they landlord is paying tax on her rental, that is.

  • Fun note: Even though it’s the 21st century, an email does not constitute written notice. Your rent increase notice must be sent to you by US mail, certified mail if the rent increase is over $50.

  • The movie night used to be part of fund raising efforts for columbia heights day.

  • So, I won’t get into the rent control applicability issue as most times it is stated incorrectly, someone has already corrected it. But the other issue is that there are tax implications for charging below market rent. If you are not charging market rate rent, you may not be able to claim all of your losses if you have them (I do) or have to adjust your income. Given the rapid increase in rents in NoMa, this may be an effort to bring rent in line with the market rate for legit tax purposes, not an effort to get rid of you. I have to do this to my tenant, and I am dreading it, but my next door neighbor is renting an identical unit for $750/month more than I am and another is renting an upgraded unit for $1700/month more than I am. I appreciate a tenant who pays consistently, but I’m not courting tax problems for it. I’d rather deal with DCRA than the IRS. Overall, I’d be careful of ascribing motives to people we don’t know without knowing the whole context. I know people think all landlords are shady, but lots of us are trying to do the right thing and having to balance a host of rules from a lot of different places.

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