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!

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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?

Getting Ready for School? DCRA Is Too.

Alright, so you probably don’t need an entire month to get ready before you get back to campus, but DCRA is already getting ready to greet you. We’re getting on the schedules for all ‘Welcome Back’ campus events and will be taking names and addresses for inspections. If you’re planning to live off-campus, chances are you’ve already found a place and hopefully you used our inspections checklist to make sure the place was safe. If you have a few minutes, please either you or your parents do a quick search on the house or apartment you’re renting to make sure the landlord is licensed. If they are listed, that means the unit has been inspected. If they are not, you need to ask them ‘why not?.’ Now is the time to do the homework. It’s not too late to get the place licensed and, most importantly, inspected.

DC Landlords, if you’re renting to students and not licensed, please come see us immediately. Getting licensed and inspected is a fairly simple process and we’ll help walk you through it. It is essential that we get all off campus housing inspected. You can get information on licensing a single home or condo, a basement apartment, or an apartment building on dcra.dc.gov.

Since launching this initiative we has done hundreds of inspections of properties where students contacted us directly. Please take a few minutes while you have the time and make sure you’re safe.

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.