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Tenant Advocates Warn Of 'Rollback' Of Affordable Housing Law As D.C. Council Debates Changes

Monday, March 05, 2018

Tenant Advocates Warn Of 'Rollback' Of Affordable Housing Law As D.C. Council Debates Changes

"Tenant advocates say a bill the D.C. Council will take up on Tuesday could amount to one of the “biggest rollbacks” in tenant rights in more than a decade.

The law at issue is the 38-year-old Tenants Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which allows any renter of an apartment or single-family home in D.C. the right of first refusal when the homeowner wants to sell. Long lauded as a vital protection of tenant rights and affordable housing, the bill now before the Council would amend the law to exclude single-family homes altogether.

The bill was spurred by media reporting last year that some renters of single-family homes were delaying sales by threatening to sell their TOPA rights to other parties, including developers, which is allowed under the law. Realtors say that led to some sales falling apart altogether, and in other cases, forced homeowners to shell out significant payments to tenants or developers to allow the sale to move forward.

“TOPA was never intended as a money-making opportunity for tenants. It was to help them with the purchase of a property,” said Chris Suranna, the president of the D.C. Association of Realtors, which has been pushing for a change to TOPA. “Unfortunately what has been in place to date has created a huge business that has allowed people to siphon off the equity on the sale of a home and extort the owners.”

A bill first introduced last year would have exempted tenants of accessory dwelling units — basement apartments or carriage houses — from TOPA, meaning they would have no right-of-first-refusal if the home’s owner wanted to sell. But last month that bill was suddenly broadened to be a full exemption for single-family homes, except in cases where the tenant is elderly or disabled. The change was pushed by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson..."

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