According to the Ministry of Housing and Communal Development, voluntary agreements are rare. The city receives between 10 and 30 such petitions each year (including some detached houses), which represents between 0.4 and 1 per cent of all buildings covered by the Rent Control Act (Figure 2). Of the 167 petitions that tracked a result, 80 per cent of voluntary agreements were approved, about 5 per cent were rejected and 15 per cent did not make progress. With future rent increases – and on average around $1500 – landlords are trying to encourage existing tenants to undress from their properties. Since 2006, 240 voluntary agreements have been signed, representing $6 million in additional rental income for property owners of 6,000 rent-controlled units. While voluntary agreements are not illegal, their use to remove a unit essentially from rent control is effectively a loophole that is not what was intended as the D.C. The Council first introduced the application of voluntary agreements. The events at Harvard Hall — a 156-unit building east of Rock Creek Park and the National Zoo — illustrate the shortcomings of rent protection. As we learned the hard way, the combination of difficult case requests and voluntary agreements puts tenants in an unpleasant position to forego future accessibility in order to protect themselves from large rent increases. If we decide not to sign, Akelius could submit a petition on the difficult cases, another loophole in the rent control law. This loophole allows landlords to sustainably increase rents to obtain a return of 12% on their investment.
Unlike a voluntary agreement, a hardship petition does not offer protection to current residents. Loopholes in voluntary agreements have britting consequences. Our experience at Harvard Hall is not limited to Harvard Hall. This can happen in any rental-controlled building where tenants decide to pursue a TOPA deal that destroys DC`s affordable housing stock. To protect current and future tenants, we need to reform and strengthen our rental stabilization laws. Hernandez says those who signed the voluntary agreement for his building in 2012 had no idea what they approved of, as they couldn`t really read the document and couldn`t afford to pay their rent after they went into effect. `In this Community … We have no idea what these changes mean for us,” he says. “It`s certainly easier to draw yourself to non-English-speaking tenants and those who don`t understand what they`re giving up when they sign the voluntary agreements,” Cohn says. The Reclaim Platform Rent Control Coalition would address in part the failures of the voluntary agreement process.
You can read the full platform here and sign a petition here in favor of a more expansionary rent stabilization law. (GGWash joined the coalition last month.) But one aspect was clearly not negotiable. Both potential buyers made it clear that we need to sign a “70% voluntary agreement”. This loophole in the Rent Control Act allows landlords to increase future rents beyond the rent-controlled level if they have the agreement of 70% of tenants….