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Tag Archive | "DC landlords"

The DC Landlord’s Dilemma: Renting and Regulations


From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com

"For Rent"

Apartments for rent. (Luis Gomez Photos)

It’s funny to think that back in college, I touted myself as a landlord’s “dream tenant.” At the time, it seemed reasonable; I was studious, organized, trustworthy and somewhat punctual with my rent checks. A dream tenant, right? Renting to me should have been an easy decision, right?

Wrong.

While I was much more responsible (read: dorky) than my fellow peers, I still was a college student. And in my senior-year college house, beer was consumed more than water, the shower never saw a squirt of abrasive tile cleaner and an old mattress stayed propped against the side of the house for a few months because I simply didn’t know what else to do with it.

That is why I (now) fully understand why landlords don’t want to rent to students — and I don’t blame them.

But a recent eye-opening column in The Washington Post explains why some landlords are forced to rent apartments to a gang of students and other less-desirable tenants; such as those with no incomes, only trust funds.

As a renter myself, I fully support laws that protect those of us who pay exorbitant amounts of money each month for 600-square-feet of living. However, are the laws imposed on owners too strict and strange to navigate? Should someone who owns an apartment or house have more leeway in DC in getting to choose who will live in, and take care of, that space?

The author of the article, “For rent by owner: Legal landmines for landlords,” Douglas Hsiao, is a DC landlord who frequently writes about renting out his Dupont Circle condo. In this most recent article, Hsiao humorously illustrates first-hand examples of the obstacles he’s faced when trying to pick the perfect tenant.

According to Hsiao, it all comes down to the District’s Human Rights Law, a well-intentioned law established to protect renters from discrimination. But despite its good intentions, the law provides some additional challenges for owners. For example, it is illegal to discriminate against families and children when renting out a house or apartment. Protecting renting families seems reasonable, right?

But what if an owner doesn’t want all of the structural and aesthetic damage that comes with children? (Full disclaimer: I absolutely love children and have worked as a full-time nanny for years, but let’s not pretend they don’t cause some damage — the paint on walls from flying art supplies, the dings in the hardwood floors that result from dropped toy trucks, the rips in window screens from “practicing with my scissors,” etc.)

Further more, Hsiao explains that if an owner puts a cap on the number of tenants to whom he/she would like to rent, it appears as though the owner is discriminating from families.

“The formula for figuring out how many tenants a landlord legally should allow is the number of bedrooms multiplied by two plus one,” writes Hsiao in his article. “In other words, my two-bedroom apartment should be available to as many as five tenants. But who is that law protecting, a young family or a gang of college students who are willing to jam together for cheaper housing? We can all come up with perfectly rational non-discriminatory reasons why a landlord might not want to have five people living in an apartment.”

Another conundrum: DC landlords can’t turn away someone who does not have a source of income to pay the rent, as long as someone on the lease (such as daddy, the co-signer) can cover the monthly payments (this law does protect those in the Section 8 housing program).

So then, what’s the best way for Hsiao to find the perfect tenant? Not to meet them in person is the answer. If you never meet them, you can never be accused of discriminating.

As a renter myself, I fully support laws that protect those of us who pay exorbitant amounts of money each month for 600-square-feet of living. However, are the laws imposed on owners too strict and strange to navigate? Should someone who owns an apartment or house have more leeway in DC in getting to choose who will live in, and take care of, that space?

I just know that if I am ever lucky enough to own a slice of living space in this city, I want the option of saying “hell, no” to the college tenant that was formerly me.

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