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.”

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