WHO'S WHO

City agencies largely don't help tenants defend themselves against the rent "concession" scam, despite the fact that the scam appears to violate D.C. rental housing law. In fact, in some ways the city enables the problem -- for example, by failing to check rent filings for accuracy.

However, you may be able to get help in a few places. At the very least you should know who the players are. Here is our short list.


OFFICE OF THE TENANT ADVOCATE

The Office of the Tenant Advocate has useful information on a wide range of housing issues, including brief primers on rent stabilization and allowable rent increases. It also produces the very helpful District of Columbia Tenant Bill of Rights, which landlords must provide to tenants when they sign a lease.

On the other hand, it should not be assumed that because the terms "tenant advocate" are in the name of this city department that it works purely in the interest of tenants. It has supported prior legislation that would legalize rent "concessions" while trying to regulate them somewhat, and the OTA is a major force behind Councilmember Anita Bonds' very similar and problematic draft legislation. An organizational chart for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (DMPED) lists the OTA as part of the Economic Development Cluster.

The OTA has attorneys on staff who can provide general information about housing, rent stabilization and rent "concessions.” However, they do not get deeply involved in individual cases so you will have to find additional help elsewhere. The OTA has done little to help with "concession" cases.

Office of the Tenant Advocate
2000 14th Street NW, Suite 300-N
Washington, DC 20009

 Phone: (202) 719-6560

Located at the intersection of U and 14th Streets.


YOUR CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS

If you’re having a problem with your landlord and the issue can’t be resolved with the help of your tenants’ association or the Office of the Tenant Advocate, you should contact your City Council member. 

When you call your City Council member's office, his or her staff likely will direct you to the Office of the Tenant Advocate. You have already called the OTA so you should ask for additional assistance. So far, City Council members haven't figured out how to deal with such requests -- possibly because taking further action is time consuming and runs the risk of angering the rental housing industry. 

We highly suggest that you contact your City Council member for these important reasons: (1) You actually may be able to get help; (2) You will leave a record of the fact that you tried to get help; and (3) you will make our City Council more aware of the seriousness and scope of the issue.

See our page on the City Council for more information.


DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

The DHCD is the umbrella city agency for housing in the District of Columbia. It deals with a wide range of issues, including regulations, development, affordable housing and others. It also has jurisdiction over rental housing via its Rental Accommodations Division (RAD).

You likely will come in contact with the DHCD only if you decide to file a tenant petition against your landlord. Your tenant petition will be heard by a judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). However, to submit a petition you must go in person to the DHCD.

1800 Martin Luther King Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20020

Phone: (202) 442-7200

Located approximately 7 blocks from the Anacostia metro station.


THE RENTAL ACCOMMODATIONS DIVISION

The Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) of the DHCD deals with rental housing. 

However, with regard to the rent "concession" issue, the RAD is a major part of the problem because it does not conduct minimal oversight over rent filings. Landlords are required to file the amount of rent charged for each apartment with the RAD. However, the RAD doesn't examine those filings, even if the amounts appear to be wildly wrong -- e.g., a $3,500 rent for a one-bedroom apartment in an aging building.

In fact, the RAD won't check a filing even if a tenant can provide a bank statement showing that the amount filed is incorrect. The former head of the RAD recently admitted that the division hasn't investigated a rent filing for at least the past five years. (It may be much longer than that -- we didn't think to ask about the last ten years.)

Ironically, if you want to file a tenant petition against your landlord, the process is technically under the jurisdiction of the RAD. The case will be heard by a judge in the Office of Administrative Hearings.


OFFICE OF ADMINISTRATIVE HEARINGS

If you want to make a legal complaint for an illegal rent increase you must file a tenant petition the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

In OAH you will appear before a judge without a jury. You are permitted to defend yourself but it's likely that you'll face an experienced corporate attorney.

You will be at a disadvantage because OAH judges have deferred to Superior Court in the matter of leases. The court assumes that whatever lease you signed is valid, whether or not you were deceived or pressured into signing it. It also assumes that "rent" filed by the landlord with the city is correct, regardless of the fact that the RAD specifically has conceded that it does not check the numbers. For these reasons, you are at a significant disadvantage in a "concession" case.

Tenants have lost a handful of "concession" cases at OAH. Two of these cases were decided largely on the basis of New York law despite the fact that Washington has its own rent stabilization law. A third case is being appealed to the Rental Housing Commission. Although these are not precedent-setting cases in the legal sense, it means that the court is more likely to rule against you.

On the other hand, it costs landlords a lot of money to defend themselves in any court. For this reason, they often settle in mediation before the case is heard by a judge.

However, there may be good reasons to file a tenant petition anyway. Filing a tenant petition makes you eligible for additional legal protections against retaliation by your landlord. In addition, it costs landlords a lot of money to defend themselves in court so in the past they have settled most "concession" disputes in mediation.

If you are considering filing a tenant petition, you should contact an attorney at the Office of the Tenant Advocate for advice. It's likely that the OTA will advise you to be cautious given the past decisions against tenants in OAH. Nevertheless, this is an evolving legal issue and your case is an individual one.

FAIR RENT DC is working on new legal strategies for fighting the rent "concession" scam. Stay tuned for more information -- make sure you join our email list.

Office of Administrative Hearings
One Judiciary Square 441 4th Street NW
Suite 450-N
Washington, DC 20001

(202) 442-9094

Located at the Judiciary Square Metro


LANDLORD AND TENANT COURT

If you want to file a legal claim against your landlord for a violation of the rent stabilization statute you are forced to file a tenant petition in the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). On the other hand, if you refuse to pay what you believe is an illegal rent increase, your landlord will sue you in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of DC Superior Court.

This gives your landlord a significant advantage, because the judge in Landlord and Tenant Court only will rule on the basis of the rent listed in your lease. If you don't have the means to contest the lease -- a potentially complicated case -- you have no defense.

If you want to contest your landlord's claim for what you believe is an illegal rent increase, you must file a tenant petition in OAH. This provides an immediate benefit -- the judge in Landlord and Tenant Court must suspend further action on your case (known as issuing a "Drayton stay") until the matter is decided in OAH.

If your landlord files against you in Landlord and Tenant Court for any reason, you should get some free preliminary advice from the volunteer attorneys at the Landlord and Tenant Resource Center. You may also want to get additional legal assistance if you qualify from one of the non-profit organizations that offer it.

DC Superior Court, Landlord Tenant Branch
Superior Court of the District of Columbia
409 E Street Building B
Washington, DC 20001

Phone: (202) 879-4879

Located at the Judiciary Square Metro


LANDLORD AND TENANT RESOURCE CENTER

Volunteer attorneys at the Landlord and Tenant Resource Center offer free advice and information to both landlords and tenants who represent themselves in Landlord and Tenant Court.

To get assistance you must visit the Resource Center in person during its limited hours of operation, weekdays 9:15 am to 12:00 noon. Help is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. The center is located at in the same building as Landlord and Tenant Court.

Landlord and Tenant Resource Center
Court Building B, Room 115
510 4th Street, N.W.

Located at the Judiciary Square Metro


RENTAL HOUSING COMMISSION

The Rental Housing Commission (RHC) writes rental housing regulations. This gives it broad power to interpret the Rental Housing Act. Therefore, its actions can have a profound effect on the rules governing landlords and tenants.

The RHC also is a quasi-legal body because the three commissioners hear appeals of decisions made in the Office of Administrative Hearings. If you lose your case in the Rental Housing Commission you have the right to appeal to the DC Court of Appeals.

Rental Housing Commission
One Judiciary Square
441 4th Street NW
Suite 1140 N
Washington, DC 20001

Phone (202) 442-8949

Located at the Judiciary Square Metro


THE DC OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL

The DC Attorney General a wide range of issues. The Attorney General is elected so the office has a degree of independence from the rest of city government.

The OAG has a consumer protection division that handles issues like false advertising (the bait and switch.) FAIR RENT DC is collecting tenant complaints of false advertising of rental apartments and forwarding that information with the Office of the Attorney General. You can share your story by reporting your experience to us.

You can also contact the OAG's Consumer Protection Hotline directly at:

Phone: (202) 442-9828
Email: consumer.protection@dc.gov

General address:

Office of the Attorney General
441 4th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

Phone: (202) 727-3400
Email: dc.oag@dc.gov

Located at the Judiciary Square Metro

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