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.

Do we need more enforcement? Or more conversation?

I attended a great meeting this evening regarding trash, rats and other student housing related issues Georgetown University, local leaders and concerned neighbors are trying admirably to try to solve along a two block area just off campus.

As we went around the room, a lot of people were recommending “reminder” signs students could tape to their doors to remember to take out the trash, harsher penalties from the university, tougher fines on landlords, and other enforcement/oversight type remedies.

But no one, no one mentioned actually talking with students. In fact, no students were even present [although they did make that recommendation near the end of the meeting].

The truth is none of these young adults have ever paid a mortgage, most have never purchased appliances or spent an afternoon manicuring their lawns, never paid a utility bill or been worried about their property values because of their neighbor’s messy front yard. So rather then craft new penalties, why not at least try to have a conversation.

This was the idea behind this blog and the social tools linked here. Have a conversation. If people wanted to join in, they could. If they wanted to listen, they could. If they wanted to pull down a few items and never come back again they could. And we hope it’s working.

There are real legal and financial penalties for real issues that put people in danger, don’t get us wrong. And we can, will and should cite housing code violations as often as we see them. Call 202-442-9557 today and we’ll come. But the problems discussed this evening can be solved more easily and will never be solved permanently unless we stop thinking less in terms of penalties. Why not offer rewards? Instead of posting warnings, hand them reminders. Instead of sending threatening letters, stand on the corner or knock on the door and say hello. Students aren’t unreasonable. If they realize that tossing trash outside, unsealed is the reason there are rat droppings all over their living room floor, they’ll get it.

And then if these efforts fail. If they refuse to acknowledge the problem and are cavalier, then let’s throw the book at them. But first we should try to convince rather than intimidate. It hasn’t worked for decades, and probably won’t work now.

Crunch Time – DCRA Can Help if You’re Renting Last Minute

Chances are that if you don’t have an off-campus apartment in DC for this fall, you are scrambling, freaking out and willing to take just about anything near campus. You’re scouring Craigslist and other apartment listing services. These sites are great, but what they don’t do is filter. Anyone and everyone can post whatever they want without much recourse. You get what you get. This is crunch time and you might settle for something that is ugly. That’s fine. You might settle for something small. Chances are that’s fine too. But what you don’t want is something that’s unsafe.

Part of the reason the District of Columbia requires landlords to get licensed isn’t because we get just get a check – in fact, the licensing is not a money-raising venture for DCRA. The key reason is that for the license to be approved, the landlord needs to have an inspection of the property. Are there two exits in case there’s a fire? Is there smoke alarms? Does the plumbing leak? Here is a list of just the simple items we look for. You can print and take that list with you when you check out the place.

We know you’re in a rush to get into something. But please, please at least ask your landlord if he is licensed by DCRA. Or you can look up all licensed rental properties through our main Website here. There is a guide that shows you what type of rental license you need to be looking for. If your potential apartment isn’t listing, ask the landlord why. Ask him the last time it was inspected. Show him the checklist. This sounds annoying, we know. But you are going to sleep in someone’s house you don’t know and if he can’t answer simple questions, then how he will respond later. Just something to think about. Most of the landlords in DC are great and most have licenses from DCRA. Now is the time that those who just want to make a quick buck prey upon the thousands students who arrive every fall.

So look up the apartment and ask some questions. This will at least offer a little filtering of the places you’ll see online. If you have any questions, email us, tweet us or chat with us on Facebook. We’re here 24 hours a day to answer any questions or help give you some guidance on your search. Good luck. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs can help.

And to those landlords who are not licensed. It’s not too late, you won’t be penalized and it is a simple and quick process. Here is a fact sheet. And you too can email ustweet us or chat with us on Facebook. We want students and all residents to be safe. We are inspecting all rental units in the District over the next few years so you might as well do the right thing and get licensed and inspected now and keep the students you’re renting safe. Keep your property safe.

DCRA: Student Lessons to be Learned from 1841 16th Street NW

There has been a lot of discussion in recent days regarding the fate of 1841 16th Street NW – a beautiful home on the corner of 16th and T Street. While the current discussion focuses on whether the building will be razed or stabilized (and eventually renovated), an important point is being missed. One of the reasons the home was allowed to crumble was that tenants said they were too scared to call the city.

“We all knew it should have been condemned,” said Mike Corcoran, a former tenant told the Examiner. “It was collapsing.”

Yet, the most recent complaint received by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was in 2004. When owners failed to make exterior repairs, DCRA stepped in and spent $9,000 to fix the exterior. At the same time, the city revoked the owners’ rental license.

The owners then illegally allowed tenants back into the building. Because the rent rates were low and the location was good – no one wanted to complain to the city, according to former tenants.

Stephanie Larsen, a third-floor tenant at the time of the collapse, told the Examiner that they complained to the owners about the conditions to no avail, but they feared a backlash, including eviction, if they blabbed to the government.

While details of the legitimacy of tenants and other details are unclear and are being investigated, it is very clear that these students should have called the city and reported the conditions. There would have been an immediate inspection and a lot of the current controversy may have been able to be avoided.

Since the collapse, DCRA has instituted a new Proactive Inspections program that will inspect all multi-unit buildings in the District of Columbia over a three-year period whether a tenant complains or not. We hope this eliminates many of these situations.

But if you know there are issues as serious as Corcoran and Larsen implied, call 202-442-9557 immediately or email dcra.housingcomplaints@dc.gov, DO NOT WAIT and be sure you are safe. And no matter how great of a deal the rent and location may be, always ask if the potential landlord is licensed. You can check for yourself here.

DCRA Saves the Day at Howard U.

Okay, not really. We didn’t do anything that necessarily proved that we have super powers, but we did do something good! Tuesday, we packed up the truck car with fliers, water bottles and refrigerator magnets and headed to Howard University to take part in their off-campus housing fair.  As with other colleges and universities in the District, we attend events like this to inform students about their rights as renters before they sign leases.

The event at Howard was great.  A steady stream of students visited the fair, eager to get information from vendors hoping to rent apartments to them.  Meanwhile, we informed as many students in the hall as possible about the tools right here at Thisshouldbeillegal.com that will help them avoid all types of rental nightmares.  We also informed them that even if they decided to ignore our advice and find themselves in a bad situation, they can still contact us for assistance with rental unit issues.

One of the biggest bits of advice that we give to students planning to rent here in the District is to make sure that the would be landlord is registered with DCRA to legitimitely rent a house or apartment.  We warned them against signing leases that would be landlords try to rush them into committing to and we told them, “If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” 

Be sure to tell your friends about this site if they are planning to rent in DC!  We were told some horror stories by some of the students who stopped by to chat with us at Howard.  We would really like for you not to have rats as roommates either.

DCRA Tweeting Live from AU Off-Campus Housing Fair


DCRA’s thisshouldbeillegal.com team will be tweeting live from the American University Off-Campus Housing Fair tomorrow from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Mary Graydon Center in University Club Room 2 & 3.

Follow us at @dcra or Come by and see us. This is thisshouldbeillegal.com’s first of many big events in 2009. We’ll be sending out good tips and links to important information.

The event will provide AU students the opportunity to get information on making the transition to off-campus housing. We will be there to help students how to choose safe and licensed housing and how to keep their new homes safe. AU has a good site to help students right here as well.

We will be encouraging students to first ask their prospective landlord if they are licensed.  Students can also look up addresses in the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs licensed rental database.

Students can also start their own campaign to help their fellow students. We’ll provide the training materials and fliers, you supply the energy. You can also send in videos of your new place to our Facebook FanPage or Group and we’ll look up the building’s history for you.

Here is a map to the event. See you there.


Firefighters Get UMD Students Drunk in the Name of Fire Safety

In hopes of getting important data and raising awareness, students at the University of Maryland spent a recent weekend drinking beer and then weaving around a dorm room. Researchers are hoping their efforts last Sunday will help save the lives of college students in the future.

“The purpose is to gather data that illustrates the relationship between alcohol consumption and students’ ability to get out of a simulated fire,” explained Andrew K. Pantelis, Vice President of Prince George’s County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics Association to Campus Firewatch.

From the story:

Study participants, aged 21 to 26, were asked to make their way through a darkened mock dorm room filled with a non-toxic fog to stimulate smoke. As the day progressed, students consumed controlled amounts of alcohol and were asked to go through the mock room over and over again.

Students performed each cycle with blood alcohol contents of .03, .06, .09 and .12. All participants were equip with safety equipment like helmets and knee pads, each participant had at least one safety officer assigned to them.

A member of the University of Maryland Police Department was on hand to measure blood alcohol content. Members of Prince George’s County Fire/Emergency Medical Services Department evaluated the students after each cycle.

Pantelis said he hopes to take what he learns from the study, the first of its kind, and use it to teach incoming college kids about the dangers of drinking, specifically in the event of a fire.