Letter to CM Anita Bonds strongly urges her to drop anti-tenant legislation

Harry Gural, President of the Van Ness South Tenants Association and creator of Fair Rent DC, today released a letter to Councilmember Anita Bonds, strongly urging her not to introduce her draft bill legalizing rent "concession" leases that also attempts to regulate them.

In the letter, Gural argues that the Bonds' bill will not adequately regulate "concession" leases and that it will make rental housing in the city less affordable. He also states that the "concession" scam could be stopped by simpler legislation that would merely confirm that in existing law the term "rent" means the actual amount paid by a tenant.

This letter is the most recent in a series of letters and memos to Councilmember Bonds and her staff, pointing out the flaws in Bonds' draft legislation. Bonds has not offered a substantive response to these criticisms.

Fair Rent DC sends a fourth letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser asking her to take action on the rent "concession" scam

Harry Gural, founder of Fair Rent DC and president of the Van Ness South Tenants Association, today sent a fourth letter today to Mayor Muriel Bowser, requesting that she take strong action to investigate and speak out about  the rent "concession" scam. The Bowser administration has not responded to the organization's first three emails and Gural's in-person discussion with the Mayor in October.

 


 

VAN NESS SOUTH TENANTS ASSOCIATION


March 15, 2018

Mayor Muriel Bowser
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mayor Bowser,

On the occasion of your State of the District Address, I am writing again to request that you take public action against the rent “concessions” scam that likely has cost District residents tens of millions of dollars.

I am the president of the tenants’ association representing the residents of 3003 Van Ness, the building that is the focus of Attorney General Karl Racine’s suit against Equity Residential for false advertising and effective circumvention of DC rent stabilization laws. I have helped over 100 residents fight demands for very large rent increases. I discovered via FOIA information suggesting that the same scam is used in other buildings. Other sources suggest that many large corporate landlords may be involved. This issue deserves an immediate and thorough investigation.

I have asked for help from members of your administration, including high-level housing officials, for almost two years. When I talked to you at length at an ANC-3 meeting at UDC on Oct. 17, you promised that your administration would quickly respond to my request to investigate by examining easily available city records. Sample records in my possession show that one company is filing “rents” to the city of well over $3,000 for a modest one-bedroom apartment in Van Ness – an impossibly high figure. I sent you additional information and repeated my request for action in three subsequent letters. Five months later, I have received absolutely no response.

In addition to the Attorney General’s suit, a recent decision in favor of the tenant by the Rental Housing Commission in the case of Gabriel Fineman vs. Smith Property Holdings (a subsidiary of Equity Residential) confirms my claim that the “concessions” scam violates DC law. Other tenants (including me) have pending tenant petitions. A class action case has been filed. Another case was filed in Superior Court. In addition, I continue to receive pleas for help from tenants every day.

Every month more and more DC tenants get caught in the scam and end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars more in rent than the law permits. This drives up the cost of housing in the District overall. The issue should be of highest concern to your administration.

Nevertheless, there has been complete silence from you and other city officials on this issue. I urge you to speak out about the rent “concessions” scam because doing so will help thousands of new tenants avoid the trap. I also repeat my request for you to instruct your administration to review easily available rent filings that will reveal the scope of the “concessions” scandal.

Sincerely,                               

Harry Gural
President, Van Ness South Tenants Association
Founder, Fair Rent DC

Fair Rent DC praises Attorney General Racine for taking legal action against Equity Residential

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Harry Gural
PHONE: (202) 527-2280
DATE: 12/13/2017

Harry Gural, founder of Fair Rent DC and president of the Van Ness Tenants Association (VNSTA), applauded the announcement today by Attorney General Karl Racine that he has filed a lawsuit against Equity Residential and Smith Property Holdings, the manager and owner of the apartment buildings at 3003 Van Ness Apartments.

“The “concession” scam costs residents hundreds or thousands of dollars. It relies on false advertising and deliberate deception. Dozens of tenants have come to me for help. I’m just glad that the Attorney General is moving forcefully to help stop it.”

For more information about how the rent “concession” scam works, see www.FairRentDC.org

 

 

Fair Rent DC founder sends third letter to Mayor Bowser asking for action on rent "concession" scam

Harry Gural, founder of Fair Rent DC and president of the Van Ness South Tenants Association, today sent a third letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser, requesting that she take immediate and strong action to further investigate the rent "concession" scam.


VAN NESS SOUTH TENANTS ASSOCIATION

December 14, 2017

Mayor Muriel Bowser
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mayor Bowser,

I am contacting you for the third time to request that you take strong action on the rent “concessions” issue, a scam used by major landlords to circumvent the DC rent stabilization law and consequently overcharge DC residents by what likely is tens of millions of dollars. The Attorney General’s announcement yesterday that he is filing suit against Equity Residential for this practice substantiate the claims I have made to your administration over many months.

My renewed request today follows our one-on-one discussion after the ANC-3 meeting on Oct. 17th, my letter to you on Oct. 19 and my follow-up letter with additional documentation to you on Oct. 21, which was cc’ed to your key housing and members of your staff. It also follows many emails cc’ed to those officials and also to your previous Rent Administrator that were written to Equity Residential on behalf of tenants fighting to escape predatory rent increases and to assert their legal rights. Since we spoke on Oct. 17th I have received no acknowledgement from your administration whatsoever.

As the months pass, more and more of your constituents are ensnared in the “concessions” scam, which costs each one of them hundreds of dollars a year at best and well over one thousand annually at worst. This should trigger urgent action on behalf of your administration, but to my knowledge action has yet been taken.

High-level officials in your administration have turned a blind eye to this predatory practice. The current and former head of the Rental Administration Division and director of the Department of Housing and Community Development have long been aware that major landlords are submitting false rent filings to the RAD and using these false filings as the basis for subsequent rent increases. Because the RAD and DHCD have failed to investigate these filings, I submitted FOIA requests for the legally-mandated records. These reveal that at least one major landlord, Equity Residential, frequently claims under penalty of perjury that the “rents” it collects apartments are as much as $1,500 per month above the going market price.

At the Oct. 17 ANC meeting I specifically asked you during the Q&A if you would instruct the DHCD to investigate false filings by major DC landlords. You stated at the time that you would need to gather more information from your department heads, but almost two months have passed and I have received no response to my request.

I believe that use of the “concession” scam is not confined to Equity Residential. Month after month, more and more DC residents become ensnared by the “concessions” scam. This likely costs them thousands of dollars each, and the cost to DC residents as a whole likely is in the tens of millions of dollars.

The evidence to find out whether this predatory practice extends beyond Equity Residential is already filed at your DHCD. I have FOIA’ed some of this material, but the matter could be greatly expedited if your administration were to take action on this issue.

To be clear, it is likely that “concession” leases are a widespread problem. If so, this predatory practice not only does substantial harm to the individual tenants, but also drives up the cost of housing overall. The failure to bring this practice to a halt undermines goals to make housing in the District more affordable.

For these reasons, I renew my request for you to direct members of your administration, specifically the DHCD and RAD, to investigate the false rent filings that become the basis for illegal rent increases. I also ask that you use every tool at your disposal to make DC residents aware of the rent “concessions” scam, and to work forcefully to protect tenants’ rights under the law and to help making housing more affordable.

 

                                                                        Sincerely yours,                                                                 

                                                                        Harry Gural

                                                                        President, Van Ness South Tenants Association

                                                                        Founder, Fair Rent DC

cc: Members of the Van Ness South Tenants Association, Members of Fair Rent DC

Fair Rent DC provides more evidence of rent scam to DC Mayor Bowser

Founder Harry Gural sent a second letter to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, providing additional evidence that a major DC housing provider is filing false rent figures to the city and using those as the basis of what likely are illegal rent increases. An attachment to the letter includes screen shots of web pages advertising apartments at market rents, followed by official rent filings obtained by FOIA that report rents many hundreds of dollars per month higher than those advertised rates.

Fair Rent DC believes that tens of thousands of DC residents may be paying rents that substantially exceed legal limits, costing them tens of millions of dollars.


October 21, 2017

Mayor Muriel Bowser
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mayor Bowser,

I am writing to follow-up the letter I sent two days ago on Oct. 21. I sent the letter as an attachment to an email to eom@dc.gov but I did not receive an auto-reply. I also sent the letter to DHCD Director Polly Donaldson (polly.donaldson@dc.gov), Rent Administrator Lauren Pair (lauren.pair@dc.gov) and Chief of Staff John Falcicchio (John.Falcicchio@dc.gov) but haven’t received an acknowledgement from them either. Your office was unable to provide a fax number so I am resending my original letter and this one via USPS Priority Mail to ensure delivery.

I provided to you with my first letter information obtained by FOIA revealing that Equity Residential is filing with the Rent Administrator “rent” amounts that far exceed market rents advertised for the same building. I realized after sending you the letter that you may not be closely familiar with average market prices in Van Ness in 2016 when those rents were filed with the RAD, so I am enclosing a screen shot of Equity Residential’s advertised prices for June 26, 2016 – which falls within the dates covered by the RAD filings. This clearly demonstrates that many of the “rent” amounts filed with the RAD are vastly inflated. The RAD-8 forms provided with my last letter show that Equity Residential uses these falsified filings as the basis for extremely large rent increases that far exceed what is allowed under DC law.

I would look forward to the opportunity to discuss this further at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely yours,

                                                                         

Harry Gural
President, Van Ness South Tenants Association
Founder, Fair Rent DC

cc: Members of the Van Ness South Tenants Association, Members of Fair Rent DC

 

 

Fair Rent DC asks Mayor Bowser to help investigate the rent "concession" scam

Fair Rent DC founder Harry Gural today sent a letter to DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, asking her to direct the Department of Housing and Community Development to share information regarding the large housing providers that file what appear to be abnormally high "rents" with the city -- a sign that they likely use the rent "concession" scam. Along with the letter, he sent 22 pages of evidence suggesting that a major housing provider reports unusually high "rents" to the city.

LETTER

October 19, 2017

Mayor Muriel Bowser
John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC

Dear Mayor Bowser,

Thank you for taking my question about the rent “concession” issue at the ANC-3 meeting on Oct. 17 and for taking the time to discuss the issue with me briefly.

I am writing to ask your help fighting rent “concession” leases, the method I described briefly to you by which some large housing providers use false advertising and deceptive leases to circumvent DC rent stabilization laws. Tens of thousands of Washington residents may be affected and it likely costs them tens of millions of dollars.

At the ANC meeting, I asked whether you would agree to instruct the Department of Housing and Community Development to produce information that would help us understand the scope of the problem. I have obtained records from the Rental Accommodations Division via a FOAI request revealing that Equity Residential appears to substantially inflate the numbers it reports as “rents” in its official filings (attached). Equity uses those false filings as the basis for rent increases, demanding amounts that can exceed $1,500 per month. It announces these to tenants on a form produced by the RAD, making it appear that the amounts are sanctioned by the city (attached). More information about how this works can be found at the website I create to educate the public about the issue, Fair Rent DC.

I respectfully request that you instruct the DHCD and its RAD to produce the names of corporations which appear to file “rents” that vastly exceed the advertised rents. Besides Equity Residential, there is evidence that Avalon and Bernstein also use “concession” leases. It would not require extensive research by the DHCD to find out what other major companies file “rents” with the RAD that vastly exceed market prices. A shortcut would be review the client list of the law firm Greenstein, DeLorme and Luchs, which apparently engineered the “concession” scheme.

Every day, new DC tenants unwittingly sign “concession” leases that obligate them to pay very large rent increases that exceed what is permitted by law. Every month, it is likely that tens of thousands of residents are forced to pay more in rent than the law allows. This very serious problem threatens the affordability of Washington, D.C. I ask your help in bringing an end to this predatory practice.

Sincerely yours,

Harry Gural
President, Van Ness South Tenants Association
Founder, Fair Rent DC