Three years ago we had a simple idea: let’s talk directly to students instead of just sending our inspectors out to knock on doors. The hope was that rather than being intimidated by badges, codes and warning letters, students living off campus would start to understand the reason why we are so concerned. We wanted to create a way to interact and ask questions anonymously. We wanted to post ways they could take action themselves. And we wanted to empower them with the tools to educate themselves.
Together we have created the longest running blog in DC Government and had nearly more than 100,000 visitors and were featured in the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Examiner and many many more publications. Yet, our work is not done. So please keep interacting here and via Twitter and keep asking questions, keep checking for licenses and and inspections, and stay safe.
This is my final post as moderator of this blog and it has been a pleasure helping each and every one of you. I have had calls from parents, from landlords, from roommates and neighbors and, in the end, I truly believe the off-campus student housing is safer and students smarter about staying safe. Over the next few weeks, a new moderator or moderators will be taking over, so please be patient during the transition. Thank you all for supporting this “experiment.”
– Mike Rupert
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.
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.
The City of Ann Arbor in Michigan recently passed a ban on having couches on the front porches of homes – specifically targeting college neighborhoods. Why? According to city statistics cited by annarbor.com, there have been 373 fires since 2003 in multi-family residential dwellings in Ann Arbor. Of those, 21 percent “significantly involved” exterior upholstered furniture, either as the origin of the fire or in causing it to spread.
And the Ann Arbor City Council unanimously approved the couch ban recently in response to a fire earlier this year that killed a 22-year-old UM student. Authorities believe the fire was exacerbated by a porch couch. City fire officials have been lobbying the City Council for several years to approve the ban, calling porch couches a well-documented fire hazard. Ann Arbor joins several other college towns with porch couch bans already in place, including East Lansing, Kalamazoo, Mount Pleasant, Ypsilanti, and Marquette in Michigan, as well as Columbus, Ohio, and Madison, Wisconsin.
The District of Columbia does not have a ban on couches on the front porch and unlike Ann Arbor – where nearly all college neighborhood homes have front porches – city data does not show this trend here. But we wanted to bring this issue to your attention and urge caution if you have a couch on the porch or even indoors. If you purchase a couch – new or used – check the label to see how fire retardant it is before buying.
– Mike Rupert, DCRA
DCRA’s outreach team is heading to American University to talk to students living off-campus about safety issues and those living off-campus about what to look for when they decide to leave the dorms. We are now in our 3rd year of this program and we appreciate all of the questions, comments, emails and phone calls. Our goal is to ensure all off-campus student housing is safe. It’s simple. So please, if you suspect your rental has issues, talk to your landlord and if they’re not responsive, call us. We have a ton of information above that can help you. Thanks again.
– Mike, DCRA
And follow us on Twitter if that’s your thing.
Welcome back to DC Students!
September is National Campus Fire Safety month with more than 28 states – and the District of Columbia – issuing proclamations to help bring awareness to unsafe conditions and activities on and off campus.
Five people died in the 2009-2010 academic year, continuing a downward trend that is good news. All of the fatalities occurred in off-campus housing which is where over 80% of the 140 fire deaths since 2000 have occurred.
“With the tragic exceptions of 2006/2007 and 2007/2008, we are seeing a decline in the number of campus-related fire deaths,” said Ed Comeau, publisher of Campus Firewatch. “Each fire is a tragedy, but the fact that fire deaths are dropping is welcome news. While I can’t say for certain what is causing this drop, I have to think it is related to the increased awareness of fire safety by schools, communities, students and parents. I can’t say enough about how much everyone is working to help make their communities and campuses fire-safe.”
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs started this blog and our outreach efforts in 2008 to bring awareness not only to fire safety issues in college housing, but also other building issues and violations that can affect the health of students.
Why should you care?
We know some of you may be hesitant to call the government to have an inspection or to report your landlord. We know this is a difficult decision. And while we highly recommend you see if your landlord has a license (put in your address and you click on licensing) and report any code violations, we have published the list of items our inspectors look for during a basic safety inspection.
You need to ask your landlord some tough questions if you see things that don’t look quite right. If you don’t get the response you were hoping for, contact us if you need help. More contact information is to the left.
We encourage EVERYONE, student or not, to use this information to learn your rights, understand the rules. Please contact us at anytime to get answers to your questions or call 202-442-9557 to schedule an inspection if you have issues with your apartment or home. And do an inspection yourself from time to time, even if your property is licensed.
Before you move into your new apartment for the next school, you undoubtedly want to get that security deposit back as quickly as possible from your last place. So what are the rules landlords and you need to follow?
Under DC law, landlords have up to 45 days from the date the lease ended to either return the security deposit or provide an itemized list of repairs/deductions that were made from the deposit. Having trouble getting your money back? Show them the law. And we’re pasting it below. Notice that if landlords do not make a “good faith” effort and fail to meet the regulation’s timeline, you are entitled to the entire security deposit back. DCRA doesn’t handle disputes between landlords and tenants on security deposit issues, but if you are having problems you should immediately contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate and let them know. They can help.
309 REPAYMENT OF SECURITY DEPOSITS TO TENANTS
309.1 Within forty-five (45) days after the termination of the tenancy, the owner shall do one of the following:
(a) Tender payment to the tenant, without demand, any security deposit and any similar payment paid by the tenant as a condition of tenancy in addition to the stipulated rent, and any interest due the tenant on that deposit or payment as provided in § 311; or
(b) Notify the tenant in writing, to be delivered to the tenant personally or by certified mail at the tenant’s last known address, of the owner’s intention to withhold and apply the monies toward defraying the cost of expenses properly incurred under the terms and conditions of the security deposit agreement.
309.2 The owner, within thirty (30) days after notification to the tenant pursuant to the requirement of § 309.1(b), shall tender a refund of the balance of the deposit or payment, including interest not used to defray such expenses, and at the same time give the tenant an itemized statement of the repairs and other uses to which the monies were applied and the cost of each repair or other use.
309.3 Failure by the owner to comply with § 309.1 and § 309.2 of this section shall constitute prima facie evidence that the tenant is entitled to full return, including interest as provided in § 311, of any deposit or other payment made by the tenant as security for performance of his or her obligations or as a condition of tenancy, in addition to the stipulated rent.
309.4 Failure by the owner to serve the tenant personally or by certified mail, after good faith effort to do so, shall not constitute a failure by the owner to comply with § 309.1 and
309.5 Any housing provider violating the provisions of this chapter by failing to return a security deposit rightfully owed to a tenant in accordance with the requirements of this chapter shall be liable for the amount of the deposit withheld, or in the event of bad faith, for treble that amount.
309.6 For the purposes of § 309.5, the term “bad faith” means any frivolous or unfounded refusal to return a security deposit, as required by law, that is motivated by a fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, dishonest, or unreasonably self-serving purpose and not by simple negligence, bad judgement, or an honest belief in the course of action taken.
DCRA launched a brand new website yesterday and, so far, it’s getting rave reviews.
We’re still adding stuff and cleaning up some links, but it’s a good start.
But the reason for this post is to highlight our new PIVS application, which will allow you to search for whether or not your property is properly licensed, if it has a Certificate of Occupancy, what housing code violations have been issued and what permits and inspections have been done. The database goes back about 6-7 years, but will be a big help for folks.
So go to http://dcra.dc.gov and look for the PIVS icon right at the top under featured services. And let us know what you think. And take a look around the site.