“I am looking to see if anyone is interested in my TOPA rights.”

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Photo by PoPville flickr user Lorie Shaull

“Long time lurker, first time poster. My landlord is in the process of selling my building and I am looking to see if anyone is interested in my TOPA rights. It is a three unit apartment building in a very great location on Capitol Hill near Results Gym. I am looking for someone who wants the current tenants to stay.

Please leave your email in the comments if you are interested to get more information.”

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41 Comment

  • I was in this situation before. Our building was being sold, my neighbor wanted to buy the building, so he reached out to the realtor regarding the matter, who attempted to block every attempt he could make to place a bid on the property. So he got the rest of the tenants together to form a TOPA.

    Well, the realtor was initially furious, and claimed he had NEVER seen anything like this at first, which was bull, and he went out of his way to try and discourage us. But we went ahead and signed the forms, and all of a sudden his demeanor changed immediately.

    He became much kinder to deal with, and eventually came to us with a cash offer with each tenant to dissolve the TOPA and move out. He claimed that this was an EXTREMELY generous offer, and he had never seen such a large offer. Well, a quick google search found that this was a low ball offer, so we countered with the typical rate, which was about 5 times amount. He immediately balked, and cut off contact with us. He did everything he could to block my neighbor from putting a bid on the property, and the building was sold eventually.

    I got my money anyway. The new owners wanted to gut the place, so they paid me what I was properly owed to move out.

    • Paid to move out a place you were leasing. I don’t quite understand this honestly.

      • Me neither. As I understand it, TOPA was started to protect tenants, but I think it’s turned into something else entirely.

      • I’ll clarify.

        My neighbor legitimately wanted to put a bid on the building. The owner and the realtor of the building did not want to deal with the process, so they offered us money to disband. The realtor feigned surprise that this has ever happened before. We considered their offer to disband, but we did a google search and found that he was lying, he himself was involved in numerous such transactions, and his real estate company typically offered much more money in such matters. We had an incentive to want to stay in the building, as it was much cheaper than other similar rentals in the area. Some of the neighbors had been in the building for a over a decade. So, when we countered, they rescinded their offer. My neighbor in the end was unable to secure the funds to complete the deal, and the building was sold to someone else.

        The new owners, upon acquiring the property, immediately began renovating the common areas and what empty units there were there. They found that the building needed much more work than they anticipated. Nothing that would require condemning the building, but they just wanted the work all done at once. So rather than act all shady and finding some way to force us out of our legitimate leases, they offered us cash offers to move out early, knowing that they would easily be able to quickly recoup that money when the remodel was done and they were able to jack up the rent up by probably about $1000 per unit.

        This was hardly the tenants trying to scam landlords situation that you guys seem to be making it out to be. This was a landlords realizing they could make a lot more money with us out of the picture.

  • I wonder if this is the same person from this thread:
    .
    https://www.popville.com/2016/01/from-the-forum-assigning-topa-rights/
    .
    “Our landlord is selling our 8 bedroom, three-unit building. It’s a row house and we are the only occupied unit. It’s in a very desirable area. We are interested in assigning our TOPA rights and are trying to see if there are any developers or individuals out there who would be interested. If you are interested, please leave your email in a response and I can email you more details. Thanks!”

  • Can someone explain what “assigning our TOPA rights” means? Does this mean the tenant is willing to sell his right (as a tenant) to make a purchase offer to anyone who wants to circumvent the normal sales process?

  • This is garbage. TOPA was created to protect tenants from exploitation and allow them to stay in their homes. It was not designed to let you get paid. There are plenty of people being hurt by landlords who actually need TOPA for its intended reason. If you want to exercise your rights so you can stay in your home then do it. Otherwise, move on and don’t exploit the system.

    • if this is the only occupant of a 3-unit building with two vacant units, and they can’t afford to purchase the whole building (understandable), then assigning the TOPA rights is the only way they can stay.

      • smh. If they can’t afford the building, they need to just move. As a landlord myself this would piss me off. TOPA is extended to viable leasees and not a mechanism to negotiate ownership with outside third parties. This is BS and very underhanded imo.

        • If someone who rents one unit in a 3-unit building can’t afford to buy the whole thing, they should just move? Why not work with someone who will buy the building and guarantee that you can stay, rather than leave things up to chance and risk a buyer who will kick you out?

    • I agree with you. Thank you for saying this.

  • if you’re not interested in buying it yourself and just looking to make money you’re a total jerk.

    • Talk to the legislators who passed the laws, not the citizens who obey them…

      • Obeying a law – i.e. driving the speed limit, not stabbing someone, etc. is very different from abusing a loophole/twist in a law. TOPA was meant to protect people from rapacious (Trumpian) landlords, not hand them a pot of gold. Yes, moving is expensive, but $1,000.00 will cover that.

    • I agree. This is opportunistic bs – TOPA is meant for to protect tenant rights, as DC is very tenant friendly. But going around trying to sell TOPA rights is obnoxious.

      • The cure for an obnoxious law is not to berate the people who take advantage of it, but to change the law. TOPA could easily be amended to accomplish what it was intended to be rather than the legal blackmail statute it currently is. But until that happens, I won’t fault anyone for taking the free money. Sucks to be a landlord in this city though, and I’ll note that all of these little things add up to higher rents for everybody.

  • Forget what people say on here about being a jerk. The law says TOPA rights are assignable to another – it is very clear on that. So there is nothing wrong with assigning your TOPA rights – for money, or because you want a buyer who will let you stay on as a tenant. And TOPA has time periods for tenants to try to buy themselves, or find another buyer – so there is nothing at all wrong, under a very clear law, for tenants to be bought out of their TOPA rights so the time can be shortened. Those who think tenants have no rights to do these things are ignorant of the law, and just think that tenants should have no rights. But that IS the law. And moving is expensive – so there is no reason tenants shouldn’t collect something to facilitate their moves. You may not want the law to be as it is, but it is what it is, so get over yourselves.

    • “But that IS the law” – yes. And slavery, child labor and eugenics, among other atrocities, were also once “the law.” A person does not have to choose to be evil just because it happens to be legal at the time.

      • That’s beyond absurd. Making such extreme statements turns people off from your argument.

        If you can derive a benefit from the law In a legitimate way, do so. Tenants have rights they can invoke or sell, and there’s nothing morally repugnant about doing so. If you’re morally opposed to it, then don’t do it.

        • A statement cannot be “extreme” when it is true. Inflammatory perhaps, but that is the purpose of discussion – to shake people out of lazy arguments. Slavery was in fact, “the law.” Child labor was in fact “the law.” Forcible sterilization of mentally handicapped or otherwise “undesirable ” women was in fact “the law.”

          Fair protection of tenant rights ought to be the law. TOPA, like many laws is not well crafted. Abuse of poorly crafted laws is clearly legal, but not right. Especially since it ultimately hurts tenants.

        • Doesn’t make her point any less valid.

      • You claim to know a great deal about the purpose behind TOPA, so could you please point to the legislative history of the assignment provision? If you can’t, then you can’t possibly know what the Council intended when it included the ability of tenants to assign their rights. Maybe it was for tenants to gain some leverage by bringing in a third party, and maybe the possibility of tenants receiving a windfall was deemed an acceptable byproduct; or maybe one or two committee members meant for something like this to happen. I’m not saying it happened that way, but unless you can point to committee comments or transcripts of hearings, you can’t say the opposite either.

        • BTW, does the reference to eugenics get us close enough to Godwin’s Law to end this silly line of argument?

          • Yes, which is a shame, because the line of reasoning is correct. To use a less extreme example, deducting State taxes one pays from Federal income tax is a pretty stupid law, since I would pay those taxes regardless of Federal incentives to do so. It’s also pretty regressive, since it only helps upper-middle class people like me who itemize their taxes. Yet despite the fact that I markedly thing that law is counterproductive, I take the deduction every year because hey, free money.

  • Poster here,

    First the picture POPville used I think is hilarious.

    Second, I totally get the argument against TOPA. I don’t think I would ever be a landlord in DC with tenant rights being so strong. However I do believe that one (but certainly not all) reason that rent is high in DC is due to TOPA. The landlord recognizes the cost associated with TOPA and prices rent according.

    When I rent both myself and the landlord understand that I have this property right. TOPA has been around for 30 years. Prices have adjusted accordingly.

    I lived in my apartment for less than a year and looking for a buyer who will keep my rent intact and let live here much longer. The building owner still gets the same amount of money I just get to choose the buyer. I much rather have a buyer that I am comfortable with.

    • I was with you until the choosing the buyer part; if you would prefer that much control over your dwelling, you should purchase it.

    • No – you’re looking to cash out. You are looking to exploit the labor, investment, foresight and risk of another person (the owner) for your own benefit. You acknowledge that you understand the intent of the law, but want to abuse it for your own profit. This is despicable. Why not just go rob a convenience store?

      • Jerry Grundle

        If you’re really so outraged, why not actually do something constructive about it, like work to get the loophole closed?

        • It’s not a loophole. It’s an intentional feature of a law that was enacted MORE THAN 30 YEARS AGO. What’s funny about this is that when someone writes into PoPville complaining about a bar opening next door, people jump all over him or her by saying “Did you check your zoning? If not, you’re an idiot. Tough luck.” In this case, I doubt very much that there’s a single person commenting here who had any interest in rental property prior to 1980, so I’d ask a similar question: Did you check into TOPA and all of its clauses before deciding to become a landlord? Did you truly understand TOPA’s intent and what tenant’s are allowed to do? If not, don’t accuse them of all sorts of atrocities now. They’re doing exactly what the law was designed to allow them to do, and unless you know more than the DC Court of Appeals does on the matter, your misinformed judgment of the purpose of the statute is irrelevant.

      • How does this exploit the owner at all? The owner is offering to sell the building. Tenants in a multi-unit building get an exclusive negotiating window (30 days) and then have 90 days to match any offer of negotiations fail. (At which point a good faith non refundable deposit is due) the seller gets the same amount of money, why should they care who actually buys it? Do you care if you sell your building to SmithCo or JonesCo, as long as the check clears? I’ve been through this process three times as a tenant in fifteen years. In one I was paid a large sum (roughly six percent of the sale price) to not proceed with my attempt to buy it. That tells me the buyer valued the building at 6% more than they paid for it. Just because the previous owner left money on the table, I’m ‘taking advantage’? In another, the sale price was at least 30% above market. No other buyer would touch the deal. you win some, you lose some.

        And since TOPA affects the price, you assume, didn’t it affect the price when you bought the property? So it’s a wash, right?

    • Rent is high in DC because costs are high for landlords and the area is booming. Jobs pay higher salaries as a result of this.

      As a landlord I have to pay: a mortgage, insurance, property taxes, repairs (you pay nothing when the roof goes, I pay $25k), etc. It’s not like landlords don’t have bills. We aren’t making money hand over fist laughing our way to the bank. You pay relative to what we pay, this is why rent is high in DC. You don’t like it, you’re free to move.

    • Not necessarily.

      When you, as a tenant exercise your TOPA rights and assign – aka sell your rights for at least $500/tenant according to the law – you *could* end up costing the seller greatly. Here’s how: If you were offered to purchase the property at the beginning of the listing at the list price (TOPA Form A) and declined, the property went to open market. If this property was bid up with escalating clauses – like 90% of listings in DC – the seller is likely under contract with a buyer at a sales price higher than the list price.

      At the time the seller goes under contract with the buyer, you (and all other tenants) will have to sign an affidavit waiving your rights (or let the statute run out). At this point, if you, as the tenant, assign your rights to a 3rd party, you are assigning your right to purchase the property at the LIST price because that was what was offered to you. The seller CANNOT negotiate price with the 3rd party – they have to sell at list price because that was the right you assigned. PLUS the seller, who likely had multiple offers to chose from probably chose an offer with very good terms (short or no appraisal contingency, etc). The 3rd party new buyer may not be able to offer as good of terms and they don’t have to because they bought the right to buy the home.

      So saying “the building owner still gets the same amount of money I just get to choose the buyer” is not necessarily true.

      Note: if TOPA Form B is used its another story.

  • OK, I have to admit to stacking the deck a little with my original reply to Victoria. While I didn’t know the exact history behind the assignment clause of TOPA, I have a passing familiarity with DC housing law and policy and I do know who one of the original backers was (David A. Clarke, for you old timers), so I suspected that the intent was at least partially to enrich tenants. Whether I agree with the overall policy or not is irrelevant, but all of you who say that OP is violating the intent of TOPA are wrong. I did a little digging and there’s a good explanation of the history behind the clause in the DC Court of Appeals case Allman v. Snyder. In the opinion, the court makes clear that what OP’s trying to do is well within the intent of the statute.

  • As someone who has been through this as a tenant, I suggest you call the Office of the Tenant Advocate. You have deadlines to meet, as does your landlord, and if you miss one, you are out of luck. This is one of the things they do, and they have resources to help. There are attorneys, developers and rest estate agents who do this process for a living, find one, you need a guide.

  • I work for a real estate company that would be interested. Please email me information. Thanks.

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