DC Council Advances Single-Family Home Exemption to TOPA

by Nena Perry-Brown

DC Council Advances Single-Family Home Exemption to TOPA: Figure 1
A block that was the site of a TOPA case in 2016.

The TOPA reform debate in DC moved forward this afternoon after the DC Council voted, with one recusal and two "no" votes, to exempt single-family homes from the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

TOPA empowers renters with the first right to purchase their residence when the property owner decides to sell. However, the reality of how the bill works for non-multifamily properties rarely conforms to the narrative of tenants buying the homes where they reside. The TOPA Single-family Home Exemption Amendment Act of 2018 would eliminate the right of first refusal for renters who live in single-family homes.

On Tuesday, Councilmember Mary Cheh introduced an amendment to the bill that would require homeowners to give notice to their tenant(s) of plans to sell within three days of either listing the property or receiving an offer to purchase. This notice would not reinstate TOPA rights, but would be more of an act of courtesy to give the renter an opportunity to purchase. The amendment was accepted by the Council.

The overall conversation about the bill prior to the vote was hardly filled with praise, as Councilmember Brianne Nadeau stated her disappointment that several compromises reached by the working group weren't incorporated in the language of the bill. She consequently introduced an amendment that would allow long-term tenants who have lived in their rental for 10 or more years to retain TOPA rights. The Council voted against the amendment.

Councilmember Elissa Silverman agreed that the bill was one-sided, sharing stories of first-time homebuyers who successfully exercised their TOPA rights. Both Nadeau and Silverman voted against the bill moving forward.

News of the exemption will come as a relief to many homeowners in the city, a sizeable bloc of which shared tales of being taken advantage of by tenants who used their right of first refusal as leverage. UrbanTurf covered one such case in 2016 when a tenant sought to sell her TOPA rights, leading to divided opinion among our readers about whether this was a fair and honest exercise. The buying and selling of TOPA rights was already a business before the single-family exemption debate began, as lawyers began marketing their services to vulnerable renters, usually in order to secure monetary settlements.

The bill will now advance to a final reading and vote before it could pass on to be signed off as law. The vote comes on the heels of the Council's Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization voting last week to advance the amended bill out of committee.

See other articles related to: topa, tenant-friendly, right of first refusal, dc council

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dc-council-votes-on-topa/13650

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