Thank You To The HOYA for Helping DCRA Reach Students

Georgetown University’s The Hoya had two great pieces highlighting the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) efforts to ensure all rental properties are license and, even more importantly, inspected for safety.

Be sure to take a look at the original story here and the Hoya Editorial Board also wrote a piece here.

We’ve said this many times, but DCRA wants all residents to have safe housing. By requiring a license and making an inspection mandatory before a license is issued, everyone has cleaner, safer homes and neighborhoods.

Students, please talk to your landlord or look up your address yourself and get in contact with us if you feel your rental has violations. Print off our checklist and do a walk-through yourself if you’re hesitant to get the city involved.

posted by Mike Rupert, DCRA

Bethesda Student, One Other Die in Off-Campus House Fire in Colorado

(From NBC 4 – Read Full Story Here)

Twenty-one-year-old Adam Michael Lockard, a former summer employee at City Bikes in the Washington, DC area, was attending Western State College in Gunnison, Colorado. He and another WSC student, 18-year-old Lucy Causley of Harbor Springs, Mich., died in the fire in the 100 block of N. Colorado Street Saturday morning.

An initial investigation indicated the fire started on the outside of the house and spread inside, according to the Denver Post. Officials said they are still trying to determine whether the fire was intentionally set or accidental.

Post by Mike Rupert

Letters Headed to Unlicensed Georgetown University Landlords

We’re going to be sending letters beginning Tuesday to more than 125 landlords around Georgetown University who we believe are operating without valid business license. They will be given 10 days to apply for the license and have their property inspected. We encourage all landlords to come in voluntarily before we have to take enforcement action. More details coming soon.

Update: For Washington Post Story on crackdown CLICK HERE

#snOMG 2009 II – Clear all exits, not just the front door

Just received a message from a fire safety expert that we thought was worth mentioning seperately. It’s important to “shovel out ALL of the exits from a building, not just the front one. Typically, this is not done and when the snow piles up on the back doors and you can’t push them open…you know what happens.”

So please check out the post on the District’s sidewalk clearing rules and call 311 to report any issues. DDOT and DPW are working hard to get streets cleared and get property owners to clear the sidewalks.

– Mike Rupert

#snOMG 2009 – Who’s Responsible for Clearing Snow in DC? DCRA Says It Depends.


The snow is coming down hard this morning and is expected to continue all day, but once it stops, who’s responsible for shoveling the walks and sidewalks at your apartment building, rental house or condo? Well, it depends. In most single family rental leases the renter is responsible for clearing snow. In larger buildings with property managers, they typically handle. And in between, you need to check your lease or just do it yourself. If you do live in a larger building where the landlord is responsible and they’re not doing anything, Send them here. Here are the rules:

Who is responsible for clearing sidewalks?
District law requires property owners to clear snow and ice from sidewalks, handicap ramps and steps abutting their property within the first 8 daylight hours after snow, sleet or ice stop falling. (DC Code, 2001 Ed, § 9-601.) This applies to all property owners – residential, commercial, federal, and municipal. If ice cannot be cleared without damaging the sidewalk, then property owners may spread sand or salt to make the sidewalks safe. (DC Code, 2001 Ed, § 9-604.) Property owners must also clear snow from the ADA-curb cuts. These are part of the sidewalk. Property owners are also asked to clear snow from catch basins and storm drains to prevent flooding during snow melt.

Do other cities require property owners to do this?
Yes

Is there a fine for not clearing the sidewalk?
According to the municipal Code, if property owners fail to comply, the District is required to clear their sidewalks (DC Code, 2001 Ed., § 9-605) and sue the property owners for the cost of clearing the snow or ice plus a $25 fine (DC Code, 2001 Ed., § 9-606).

Add 12/20: DDOT and DPW handle and cite for uncleared sidewalks in public space. Call 311 to report. They will handle as fast as they can.

Let them know now or bookmark this post for the next storm.

ADDITION: If you rent a single-family home or your lease explicitly states that you are responsible for clearing the snow, not your landlord, then you can be cited as well. Be sure to call your landlord or review your lease terms if you are not sure.

– Mike Rupert

DCRA Director Argo Hosting Online Chat on Thursday 12/17

Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Director Linda Argo is hosting an online chat on Thursday, November 17th from noon to 1 p.m. to answer any and all questions you have. If you think you might forget click here and you can sign up for a reminder. Ms. Argo will discuss our new proactive inspections program, heating regulations and anything else you need answers on.

Hope to see you all there.

– Mike Rupert

Mayor Announces Proactive Inspections Progress – Student Housing Included

Mayor Adrian Fenty, along with DCRA Director Linda Argo and Attorney General Peter Nickles, today announced DCRA’s Proactive Inspections program has uncovered more than 5,000 housing code violations in more than 300 buildings across the District. Through the Proactive Inspections program, every multi-family rental property in the District will be inspected over the next four years.

And when we say all rental housing it includes any student rental housing. So if you see notices on your building, don’t be surprised.

Mayor Fenty made the announcement standing outside a property where proactive inspections abated deadly carbon monoxide levels and a potentially explosive gas leak, said the new effort will eliminate loopholes that for decades allowed slumlords to avoid enforcement of the city’s housing codes.

“The program will ensure that all 4,800 multi-family rental properties in the District will be inspected no matter what the situation is inside the buildings,” Fenty said. “The DCRA inspections unit is taking initiative to enforce housing codes, and will dramatically improve the quality of rental housing throughout the District.”

During the first six months of the program, introduced last May, DCRA inspected 741 units in 318 properties across all 8 wards and cited property owners with 5,103 housing code violations. Landlords have varying amounts of time to fix the violations depending on their severity. Failure to fix the problems or pass final inspection will result in notices of violation, fines, and possibly criminal prosecution.

DCRA is on track to inspect an average of 100 buildings per month through 2013. The agency is working closing with tenant advocates and combing its own databases to ensure buildings with a history of violations are prioritized. The program includes automatic referrals for inspections to the DC Department of Health (DOH), as well as to the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), for mold, lead, air quality, rodents and other health and environmental concerns.

The program is the latest in a series of actions taken to preserve safe affordable housing in the District. In April 2008, the city filed a sweeping lawsuit that forced millions of dollars in repairs in some of the most dangerous residential buildings that had been identified by DCRA over the past five years.

Additionally, the at least one property owner was put in jail for failing to abate housing code violations, another was ordered to pay a fine for failing to abate the violations in a timely fashion and two others faced a criminal case.  Three buildings were closed due to property owners failing to maintain them up to code. 

Nickles said the Office of the Attorney is working closely with DCRA to monitor properties in the proactive program and will not hesitate to hold landlords accountable through court action if they fail to respond.

 “We will not hesitate to prosecute recalcitrant landlords to ensure they maintain a safe environment for tenants,” said Nickles.

Nickles said the District will be looking to file a second slumlord lawsuit against those who do not take their responsibilities as landlords seriously.

“Proactive Inspections fills a big hole in the District’s enforcement efforts and will go a long way, once we’ve touched all rental properties, to ensure no tenants have to live in sub-standard conditions,” Argo said. “It’s our intention not just to respond to tenants that ask for our help to ensure that buildings are up to code, but also to get into buildings where tenants might be living quietly in unsafe or deteriorating conditions.”

As part of a targeted outreach effort, DCRA has also distributed more than 5,500 fliers to DCPS schools, apartment buildings, libraries, chartered schools, non-profit organizations, and day care centers in recent month to educate tenants on their rights.

Argo said the proactive inspections program will not replace the current complaint-based system or emergency building-wide inspection program and encourages people to continue to request inspections by calling 311, online at http://dcra.dc.gov, or by emailing dcra.housingcomplaints@dc.gov.

Beginning in October 2009, DCRA began assessing a bi-annual $35 per unit fee up to a $2,000 maximum for proactive inspections. This fee will be included in Basic Business License (BBL) fees and owners will also be assessed $90 per unit for each violation-related re-inspection.

More information on the Proactive Program and a complete schedule of previous and upcoming inspections is available at http://dcra.dc.gov under “Proactive Inspections.”

Switching Apartments Mid-Year? Ask Some Important Questions.

If you are thinking of making a housing switch over the winter break, be careful if you’re using popular online listing sites like www.craigslist.com. While many landlords may be licensed, it is important that you ask to see the license. Unlicensed rentals have not been passed city inspection, may be dangerous and they’re illegal. These sites are great, but what they don’t do is filter. Anyone can post whatever they want without any recourse.

 

The reason the District of Columbia requires landlords to get licensed is that for the license to be approved, the landlord needs to have an inspection of the property. Are there two exits in case there’s a fire? Is there smoke alarms? Does the plumbing leak? Here is a list of just the simple items we look for. You can print and take that list with you when you check out the place.

We know you’ll be in a rush to get into something. But please, please at least ask your potential landlord if he is licensed. Or you can look up all licensed rental properties through our main Website here. There is a guide that shows you what type of rental license you need to be looking for. If your potential apartment isn’t listing, ask the landlord why. Ask him the last time it was inspected. Show him the checklist. This sounds annoying, we know. But you are going to sleep in someone’s house you don’t know and if he can’t answer simple questions, then how he will respond later. Just something to think about.

Landlords: Spaceheaters Cannot be Only Source of Heat in DC

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has received several calls from residents over the past week asking if it is legal for landlords to provide space heaters as the only source of heat. While using space heaters in and of itself is obviously not illegal, the District does not allow them to be the sole source of heat – they were not designed to be.

Without too much code/legal jargon, DCRA interprets the 2006 International Property Maintenance Code and 14 DC MR code is that when the space heater is turned off, the building heating facilities must maintain the minimum prescriptive temperature 68 degrees or 70 degrees. (IPMC 68 degrees F, 14 DCMR 501.2, 70 Degrees F). Here’s the code:

HEATING FACILITIES
602.1 Facilities required. Heating facilities shall be provided in structures as required by this section.602.2 Residential occupancies. Dwellings shall be provided with heating facilities capable of maintaining a room temperature of 68°F (20°C) in all habitable rooms, bathrooms and toilet rooms based on the winter outdoor design temperature for the locality indicated in AppendixD of the International Plumbing Code. Cooking appliances shall not be used to provide space heating to meet the requirements of this section.

Space heaters are not designed, per their listing, to be capable of maintaining room temperature in a dwelling. Space heaters are not to be confused with permanent wall mounted electric baseboard heating, when installed with a thermostat, and according to code, is accepted means of heat. So essentially, using a space heater to be the main source of heat is not that much different than using your stove in terms of how we enforce the law.

Many municipalities outright amend their codes to state “Space heaters shall not provide the minimum heat requirements in a dwelling…”. We rely on the interpretation of heating facilities, and that space heaters are not designed to heat an entire dwelling unit.

If you live in a rental unit using only space heaters this winter, we highly reccomend you contact your landlord and explain this to them. If they are not responsive, call 202-442-9557 or email us and schedule an inspection ASAP. 

Here are some other Winter Heating Safety Tips:

Electric Space Heaters
Keep space heaters 3 feet form furniture, bedding, clothing, walls or other things that burn. Use only heaters that have been tested and approved by U.L. or another respected testing lab. Make sure your space heater has an automatic shut-off feature for tip-overs. Do not use heaters that have worn or frayed cords or plugs. Use electrical outlets conservatively. Remember that overloaded circuits can cause fires. Never use kerosene heaters inside a house.

Fireplace & Woodstoves
Have your chimney inspected by a professional annually and have it cleaned as needed. Always use a fire screen. Spark arresters are required. Never leave children unattended around a fireplace or woodstove. Be sure the fore is out before going to bed or away from the house. Never burn trash, Christmas paper or trees in your fireplace or woodstove. When cleaning out the ashes, place them into metal containers only, and dampen slightly. Never store discarded ashes inside or adjacent your home. Woodstoves require a 36″ clearance form combustible surfaces. Woodstoves should be U.L. approved and installed pursuant to all applicable codes.

Electric Blankets
Follow manufacture guidelines regarding proper use, maintenance and replacement. Never leave the blanket on high for any exceeded period. Never bunch or wad the blanket up, or fold it in a heap. Turning you blanket off when you turn your alarm off is a simple, safe habit. Upon rising, smooth the blanket out flat to avoid concentrating the heat. Small children, invalids or the elderly should never use electric blankets because these persons have decreased abilities to sense high heat.

Kitchen Stoves & Ovens
Never use kitchen burners or the oven as heating devices. Remember that an electric burner, left on for extended periods, can reach a temperature of 1000 degrees, and can cause adjacent walls to ignite.

Tips Courtesy of Pierce Township, Ohio.

DC Colleges Must Provide Detailed Report on Fire Incidents

For the first time, students and parents will have access to detailed information about fire-related incidents, prevention measures and other fire safety information for the District of Columbia’s many colleges and universities after the U.S. Department of Education published final regulations for the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know provisions of the Higher Education Opportunity Act signed (The regulations can be downloaded from www.campus-firewatch.com). 

Starting in October 2010, schools with student housing will be required to annually report fire safety information to the U.S. Department of Education, including:

  • The number of fire-related fatalities and injuries
  • The number of fires and the damage they cause
  • Fire safety features of the residence halls including automatic fire sprinklers and fire alarm systems
  • Fire safety education provided to students

If your apartment of off-campus house does not have smoke alarms or has other safety issues, please call 202-442-9557 and schedule a safety inspection immediately.