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D.C. Bill Combats Health Emergency Housing Crisis

The District of Columbia released revisions of the newly enacted legislation that temporarily prevented landlords from amassing housing costs.

On May 5, an initial foreclosure moratorium was put in place, and the revised Coronavirus Omnibus Emergency Amendment Act enacted on May 13 offered a pause on monthly payments for commercial and resident property owners and tenants alike, with available deferment plans and forbearance options, with a minimum of one year repayment.

“It allows for folks to request a forbearance or a deferment, so to speak, of making those payments to a later date. And it also means that you won’t be charged penalties or late fees during this time period if you have the forbearance,” said Deborah Cuevas Hill, senior staff attorney for tenant advocacy and support practice at Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE).

The signed bill is retroactive to the city’s public health emergency, instructing that no convictions be filed on behalf of landlords from March 11 until 60 days after the state emergency is lifted.

“What we found is rent increases can really have a huge impact on seniors because they already have a limited income to begin with,” said Daniel Palchick, another LCE senior staff attorney for tenant advocacy and support practice. “So the fact that there is a rent freeze, while it doesn’t single them out, it does create that extra layer of protection.”

Provision guidelines permit eligible residents to request a 90-day period of deferment on principal and interest payments, while additionally expanding the network of landlords who qualify to provide payment arrangements to tenants, nondiscriminatory towards the number of properties owned.

“It does help everyone across the board because it’s a moratorium on anyone who is living in their home, and can’t be foreclosed on during this time period covered by the legislation, regardless of when you fell behind,” Hill said. “What it does is further having folks be able to stay in their home and stay safe and not have to conduct business during the pandemic.”

District courts have suspended all hearings, announcing the date of reopening slated for June 19. LCE attorneys highly advise District residents to continue to pay their contracted lease or mortgages to the best of their ability granite circumstance, to avoid potential eviction orders post the bills’ grace periods.

“I want to make this clear: rent is still due,” Palchick said. “So, there’s not a right to not pay your rent. It’s still an obligation to make that payment. But if you’re suffering some type of hardship, and it is difficult for you to pay your rent, then you do have this right to a payment plan.”

The LCE encourages District residents, particularly those 60 and older, to immediately report any violations, such as refusal of a payment plan, by their current landlord.

“You can file a tenant complaint with the rent administration. There is some power that the tenants possess,” Palchick said.

The D.C. Council is set to hold another legislative meeting on June 9, which could potentially further opportunities for greater advocacy and protections proposed to remedy the virus-induced housing crisis.

“If other legislation is needed at that time, there is an opportunity for advocacy,” Hill said. “LCE and other legal aid of D.C. advocated strongly for this moratorium, and we’re happy to see it in place and that folks can be rest assured that during this time period they can’t be evicted, and their homes can’t be foreclosed on.”

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