Neighborhood groups report Burleith landlords to DCRA

As if Burleith residents weren’t busy enough opposing the 2010 campus plan and admonishing local bars, some are now watching your basement. After two months of sleuthing around the streets of Burleith, a “coalition of neighborhood groups” reported 134 illegal basement rentals to the DC Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs.

Burleith residents, aided by DCRA’s Property Information Verification System, spent eight weeks monitoring other people’s properties. In response to the amateur sleuths, DCRA sent letters to all homeowners on the list requesting explanations. Although homeowners will not assess fines if they voluntarily begin the business licensing process, DCRA will send investigators to the residences that do not respond.

“This effort is in direct response to concerns of neighbors,” Mike Rupert, DCRA communications manager, wrote in a comment on Urban Turf. “[L]ike we have seen in basements across the District—and most publicly when a student at Georgetown died just a few years ago—some of these apartments are unsafe and potentially deadly.”

Last January, the DCRA issued letters to 125 Georgetown-area landlords who allegedly rented their properties without valid licenses.

16 Comments on “Neighborhood groups report Burleith landlords to DCRA

  1. “Parsons was Winston’s fellow employee at the Ministry of Truth. He was a fattish but active man of paralyzing stupidity, a mass of imbecile enthusiasms—one of those completely unquestioning, devoted drudges on whom, more even than on the thought police, the stability of the Party depended.”
    – George Orwell, 1984, Book 1, Chapter 2

  2. What’s to criticize here? This seems like a correct approach to cleaning up the neighborhoods.

  3. Yeah, I agree with Jim. If Burleith residents have too much time on their hands and need to do some sleuthing, I’d rather have them reporting unlicensed landlords than just about anything else.

  4. … so what was wrong with the basements? People aren’t allowed to live in them? I’m checking for a camera in the bushes when I go home to my R Street house tonight.

  5. @proud burleither

    Does that include your own business FOR ONCE IN YOUR BORING LIVES!?!?!

  6. Folks, you are missing the point here. It isn’t about the District collecting some sort of license fee, or neighbors hassling students who rent a house (or space in one) in Burleith or elsewhere. It is about SAFETY.

    Rental accommodations must be inspected for compliance with safety codes in order to be licensed. To understand the importance of this you need only look to the death of GU student Daniel Rigby in 2004. He died in a fire in an unlicensed house in Georgetown. He might be alive today if that house had been inspected and brought up to code. See and for more information.

    I’d recommend that any tenant check to be sure that their property is licensed and, if not, to request the DCRA to perform a safety inspection. It is your life at stake.

  7. Bottom line: If the neighbors are doing this out of a concern for student safety, then we should thank them for their efforts. If they are doing it because it is an easy way to hassle a few students and create more housing headaches, then they should be ashamed for abusing a process designed to protect people from dangerous living conditions.

    That’s all there is to it. We’ll probably never know what their motives are, though I know which of the options I’d bet my money on…

  8. The vox article should first eliminate the word “basement,” since basement rentals were not targeted. The reason being, conditions are generally more safe with an owner-occupant landlord. If you look at the article that Vox pulled this from, it does not mention basement. The 134 number is going after unlicensed group homes. Yes, there are some individuals in the community behind the scenes in trying to improve safety and living conditions for students, but shouldn’t the University be helping the students do this? Also, many many of these landlords are alumni, parents, or someway affiliated with the University. Why does the University not reach out to at least these individuals, and ask them to take better care of their students? Instead, these absentee landlords give it to SHA to manage, and wait for their monthly check. However, this is a systematic problem and the bigger issue is:

    GU students need safe, affordable living conditions and a better overall college living experience at GU. This is not occurring right now. That is not the communities responsibility, but it is the University’s responsibility. The University must operate its business plan within the confines of the DC Comprehensive Plan period. I personally believe the University should offer more safe and affordable on-campus housing in conjunction with reevaluating its alcohol policy. GU is too focused on short term dollars and while its racing to be a top ranked University, it is about to run out of gas. This is understood widely by the community, and not too many residents are going to give students a pass on their behavior in the community, just because the University did not plan better. Good luck to you.

  9. Of course safety is important, so why focus only on rental or group homes? Why don’t the same standards apply to a home with small children or an elderly couple? If you really believe in this cause, why not lead by example, and demand inspections and licenses for all homes?

    The reason for suspicion is based on recent history. In the 1990s, some neighborhood groups tried to create a zoning overlay to drive students out of the area. The Burleith Citizens Association created a map of the neighborhood, supposedly identifying all the student group homes. It didn’t take long to figure out that much of the information on the map was false, even though the BCA was using it to promote its agenda. I wish that everyone could trust the leaders of the BCA, but based on several incidents (including the 1996 voter intimidation effort) we know that often they are dishonest and driven by malice towards students, even if it hurts the neighborhood they claim to protect.

  10. Dear DR Says:

    Sorry, but I flat out reject that many homeowner-occupied want to live in a fire trap or they live in very shoddy conditions. I just do not see it. Take a walk in the hood, and it is fairly clear which are student group houses. Either case, it doesn’t matter what the intention of the Burleith folks are, the real issue is lack of affordable safe and half-way decent living conditions for GU students, and it is time for GU to step it up for its customers by doing this on-campus. Not unless you prefer living in a rat-hole of a place for serious $$, with someone videotaping you, the MPD knocking on your door when you decide to have a group of kids over for drinks, then that is your choice I guess. I do not understand why the students are not pounding on DeGioia’s door over this demanding better living conditions on campus? All these additional grad students coming, and you think rent will not go higher, conditions worse, and just how crowded will that library get? Sincere good luck to your future.

  11. I wish i was there for the meeting when the campus plan group decided to form an alliance with the students against the university. I like it. Soon a mob of neighbors and students will storm the gates and overrun the oppressor.

  12. @ @ hi tim Haha! Yeah, definitely. Because I really want all students, me included, to live on our teeny campus in dorm rooms rather than in my actually quite nice Burleith “rat-hole.” We should have joined forces with the campus group committed to making our lives miserable long ago!

  13. I think the best solution will be for the University to build sufficient housing for all of its students. Who said it had to be dorms? It could be student apartments or other types of housing. The bottom line is that–overall–students are at a different stage of life than many Burlieth homeowners. Students see nothing wrong with having loud parties (and, yes, having 3 or 4 people for drinks with music playing CAN get loud–let’s be honest). On the other hand, someone who is working all week and has small children or an elderly parent to care for probably needs peace and quiet in the evenings and on the weekends. Simply put, these are two different “cultures.” So, for harmony’s sake, it’s probably best for each group to be in the type of housing community that is best suited for it. I don’t think that most students will truly understand homeowners’ concerns for another 10 to 20 years, if (or until) they own a 100-year old rowhouse with cement walls that carry sound from next door, and have to live next door to an unkept, packed rental house full of loud tenants, with guests constantly coming and going.

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