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D.C. Council Approves First Changes To City's Year-Old Eviction Ban

The D.C. Council during a July 2019 meeting on the Comprehensive Plan amendments.

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to allow the first exceptions to the moratorium on evictions put in place at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The bill, which passed by a 12-1 vote, allows landlords to evict tenants who are deemed by a judge to be dangerous to their neighbors, The Washington Post reports. The lone vote in opposition was Council Member Janeese Lewis George, who represents Ward 4 and was elected last year.

The measure was passed as emergency legislation, meaning it will now go directly to Mayor Muriel Bowser's desk, DCist reported

Landlords would be able to proceed with an eviction if a judge decides the tenant represents a "current and substantial threat" to other tenants or building managers. Such a threat would include tenants found illegally possessing a firearm or threatening violence. 

D.C. implemented its eviction moratorium in March 2020, and national experts have said it is one of the most rigorous bans in the country. The bill's passage comes after landlord groups have called for changes to D.C.'s eviction moratorium for several months. 

The bill was supported by the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington, the Small Multifamily Owners Association and the mayor's Rental Housing Strike Force. 

D.C. Legal Aid attorney Beth Mellen, a tenant advocate, told DCist that she opposed the bill, but said it was narrow enough that it is unlikely to lead to a large number of evictions. SMOA CEO Dean Hunter told Bisnow the bill's overwhelming support among council members indicates how narrow its eviction exceptions are. 

"It's long overdue," Hunter said. "It will provide relief to hundreds of small landlords, property managers and tenants, but it's a small step in the right direction."

Hunter said he still wants to see more changes to the eviction moratorium. He said he plans to push for the moratorium to be fully lifted for landlords of single-family houses and small apartment buildings, which he defined as under 20 units. He said these landlords tend to be small, private owners rather than companies with more financial backing. 

"We believe we should have full access to the courts for single-family and small apartments," Hunter said. "The objective is to prevent a tsunami of evictions by slowly granting access to the courts in this manner."

The District's eviction moratorium is set to run until 60 days after the end of D.C.'s public health emergency declaration, which the mayor extended last month to May 20. 

Landlords have also been prevented from raising rents on apartments during the public health emergency. Council Member Brooke Pinto, who was elected last year to represent Ward 2, proposed a bill that would allow landlords to increase rents on vacant units, while also providing protections for renters who have suffered hardship from the pandemic. The bill failed by a 7-6 vote. 

Hunter was upset that the council voted against the measure, and said he is going to continue to push for the rent freeze to be lifted. 

"The fact that they voted against allowing landlords to raise rents on vacant units demonstrates the hostility of the council to housing providers," Hunter said. "No one is harmed by allowing rent to be raised on vacant units. It is insulting, insensitive, and it demonstrates an ignorance of what it means to be a small landlord and run a small business."