Old Year Hangovers

Dear Readers,

Your Gilbert has been busy with holidays and a virus, so we will just have a quick year-end update of a couple of important city issues.

AS PREDICTED, the pitchfork and torch-wielding masses showed up at the Dec. 11th Takoma Park City Council meeting to complain about some aspect of the proposed rent stabilization reforms. Most of Gilbert’s other predictions came true as well, with the exception that no tears were shed (that could be seen). Landlords said “too little, too late,” and claimed that the reforms, though an improvement, still do not allow them to make a fair return – only getting rid of rent control would do that {See the Reader comment below that was posted to the recent granolapark entry “Fair Return”}. Tenants said the landlords, the corporate landlords, anyway, were liars, citing incidents of negligence, gouging, fraud, and bill padding.

The process staggers onwards. Mayor Porter says she is aiming at, but not promising, finishing up the process by late February or early March. Dr. Barr, the consultant who drafted the reforms, will return in January to tweak them. She assured everyone that there is still time for comment and input.

Also discussed at the Dec. 11 meeting, the last held in 2006, were the city gym funeral arrangements, er . . options. Following up on the previous week’s discussion of three plans, each costing several million dollars more than the city has, the council decided to keep the patient on life-support. Options such as a public forum/charette were suggested, a process similar to that out of which the Carroll Avenue improvement plan came. The main concern was informing every possible constituency. Nobody wants to develop a plan only to have a group of citizens come forth and say “hey,you didn’t ask US about this!”

So, watch for notifications of a public forum soon in the city newsletter and perhaps other venues. The Mayor herself may come banging on your door with an engraved invitation!

–Gilbert

PS. This thoughtful comment deserves to be featured:

My family has been on both sides of the Takoma Park rent stabilization coin. In December 2002 we moved from Florida to Takoma Park into a 2-bedroom apartment, paying $1100 a month plus electric, and $50 each per month for each of our two cats. We resided there four months until we moved to Beltsville where we could afford to purchase a house. We did not know Takoma Park had a Rent Stabilization law.

Fast-forward to May of 2005, when we actually purchased the twin building to the one in which we resided previously. While researching allowable rents on my building, I looked at the record for the apartment we had rented. The allowable rent was something like $680. And of course, at TP Landlord School you learn that pets are only worth $25 per month. So our family was charged almost double the allowable rent and pet fee. AND the city knew about it; in the sense that when that landlord (new to her job) submitted a rent report showing that she was charging me $1100 a month, the city wrote back to her saying that it was wrong. So she simply resubmitted the rent report with the allowable rent filled in. Our rent was not decreased nor were we offered any compensation. The city was satisfied and all was well in the Park. By the time I found out, that landlord was long gone and the building was under new ownership.

We are small investors. We expect a fair return on that investment. As of right now, Takoma Park doesn’t get affordable housing out of our facility because we can’t afford it. In order to pay the mortgage, up keep, and utility fees, we live in our building and rent out one unit at market rate.

I am also an honest and ethical landlord. I would never submit a falsified rent report or break the ordinances of the city. Because the only current option we have is dishonesty, we’ve met with a real estate agent to sell the place and get out of Takoma Park. We‘ll take our ethics and funds and find a more willing host.

There are many ways to address the need for affordable housing in a community. Holding a very few citizens responsible for the welfare many is not fair or reasonable. The current Rent Stabilization Law is unconstitutional (thus prompting the proposal at hand). I do understand that half the population of the city will be affected if rent stabilization in abolished without replacing it with another solution. I believe very strongly that another solution must be found and implemented as quickly as possible. In the mean time, in order to plug the hole in the dike, the city needs to provide immediate relief to owners of small buildings like mine. We would like to be a part of the solution, but time is running out. Small building owners cannot continue to operate with the losses we are forced to endure. Most are selling; many converting buildings to single family homes.

I do hope that we don’t have to wait until the council addresses the full proposal. It would not be difficult at all for them to enact an exemption for small buildings of 3-5 units or less. They could do it quickly for non-profits; they should be able to do it quickly for us.

Posted by: Angie Abraham | December 22, 2006 04:42 PM.

About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.