What Happens To Apartment Buildings When Neighborhoods Become “Trendy”?

by Prince Of Petworth April 9, 2008 at 12:00 pm 24 Comments


I don’t mean for this to be a controversial post but I’m seriously curious. When a neighborhood has fancy condos and retail emerging what happens to the old school apartment buildings? We’ve seen property values sky rocket for various reasons and they have still remained rather high. So in this environment do these “non luxury” apartment building raise their rent? Do you begin to see new folks with higher incomes moving in? Is there resentment? Has anyone thought about this?

Comments (24)

  1. That is a pretty convenient location. I am a landlord. I would be licking my chops to raise my rents as well as attract a more desirable rental base. Typically, less affluent tenants are more costly tenants due to their overcrowding. This leads to excessive wear and tear on things like refrigerator doors, toilets being overused, washing machines being overused, excess water consumption, etc. Having adequate housing should be almost a right. Having housing in an expensive neighborhood should not be.

  2. Do not worry your pretty little haed of PoP, The Invisible Hand of The Market knows-all, sees-all and will take care of everything.*

    *Pay no attention at all to US history circa 19th cent. or Latin America within the past 25 or so years.

  3. Lots of people have thought about this. One thing you see is that LLs try to pressure the old tenants out so they can convert to condos (as described in the recent Washington Post series). Other times LLs will slowly renovate their buildings, fixing up the units as they open and renting to wealthier tenants — so you’ve got one group of newer tenants in nicer apartments paying more, and the older group paying the rent-controlled rents in unrenovated units. There are quite a few buildings like this on 16th St. With the housing market slowing, I am inclined to believe these changes in Petworth will be less dramatic than in Columbia Heights/Adams Morgan/Mt. Pleasant, but I could be wrong.

    I imagine there is some resentment. But if the LL is a law abiding person who is not kicking anyone to the curb or pressuring the older tenants to leave (by denying services, threatening to call the INS, etc), I would hope that we could have some nice mixed income housing in the neighborhood. At least for the short-term.

  4. I looked at 2 apartments here because I had a friend moving to DC and was hoping to find a place for her near my house. It’s a modest building but i love the old architecture. And yes, they are raising rents. Generally when an apt goes vacant they renovate it and rent it for a higher price. The apartments I looked at had brand new kitchens (though not the granite countertop variety). They are nice and a good value. You can rent a 2BR for what a 1BR costs in Columbia Heights.

  5. I do not know too much about the development, but you might be interested in researching/looking into a new “luxury” apartment complex in Ledroit Park called McGill Row (it is at 2nd and W NW). It is a set of three low-rise buildings. Up until not long ago, all three buildings were basically low-income housing. Two of the buildings were gutted as people moved out and turned into “luxury” condos. Nobody bought them so they made it rentals instead. The third building is not renovated and is still low-income style housing.

  6. Based on the huge amount of interest we had in our 1 BR English basement apartment last week, I

  7. Landlords should not have to force anyone out. In theory, they should be able to raise their rent to reflect the market. That’s not forcing people out. That’s forcing people to stay where they can afford to live without the gov’t forcing the landlord to subsidize their poor/inefficient choices in life. I’d love to live in G’town. But I have petworth $. As such, I get in where I fit in.
    I remember living in a bldg in SW DC. There were people in the building paying less than $500/month simply by virtue of moving there decades ago. I don’t see how that is fair to the new college grads,,for instance, that are forced to stay farther from work while retirees get the luxury of living downtown for pennies on the dollar.

  8. Nate, I largely agree with you, though I think there should be some rent stabilization for the elderly.

    Generally though, yes, the rents increase and yes, there is resentment. It’s all the gentrification theory, whose language is thrown about so frequently and for so many purposes, becoming practice right there on New Hampshire Ave. I like how this post does give the debate a real, concrete example to examine.

  9. A lot of these buildings are rent controlled meaning that they can only raise the rent a small amount annually and take larger (but still within certain parameters) increases when the tenants change. I used to live in Harvard Hall on Harvard Street in the early 90s which was like that (and still is). That is why there are tenants who have been there for 40 years or more.

  10. Don’t people read our beloved Washington Post? This has been a huge story for the last month or two. Basically quite a few landlords in the city have coerced tenants to leave either through direct physical intimidation (They really put it in writing!) to letting conditions in the buildings become so vile, tenants moved out of their own accord. Once the building is vacant, they fix it up and sell them as condos. There was also strong implications by the Post that some of the recent apartment fires in gentrifying neighborhoods were set intentionally by landlords to empty a building. The DC City Council just passed a law trying to stop this, as if they didn’t know it’s been going on for years. What they’ve done on my block is empty a building of mostly seniors in the hopes of flipping it into high-rent condos. Well, the developers ran out of money and the building has been vacant, and full of homeless people, for at least a year. I often wonder what happened to the seniors when I walk by.

  11. I think it’s unfair. I work hard for my pennies and I have to be subject to market rate rent while someone who has lived there forever pays 1/3 of what I pay. If you’re going to offer rent control then young people just starting out should be allowed to participate.

  12. Really, young people need it the most. We need to live closer to work because a car payment is really out of reach for most of us. And the gas alone would put most in the poor house.

  13. Parkwood Person

    INMHIIYNTYAH: Rent controlled apartments are open to anyone, regardless of age. It’s a condition on the dwelling, not the tenant.

    People who are in rent control places (young or old) just tend to hang on to them, so the are hard to come by.

    BUT– newer places aren’t subject to rent control, so anything that’s newer or recently renovated isn’t part of the pool.

  14. DC rents are governed by a law that place limits on how much the rent for a specific unit may be raised. These limits in increases in rent charged apply to almost all rental units; I believe the law doesn’t cover very small buildings and/or owner-occupied buildings, but I can’t remember for sure. There is a different calculation for legal rent increases for the elderly and disabled. The law was changed recently (the old rent ceiling law was extraordinarily complex) and Graham’s website has a good summary (on his website under “rent control” and then “comparison chart”).

  15. so not all buildings have rent control? Guess I lucked out then!

  16. Why should there be rent increases fo rthe elderly? They have had a longer time to prepare for this. If you really want to assist the elderly, give the landlord tax credits to offset the low rents.

    OtisGal, the washpost pointed less than 300 buildings/houses in the entire city with landlord issues. Many of these properties were owned by the same people. As such, the Post likely overstated the issue.

    For the person commenting on their English basement, that just goes to show that DC has affordable housing. Much of it just isn’t desirable due to location and or safety. DC would do much to address the affordability issue by addressing the safety of neighborhoods in SE and NE. I have had places for rent in SE that are really nice. W/D in the unit. Yet, there is a segment of the population in this city that wouldn’t even consider renting the unit if it were free. That’s not as much of a judgment on the people as it is the ineffectiveness of DC keeping all areas safe.

  17. In these older buildings, the owners typically made a smaller original investment; they bought when it was cheap. So, even though their rent revenues are lower, they are still earning a fine return on that investment.

    Usually, the vacant units get higher rents, up to the allowable maximum, whether or not the landlord actually fixes them up. The other residents may benefit from better maintenance (and wealthier new neighbors), or the landlord may try to push them out through a slew of hassling techniques — no maintenance, repairs at inconvenient times, etc. Landlords can also try to buy them out, often on the cheap, or intimidate them through all sorts of threats, especially threats of calling immigration or trying to confuse elderly folks. And, of course, they can make the building uninhabitable and then try to flip it.

    So, there’s no clear pattern. It can be win/win for all. But those new condo dwellers can find themselves living right next door to a slumlord who owns a 1/2 vacant building he can neither rent nor develop– which is what happened to the building next to my house.

  18. INMHIIYNTYAH- so when they moved there they paid market rate too duh.

  19. Also, the lower permissible rent raise per year for the elderly only applies if their income falls below a certain level (though I don’t know exactly what that is).

    In my building in AM, the landlord has just been replacing older tenants as they leave with newer ones and renting the units at market rate without making any improvements whatsoever. The rental market is so tight here, he can do it.

  20. lauren there is no income level for the elderly/disabled exemption. you just need to prove it and have it approved by city. it just limits the percentage ll’s can raise the rent per year for your apartment. across the economic board. and the new tenants that move into these market rate but not improved units should investigate what their rent should be because the ll’s could be made to refund the difference.

  21. Chris in Eckington

    I believe rent control only applies to buildings of more than four units constructed prior to 1975.

  22. Nate – you are one cool dude! Nate for Mayor!

  23. Actually, I was gonna tell Nate that Fox News is hiring….

  24. I am actually not a republican or a democrat. I did vote for Obama however. At the same time, I agree alot with Clarence Thomas and the likes of Juan Williams and Larry Elders. I guess that makes me an enigma of sorts. Bottom line: you can’t put people in a box.

    Some people feel that they are entitled to everything. I don’t happen to feel that way. As I said, I am a landlord. I have seen the effects of giving out free housing. I have also seen the effects of artificially holding rents low even when there is more affordable housing available elsewhere.

    Both ultimately hurt the poor much more than they hurt the well to do. For it keeps them in substandard housing thinking that they can’t do better and it allows the more affluent to get the same rent controlled benefit that should accrue to the poor. Who, with a straight face, can say that someone like me should be afforded the same rent control regulation as a inner city school teacher?


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