17 Aug

(c) Carrie Devorah

The Office of Tenant Advocate, OTA, asked if I would testify at the DC Budget hearing contemplating reducing OTA’s budget. I said yes.

I believe DC government’s goal for OTA should not be reducing OTA’s budget but giving OTA tools it needs to work effectively. 

I witnessed OTA staff expending precious time playing catch up on renter problems that existed long before I arrived in Washington- unlicensed landlords exploiting city residents and robbing city coffers. I figured out DC doesn’t know who a landlord is until a tenant, with landlord problems, walks through OTA’s door seeking help, leaving hundreds or thousands of landlords to exploit DC renters because the District has no  idea who these landlords are or where to find them.

In process, I learned a legal landlord must have a DC business license to rent in the District- be it a house, room, apartment, condo or couch. No  business license, no landlording; landlords can raise tenant’s rent, once in 12 months, if the increase is DCRA approved. No license, no rent increase; rents must be kept in a DC compliant security deposit escrow account.

DC must take two steps to reduce OTA workloads with speed bumps (1) at the time of the real estate transaction, when the dollar crosses the counter, make realtors responsible to identify to DC, the OTA, potential landlords, owners who may one day use their property for income; (2) implement a mandatory uniform lease for all District rentals, eliminating renter problems from leases not in compliance with DC law.

The District knows every property sold in the District is potential income producing taxable rental property. The District, to identify and reduce the number of  problem landlords must legislate, at the time of property sale, buyers signing a one sheet advisory “Notice of Potential Intention To Rent” the realtor then must file with the OTA, confirming the property owner was advised at the time of purchase if they rent their property after buying it, they must get a DC business license; keep their tenant’s security deposit in a DC compliant escrow account; and comply with DCRA process for approved rent increases, or be penalized for failure to do any of the above. Their Realtor, would be under severe penalty and stand to lose their Real Estate license if the Realtor failed to have this pre-cautionary “Potential Intention To Rent” signed off by the purchaser or not given to the OTA. Property sellers would sign a document stating, with a penalty of fines they did not rent out their property while owning it; had a business license, and paid all taxes on earned rental income.  

Property managers must be penalized harshly if accepting for management property rental agreements without a DC Business License Number; proof of DCRA rent increase approval numbers; and statement of where the security deposit is held.

Paramount to OTA budget reform is teaching DC tenants these rules a legal landlord must comply with. Place them where tenants go to find rentals: on newspaper and internet rental pages; pop ups when words like DC, rent, realtor are typed into Internet real estate sites, pagers and search engines ie Craigslist. The landlord’s Business license number and relevant DC renting codes, must be displayed on “For Rent” street signs where OTA inspectors can spot them driving by, easy to investigate for compliancy.

With addressing tenant issues with landlords before problems begin by mitigating landlord/ tenant problems before they become a problem is the ultimate goal with bringing culpable “partners in crime” on board, making sure realtors risk losing their license if failing to provide a “Notice of Potential Intention To Rent” to landlords and proof of to renters, the needed second step is partnering with tax investigators able to immediately run on the landlord Recorder of Deeds along with tax compliancy, business license and other checks with the operating theorem being a person who is dodgy of the law in one area is usually dodgy of the law in other areas. If there is ever a partner for tenant advocacy agencies to bring on board the moment a landlord’s name crosses the tenant advocacy agencies desk, it is the IRS. While Elliot Ness and the FBI always get their man, it is the IRS and its crack investigators who not only get the man and the woman, they also get their money owed, or, in the alternative, the legal pound of flesh.  Not only will the OTA will work more effectively, at the same time, the IRS and a District’s Office of the Chief Financial Officer, will aid cities bottom lines by tracking unreported incomes from unlicensed landlords operating, in DC, and across the country.



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