TOPA Bill Exempting Single-Family Homes Inches Forward

by Nena Perry-Brown

Following a long period of silence after a heated debate, the TOPA conversation is once again continuing in DC. 

On Friday, the DC Council Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization unanimously voted to advance the TOPA Single-family Home Exemption Amendment Act of 2018 to the entire council.

TOPA, which stands for the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, has long been the most potent tool in DC's tenant-friendly arsenal of laws, granting renters the right of first refusal when the owner of their unit or house intends to sell. While the law was initially intended to empower vulnerable tenants to either purchase the property themselves or negotiate other means to retain affordable housing, many homeowners who have undergone the TOPA process with their tenants have found it to be burdensome and potentially exploitative.

The Amendment Act seeks to exempt single-family homes from TOPA in hopes that, with the specter of the law removed, more homeowners will be willing to rent out accessory units at affordable rates. The Act would grandfather in tenants who are elderly and/or have disabilities.

As part of Friday's vote, two amendments were also made to the Act: one to expand the definition of "elderly" to those above the age of 62, and the other to require TOPA notifications for those tenants to be submitted to the Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) so that an OTA representative can make contact with the renter and inform them of their options.

When an exemption bill was first introduced last year, only certain classes of single-family homes were eligible. The committee ultimately decided to exempt all single-family homes in the wake of a study of over 400 instances in which tenants stated intent to exercise their TOPA rights, between October 2009 and August 2015. Out of those cases, only 19 transactions went through; 12 were for condo projects and 7 were of single-family homes. 

The full Council will vote on the bill March 6th.

See other articles related to: topa, tenant rights, dc council

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/topa-bill-exempting-single-family-homes-inches-forward/13607

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