Thank You To The HOYA for Helping DCRA Reach Students

Georgetown University’s The Hoya had two great pieces highlighting the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) efforts to ensure all rental properties are license and, even more importantly, inspected for safety.

Be sure to take a look at the original story here and the Hoya Editorial Board also wrote a piece here.

We’ve said this many times, but DCRA wants all residents to have safe housing. By requiring a license and making an inspection mandatory before a license is issued, everyone has cleaner, safer homes and neighborhoods.

Students, please talk to your landlord or look up your address yourself and get in contact with us if you feel your rental has violations. Print off our checklist and do a walk-through yourself if you’re hesitant to get the city involved.

posted by Mike Rupert, DCRA

Landlords: Spaceheaters Cannot be Only Source of Heat in DC

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has received several calls from residents over the past week asking if it is legal for landlords to provide space heaters as the only source of heat. While using space heaters in and of itself is obviously not illegal, the District does not allow them to be the sole source of heat – they were not designed to be.

Without too much code/legal jargon, DCRA interprets the 2006 International Property Maintenance Code and 14 DC MR code is that when the space heater is turned off, the building heating facilities must maintain the minimum prescriptive temperature 68 degrees or 70 degrees. (IPMC 68 degrees F, 14 DCMR 501.2, 70 Degrees F). Here’s the code:

HEATING FACILITIES
602.1 Facilities required. Heating facilities shall be provided in structures as required by this section.602.2 Residential occupancies. Dwellings shall be provided with heating facilities capable of maintaining a room temperature of 68°F (20°C) in all habitable rooms, bathrooms and toilet rooms based on the winter outdoor design temperature for the locality indicated in AppendixD of the International Plumbing Code. Cooking appliances shall not be used to provide space heating to meet the requirements of this section.

Space heaters are not designed, per their listing, to be capable of maintaining room temperature in a dwelling. Space heaters are not to be confused with permanent wall mounted electric baseboard heating, when installed with a thermostat, and according to code, is accepted means of heat. So essentially, using a space heater to be the main source of heat is not that much different than using your stove in terms of how we enforce the law.

Many municipalities outright amend their codes to state “Space heaters shall not provide the minimum heat requirements in a dwelling…”. We rely on the interpretation of heating facilities, and that space heaters are not designed to heat an entire dwelling unit.

If you live in a rental unit using only space heaters this winter, we highly reccomend you contact your landlord and explain this to them. If they are not responsive, call 202-442-9557 or email us and schedule an inspection ASAP. 

Here are some other Winter Heating Safety Tips:

Electric Space Heaters
Keep space heaters 3 feet form furniture, bedding, clothing, walls or other things that burn. Use only heaters that have been tested and approved by U.L. or another respected testing lab. Make sure your space heater has an automatic shut-off feature for tip-overs. Do not use heaters that have worn or frayed cords or plugs. Use electrical outlets conservatively. Remember that overloaded circuits can cause fires. Never use kerosene heaters inside a house.

Fireplace & Woodstoves
Have your chimney inspected by a professional annually and have it cleaned as needed. Always use a fire screen. Spark arresters are required. Never leave children unattended around a fireplace or woodstove. Be sure the fore is out before going to bed or away from the house. Never burn trash, Christmas paper or trees in your fireplace or woodstove. When cleaning out the ashes, place them into metal containers only, and dampen slightly. Never store discarded ashes inside or adjacent your home. Woodstoves require a 36″ clearance form combustible surfaces. Woodstoves should be U.L. approved and installed pursuant to all applicable codes.

Electric Blankets
Follow manufacture guidelines regarding proper use, maintenance and replacement. Never leave the blanket on high for any exceeded period. Never bunch or wad the blanket up, or fold it in a heap. Turning you blanket off when you turn your alarm off is a simple, safe habit. Upon rising, smooth the blanket out flat to avoid concentrating the heat. Small children, invalids or the elderly should never use electric blankets because these persons have decreased abilities to sense high heat.

Kitchen Stoves & Ovens
Never use kitchen burners or the oven as heating devices. Remember that an electric burner, left on for extended periods, can reach a temperature of 1000 degrees, and can cause adjacent walls to ignite.

Tips Courtesy of Pierce Township, Ohio.

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.

There Are Rules Off-Campus Too

Moving Tools

Many of the schools here in the District will be welcoming students back over the next two weeks, so let us be among the many to say, welcome!  Those of you living off-campus have gotten an extra special welcome with an article in today’s Washington Post: Rules Trail Raucous Students Off-Campus.

Certainly, not all of  you living off-campus are rowdy, beer guzzling party animals, but some of you do go a overboard.  Let’s be honest with one another.  What we need for you to remember here at DCRA is that there are rules that  you have to follow when you live in off-campus housing as well.  When you live off-campus, you are a District resident, so you have to abide by the same rules as everyone else living in the city–meaning, no ridiculous noise-levels and no trash and debris all over the grounds of your place–among other rules you’ll need to remember.

Make every attempt to be respectful to those living around you and who knows, maybe one of your neighbors will invite you over for a great homecooked meal like mom used to make……okay, maybe that’s not going to happen, but you can dream can’t you?

Support National Campus Fire Safety Month

NationalFireSafety2009

This is an extra special message to all colleges and universities here in the District. Many of you are getting ready for graduation and taking summer courses–maybe even working a summer job.  But, we’d like for you to take a moment to consider supporting National Campus Fire Safety Month, which will officially kick off on September 17th, shortly after many of  you return from summer break.  It runs the entire month of September.  So, start putting your plans together now, including whether you want to host any special events to educate your peers about fire safety.  The summer will have come and gone before  you know it and it’s best to at least have an idea of how you want to honor the month before you leave for break.

This will mark the fifth year of National Campus Fire Safety Month and organizers are making a big push on Capitol Hill.  They are hoping Congress will assist them in urging schools to host fire safety courses for students.  Over 80 percent of the college students who have died in fires have met their end in off-campus  housing.  Daniel Rigby, a Georgetown University student, died in a fire in off-campus housing he was renting back in 2004.  His family and friends have been honoring his life with an annual 5k run and ball for the past five years.

“The value of National Campus Fire Safety Month comes from everyone joining together, both in Washington and across the nation, to make students, parents, schools and communities aware of the importance of fire safety on our campuses,” said Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch. 

This year’s motto for National Campus Fire Safety Month is “Fire Safety — It’s Part of Living” and it couldn’t be more appropriate.  Fire safety is a matter of life and death and DCRA wants the time spent by every student visiting the District for higher learning to be safe and enjoyable.  So, start thinking about how you want to take part in National Campus Fire Safety month and let us know what you guys are doing!  We’d love to partner with you, highlight some of the things you are doing or just support your efforts in general.  Don’t forget to take a look at the wealth of information right here at thisshouldbeillegal.com and let us know if there’s something else you think we should post.  We’d love to hear it.  We will be continuing our own crusade to educate students about fire safety.

Check out the heart-wrenching video below of the father of a Miami University student who was killed in an off-campus house fire back in 2005.  It’s a story no parent should have to tell…..

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.

Run For Rigby, Increase Awareness

race

This weekend, take part in what is becoming a powerful, annual tradition here in the District–  the 5k Run for Rigby and Rigby Ball, started to commemorate the life of Georgetown University student Daniel Rigby.  Rigby died during a fire in a room he was renting in and off-campus house in 2004.  The Friends of Rigby Foundation was  started to honor his memory and to raise “awareness about student safety as well as donating scholarships to the needy to further Dan’s scholarly pursuits and his belief in volunteering to assist the less fortunate.”

This Saturday, the Rigby Weekend festivities will kick off to honor his life five years after that tragic fire.  Here is a snapshot of what you can expect if you want to participate: 

NON-STUDENT:  Combo Run for Rigby + Rigby Ball
Date/Time: 4/4/2009 @ 2pm & 9:30pm respectively
Location: Georgetown Red Square & Union Station Thunder Grill
Price: $85 Buy Tickets Now
Notes: Combo ticket includes both events. 

NON-STUDENT: Rigby Ball
Date/Time: 4/4/2009 @ 9:30pm-12:30am
Location: Thunder Grill @ Union Station, Washington DC
Price: $80 Buy Tickets Now

STUDENT: Combo Run for Rigby + Rigby Ball
Date/Time: 4/4/2009 @ 2pm & 9:30pm respectively
Location: Georgetown Red Square & Union Station Thunder Grill
Price: $75 Buy Tickets Now
Notes: Student tickets will require a valid ID upon check-in.

Combo ticket includes both events.

STUDENT: Rigby Ball
Date/Time: 4/4/2009 @ 9:30pm-12:30am
Location: Thunder Grill @ Union Station, Washington DC
Price: $65 –
Buy Tickets Now
Notes:

Student tickets will require a valid ID upon check-in.

Run for Rigby
Date/Time: 4/4/2009 @ 2pm
Location: Red Square – Georgetown University, Washington DC
Price: $15 –
Buy Tickets Now
Notes: 5K Race through Georgetown U. and surrounding neighborhood.

Ticket fee includes T-Shirt, Fire Safety cup, and GUGS grilled food after the Race.

If you take part in the event, email us some pictures and we’ll post them here!  This is a great cause and every year, a number of students across the country die in fires in off-campus housing. It doesn’t have to happen and raising awareness about students’ rights as renters as well as offering fire safety tips are two of the greatest ways to help prevent these tragedies.