(Washington, DC) On October 1, the Office of the Tenant Advocate (OTA) becomes a fully-independent District government agency.
The DC Council created the Office of the Tenant Advocate in the fiscal year 2006 Budget Support Act of 2005. From its creation in April 2006 until the end of the District government's 2007 fiscal year on September 30, the OTA reported to the director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
The OTA advocates, educates and provides outreach to District residents, specifically tenants. The OTA will fulfill this ambitious mission with a full-time diverse staff of 18.
“The OTA’s advocacy machine works by interacting with neighborhood organizations, nonprofits, tenant associations, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and other groups that focus on decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing in the District,” said Acting Chief Tenant Advocate Johanna Shreve.
“One of the most significant ways we assist renters in the District of Columbia is by ensuring that they have the legal representation required to address their issues,” said Shreve. “We also are developing our capacity as a clearinghouse to direct people to the proper agency or organization when they don’t know where to go for a resolution of their problems.”
A tally of recent phone calls at OTA reveals tenants concerned about rent control and rat and bed bug infestation. OTA staff members spend significant amounts of time on the phone and handling walk-in appointment as they explain District tenant laws and help tenants understand their rights.
As the OTA enters this new stage of independence, it is preparing to roll out three to four major legislative proposals of recommended changes that are needed to ensure that the intent of both the Rental Housing Act of 1985 and the Sales and Conversion act of 1980 provisions are clarified, thus guaranteeing proper protections for tenants seeking an opportunity to become homeowners or assurance that they are treated equitably and fairly in rental housing accommodations.
In the past year, OTA attended more than 40 meetings in every ward of the District working with tenants, organized tenant associations and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The office also spent time fending off illegal and constructive evictions of tenants.
OTA conducts educational workshops covering topics such as:
- The Rent Control Reform Amendment Act of 2006
- The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)
- The ins and outs of residential inspections
- How to complete a tenant petition
The OTA has also sponsored legal clinics so tenants can have access to volunteer legal providers.