the DC Council banned evictions for unpaid rent bills under $600, part of an omnibus tenant protection bill designed to help tenants find and stay in stable housing.
The legislation protects the rights of anyone applying for rental housing in Washington, DC, anyone already renting a home and facing possible eviction, and anyone with a history of eviction.
Mel Zahndsenior staff attorney District of Columbia Legal Aid Societyexplained that the bill has three separate but related components.
“First, it adds protections for tenants at the time eviction cases are filed,” he told Commercial Observer. “One of those protections is the requirement that landlords, in most cases, have a license to rent residential accommodation when filing for eviction.”
The bill also prevents evictions from being filed for small amounts of money – less than $600 – which applies to 12 percent of cases, according to DCist. It puts in place protections to ensure that tenants actually receive an eviction notice before the case can move forward.
“Second, it forces the court to seal the records of many old eviction cases,” Zahnd said. “Finally, it puts in place protections for tenants when they apply for a new home.”
For example, the rules now require landlords to reveal the criteria they will use to decide who to rent to. It also prevents landlords from relying on information that has no rational purpose other than unlawful discrimination.
Thus, if a tenant has a voucher, which means that the DC Housing Authority will pay much or all of the tenant’s rent, the landlord can’t deny that person housing because of credit issues they had before they got a voucher, Zahnd said.
All three of these were already in effect through emergency and temporary bills, but this new legislation makes these protections permanent.
“We’ve already seen how many of these protections work in practice, and it was important to make them permanent so landlords and tenants had clarity,” Zahnd said. “In the past, frivolous eviction cases sat on tenants’ files for years, preventing them from finding safe and affordable housing in the future. This legislation will give tenants confidence in their rights – both when applying for accommodation and when faced with a possible case of eviction.
The court has already sealed hundreds of thousands of eviction cases based on emergency and temporary legislation that preceded this permanent legislation.
“Now, all tenants who have had those records have the security of knowing that the records of their past eviction cases will remain sealed,” Zahnd said.
Some other jurisdictions have certain components of this law, such as some states and cities that allow automatic sealing of eviction records or limit the information a landlord can rely on when denying a tenant housing, according to Zahnd. .
“Part of the value of this legislation is that it brings all of these best practices together so that they work together as a cohesive whole,” he said.
Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.