A Line Has Been Drawn in the Sand…SlumLords Beware!

Our very own Mayor Muriel Bowser has drawn a line in the sand for all District landlords not to cross.  Mayor Bowser has always been passionate about producing, protecting and preserving affordable housing for the lowest income and most vulnerable residents in the city.

A few months ago she strongly noted to Maryland based Sanford Capital, who own and operate 66 residential buildings with more than 1,000 housing code violations, to quickly fix the problems or prepare to face stiff penalties,  fines and potentially  a costly and lengthy legal battle with the courts.

Although Sanford, has received the negative publicity in the newspapers and other media outlets, the Mayor used that opportunity to forewarn all landlords with property in Washington, D.C to maintain a certain basic standard of living in your properties or else!

Several reports cited that families, including the elderly and small children, residing in the apartments managed by Sanford, faced such deplorable conditions such as broken air conditioners during the summer and non-working heaters in the winters.  Furthermore, there were extensive confirmations of mold and mildew, reports of broken toilets and refrigerators and plenty of sightings of vermin despite tons of repeated complaints from the residents.

More than $500,000 in fines could be levied against Sanford for the inequities suffered by the residents, according to Bowser.  The Mayor also indicated that she would be giving more power and leeway to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the agency that inspects, regulates and enforces all property codes within the District.

Now DCRA will be given the capacity to go after all property owners who do not maintain their properties to a basic living standard.   Additionally, DCRA will now have the ability to address vacant nuisance properties and really go after each potential slumlord..

DCRA’s Director Melinda Bolling plans to use the legal process to ensure that property owners, like Sanford, are adhering to the law.  Director Bolling also states that the department will be available to assist landlords with maintaining codes and not coming into violations.

Here are four tips for  property management  and District landlords:

  1. Be educated on and compliant with DC codes in relation to property management
  2. Seek assistance from DCRA and its subject experts
  3. Employ only competent, licensed and bonded contractors to do jobs
  4. Be proactive

The consequences of a landlord not taking heed to these tips can be monumental. The more you know and the more you care about your tenants, the better the relationships can be and, ultimately, the more your property will rise in value and the more compensation you can receive.

BE PREPARED

 

Be PreparedNow that you may be thousands of miles away from your family, you must now consider your on-campus and off-campus dwelling your home away from home.Whether you live with more than one person or live alone, there should always be a plan in place for if and when disaster strikes.

Things, such as  fire drills and having an exit plan, are very important safety practices.  Here are seven tips for fire safety and awareness:

  • Install a smoke/carbon monoxide alarm on every level of a building and each bedroom
  • Make sure your alarms work. Test them regularly
  • Install a new battery once a year
  • Install a new alarm at least once every 10 years
  • Portable heaters need their space. Keep it safe from other flammable objects
  • If possible install fire sprinklers, or at the very least, maintain a working fire extinguisher
  • Coordinate with other roommates and/or residents about an escape plan so everyone knows how to get out quickly and on time. Designate a specific place outside the building where everyone should meet

Besides fire, there are additional disaster safety and mitigation tips that you should keep in mind that would save your life. Create or purchase a disaster supply kit and keep near you for survival purposes after a disaster strikes.  Make sure you have a battery operated radio or electronic device that would allow you to receive official updates and critical life-saving weather information.  Use surge protection devices in your dormitory.

Lastly, develop an action plan where other residents and yourself would know where to go if an evacuation is insisted.  Review two exit routes from your dormitory to a designated meeting place. Make sure everyone in your immediate circle are present at the designated meeting spot.

For More information about being prepared for a disaster, follow DCRA on social media as we celebrate National Preparedness Month and host engaging  safety preparedness workshops and seminars.   Be Prepared 2

Burleith Landlords: Are you legal? Get licensed and get inspected.

DCRA recently received a comprehensive list of 134 properties from a coalition of Burleith neighborhood groups who spent nearly two months of walking the neighborhood and verifying data using our online PIVS application to identify what they believe are illegal rentals.

We have sent letters to each of the property owners identified on the list asking them to please respond. If you received a letter and are not currently renting your property, we apologize for the inconvenience and please respond to discuss why you may have ended up on the list and get your property off our list. If you are renting your property, please contact us immediately and we can assist you in getting your property licensed and, most importantly, inspected. We will not assess fines if you voluntarily come in and begin the licensing and inspection process.

You can contact also us via email (bbl.infocenter@dc.gov) or by calling 202-442-4311.

If we do not hear from the property owners within the period stated in the letters – 15 business days from when it was mailed – DCRA will be sending investigators to your property and you could face thousands in fines if you are indeed operating an unlicensed and uninspected rental property. One of our top priorities is to ensure rentals are safe for tenants, neighbors and the neighborhood. And if you’re a student, please discuss the licensing and inspection issues with your landlord.

Turn Up the Heat!

Icicle

Students, today is the day when most landlords and buiding engineers across the District officially turn on heating systems in buildings that don’t allow tenants to control their own thermostats.  There isn’t a law that says landlords have to officially turn on the heat, but there is a law about how warm your building must be kept, at a minimum.  Heat must be kept at a temperature of at least sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (68° F) between 6:30 am and 11 pm.  Between 11 pm and 6:30 am, a building’s heat must be kept at a minimum temperature of sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit (65° F).

If you wake up with icicles hanging off your nose one morning in the coming days, there’s a good chance your building isn’t 65 or 68 degrees.  So, if you’ve contacted your landlord a call and you can’t seem to get any results, give us a call or reach out to us using one of the methods listed here at our site (Twitter, Facebook or email) and we’ll do what we can to help.

Safety Outreach: One Campus at a Time

This Should Be Illegal

Yesterday, we headed over to Howard University–well, one of the sidewalks near Howard University–in order to pass out information to the students who live off-campus.  We didn’t want to cause any problems for ourselves by doing something crazy like visiting the campus without an invitation and using washable spray chalk to give students information.  Who’d do a thing like that?!

So, we visited the campus and passed out information from the public space about This Should Be Illegal to students so that they could be aware of the services that the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs offers to District residents.  We hope to soon be invited again to an official campus event at Howard U so that we can reach out to even more students.

We made a beeline over to Catholic University’s campus to see if we could find a good public space area to reach out to students, but we were unable to find a good flow of foot traffic there.  So, Catholic U, we are still waiting for that invitation to come out and give your students this valuable information!

Also, not to be missed are photos from the kickoff of National Campus Fire Safety Month, which we participated in on Capitol Hill last week.  The event was well-attended and at times, quite emotional as the mother of a student killed in an off-campus fire told her story.

If your campus is having an event that you think we’d be a good fit for, feel free to contact us using one of the various methods mentioned here at This Should Be Illegal.  Have a great weekend and be safe!

DCRA at American University

American U. Wellness Fair

This past Thursday, DCRA’s “This Should Be Illegal” team packed up the van and headed to American University for a little quality time with the students there.  We took part in the university’s annual Wellness Fair and it was really nice.  The folks at AU kind of had to work a little harder than usual to justify our presence, but after we discussed it, they decided that we were a perfect fit.  There are some issues with crappy apartments or other rental housing that could in fact be a matter of life and death.  So, there you have it.

We were very happy to meet several students from AU, giving them information about our services, and we look forward to heading to your college or university next!  If you are having an event soon and you’d like for us to come out, give us a shout on Twitter @dcra or email myself shana.kemp (at) dc (dot) gov or Michael Rupert michael.rupert (at) dc (dot) gov and we’ll be more than happy to stop by!  Sometimes, students feel more comfortable making a formal complaint or getting answers to their questions through one on one interaction, instead of over the phone.

DCRA: Coming to a Campus Near You

DCRA rep at Howard University, October 2008
DCRA rep at Howard University, October 2008

At this point, across the District, school is back in session.  By now, students are all settled in to their new apartments, fresh new towels and washclothes hanging on their bathroom racks.  Plush new rugs tossed onto floors with still creased from the package sheets fitted onto mattresses– adorned by vibrant new comforters.  But, are those landlords licensed!!!?  DCRA is going to help you make sure.

Yesterday, we headed to the Georgetown University’s campus for their Resource Fair and tomorrow, we’ll be paying a visit to the University of the District of Columbia’s campus.  We’ll be passing out information and answering any questions that students may have about their rental housing or landlords.  In the coming weeks, we hope to make it, at least once, to each of the campuses here in the District because this is vital information.

If you are renting a place from an unlicensed landlord, you could be putting yourself at grave risk.  Saving your life is more important than saving a few dollars.  Remember that.  While  you are here, check out the many resources offered at thisshouldbeillegal.com and tell your friends.

The first few weeks back at school can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time.  If  you are already dealing with off-campus housing woes, check to see if it’s something that we can help you with before you lose your cool.  And, if your college or university is having an event and you’d like for us to come out and hand out information and give your students a chance to ask questions with us, face to face, contact us using one of the methods in the “Contact Us” tab on the right side of the page.