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Facing a Surprise Rent Hike? Ask A Lawyer

Question: I just received a notice from my landlord that he has filed a hardship petition and intends to double my rent. What should I do?

Your first step is definitely to request legal advice. Hardship petitions involve complex legal and accounting issues that may be unwise to tackle on your own. Below is a synopsis of the issues involved and some recommendations for assistance.

District of Columbia housing providers are permitted to file rent ceiling adjustments or “hardship petitions” with the Rent Administrator, provided they have not filed a hardship petition – or a rent increase – in the past nine months. Current law allows them not only to request a rent increase that will provide a 12 percent return, but to charge current renters the proposed higher rent while they await the Rent Administrator’s decision. So yes, it is possible that your landlord could legally – and immediately -- double your rent.

The District Council is considering legislation call the “Rent Increase Amendment Act of 2010 (Bill 18-548) that would prohibit housing providers from raising the rent before a hardship petition has been approved by the Rent Administrator, but there is no prospect for immediate relief.

That said, certain tenants may be able to fight hardship petitions by filing petitions of their own with the Department of Housing and Community Development. For instance, tenants whose apartments have serious repair issues, known as housing code violations, cannot be asked to pay higher rent while these problems exist. And low income tenants who are elderly or have disabilities receive special protections under DC rent control statutes that may limit the amount their rent can be increased.

The key to determining your own best options is, again, to get good legal assistance. If you are 60 or over, contact the AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE) Hotline at 202-434-2120. If you are under 60, call Bread for the City at 202-265-2400 or the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia at 202-628-1161.

 

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