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Buying the Building: Renters Invoke TOPA in Capitol Riverfront

by Shilpi Paul

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The Onyx on First.

Renters at Onyx on First, a 266-unit apartment complex in Capitol Riverfront, are trying to purchase the building before its owners can sell to Equity Residential, reported the Washington Business Journal late Friday.

The renters are invoking the DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA), which gives residents the right to submit a bid for ownership. Onyx on First at the corner of 1st and M Streets SE (map) is currently under contract to sell to Equity Residential for $82.5 million.

The 120 residents who are organizing to purchase the building are worried that Equity would raise the rent and/or reduce the quality of certain aspects of the building, and are exploring options that include converting some or all of the units to condos or finding a new owner.

From the Washington Business Journal:

“We don’t want to become the face of the new displaced in the near Southeast area,” Bolden said. “It’s a great neighborhood, a great mix of people, and we just want to see what our options are.”

In some cases, residents who invoke TOPA are rewarded even if they don’t get to stay in their homes. A few years ago, UrbanTurf wrote about the residents of Garden Towers, a building in the U Street Corridor. When Garden Towers was under contract to sell, TOPA gave the residents bargaining power. With the help of a lawyer, they were able to strike a deal that gave residents a $20,000 buyout option upon leaving.

Onyx on First residents are in the early stages of the TOPA process, having just submitting the paperwork with the city on Friday. Once accepted, they will have 120 days to figure out what they want to do.

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See other articles related to: topa, onyx on first, capitol riverfront, apartments

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/renters_invoke_topa_in_capitol_riverfront/5898

8 Comments

  1. adam said at 11:14 am on Monday August 13, 2012:

    What a destructive and stupid law.

  1. Sean said at 12:31 pm on Monday August 13, 2012:

    Awesome! Equity is not a great landlord…

  1. Crabhands said at 1:07 pm on Monday August 13, 2012:

    Why is law destructive and stupid?

  1. adam said at 1:19 pm on Monday August 13, 2012:

    Because it lets tenants, who don’t own the building, to demand payment whenever the actual owner wants to sell it.  That impedes the ability of owners to sell, which in turn makes it more costly to build in the first place.

  1. Rob said at 2:08 pm on Monday August 13, 2012:

    DC is full of “pro-tenant” laws that make it less attractive to build and own rental apartments.  This is one example, but there are lots of others, including the “affordable housing” laws.  These laws are well-intentioned, but in the long run are really bad for renters.  Because of such laws, rents have to be really high to make it worth building any new apartments—and that’s a big part of why DC has such high rents.

  1. Sean said at 3:44 pm on Monday August 13, 2012:

    DC has such high rents because it’s a pretty recession resistant area where workers are paid quite well in both the government and the private sectors…therefore, the markup on a lot of things (not just housing) is skewed. From the article, it seems like they are just exploring their options…how is that demanding payment. The building is new construction and a class A property so I wouldn’t be surprised if they were legitimate potential buyers.

  1. adam said at 5:02 pm on Monday August 13, 2012:

    I’m not saying that pro-tenant laws are the ONLY reason for high rents in DC.  But they are a reason, and not an insignificant one.  And to see that, just look at NOVA v DC.  Very comparable areas along the orange line corridor have lower rents than in DC.  The only major difference is the legal jurisdiction.

    I’ve seen this law operate in other new class A buildings.  It happened in one of the city vista buildings a couple years ago.  The outcome was that the buyer had to give a few months free rent to everyone in the building.  Every building owner knows that it has a likelihood of getting legally extorted like that, and then has to figure it into financial models, rents, etc.  There’s no free lunch.

  1. jag said at 10:49 pm on Monday August 13, 2012:

    “Very comparable areas along the orange line corridor have lower rents than in DC.  The only major difference is the legal jurisdiction.”

    Uh, false.

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