Rahm's Illegal Apartment

I'm not sure where to begin with this. In case you haven't heard, there's a "scandal" going around about how Obama's Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is living in a basement apartment that doesn't have a proper Certificate of Occupancy. This little factoid was apparently discovered by a private investigator, who did a quick search of DCRA records. Which, by the way, you can do yourself!

Now, the first reaction views this as a political issue, saying "if this is the worst you can find on this guy..." so on and so forth. The other reaction that I have seen is one of disregard for having a proper C of O for a basement apartment. I've seen a lot of comments along the lines of "everyone in DC does that" or "it's a rite of passage to live in a crappy basement apartment in DC."

My reaction is thus: I am sure there are bigger things to be dug up on Rahm. While I respect him as a former Congressman and White House Chief of Staff, I am sure he has skeletons in his closet. That's beside the point. However, unlicensed and thus unregulated landlords are a problem in the city. A big problem.

While Congresswoman DeLauro is not a slumlord, there are many who rent unlicensed and unsafe apartments to low income people, families, and students. Back when I was in college, a student died in his basement apartment that was in violate of fire/occupancy codes.

DC has made some attempts to educate renters, and created the site thisshouldbeillegal.com to help inform people of their rights. While this was mostly designed for students, personally I urge anyone who rents to check it out.

While this whole DCRA Twitter thing is pretty dumb, I'm actually not completely enraged by the response the DC government has shown towards this problem. I only hope that this stupid non-scandal won't hurt the cause of getting landlords to be properly licensed. One of the few things I don't hate about DC is the strong advocacy for tenants' rights.


  1. That is pretty sad. The White House chief of staff does not get paid enough to afford to live somewhere decent?

    Actually - it is kind of funny.

    By the way, all these "investigators" will not find anything bigger because the people who are paying them have probably done the same thing - if not worse.

    But hey - at least the other side suddenly thinks that investigations and oversight are a good thing. Lets see if that holds up when Karl Rove is called up to testify......

  2. Back in the 1960s, my family occupied the 1st, 2nd and 3rd floor of a home off of 16th Street NW.

    The owner/landord/super lived in the basement.

  3. "One of the few things I don't hate about DC is the strong advocacy for tenants' rights. "

    ...!!!What!?! You hate things about DC!?! I can't tell lately.

  4. Wait a minute, Rahm lives in a basement apartment? I don't know if I believe that...

  5. Oh don't worry, I'll have some nice Photoshop mashups and ALL CAPS RANTS about DC soon enough.

    And yes, he does live in a basement apartment... at least for now. That was his DC residence while he was a Congressman... he's looking to buy a real house now that he's full-time staff.

  6. "However, unlicensed and thus unregulated landlords are a problem in the city. A big problem."

    Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be a successful property manager/landlord in DC while adhering to the letter of the law? Did you know that a tenant can move into an apartment, not pay a dime of rent, and you can't legally throw them out for 6 months? Do you have any idea how often tenants take advantage of these laws you like so much?

    Sure, there are bad landlords. SO DEAL WITH THEM. Don't make the 99.9% of the rest of people who are just trying to rent a basement or bedroom suffer for the sins of a few, with draconian laws and enforcement.

    This is the same old story. We make more laws and make a big show of cracking down on the little guys, the easy targets, who really aren't the problem. Meanwhile the real offenders continue to get away with murder.

  7. Rusty, is that you? Didn't you get the memo? People don't propose solutions on your blog anymore, or engage in self righteous displays of activism.

    They just whine and cry. And then whine and cry some more.

  8. Jamie,

    Yes, I do know about the process for evicting tenants. A friend of mine who is a property manager would tell me stories of having to call the U.S. Marshals to evict people (since there's no Sheriff's Department in the District).

    There are a lot of landlords that are unlicensed and make a ton of money in this town. As gentrification spreads, so does this problem. Someone rents a house that's a death trap for $5000/mo in Georgetown, Burlieth, Glover Park, and now I'm sure Columbia Heights, Petworth, etc.

    I'm sorry, but if you want to collect $5000 a month on a house, or $1800 a month for a basement apartment, or even $1000/mo for a house somewhere else, I don't think it's too much to ask that they apply for a license and have an inspection.

  9. Gosh, I wouldn't suppose anybody buys a condo with an owner-occupant mortgage, lives in Virginia, rents without a business license, gets the homestead deduction, and fails to pay any income tax on the rental income. Nah, that would never happen. If it did, Marion Barry-appointed regulators and tax collectors would be all over it.

  10. My landlord didn't clear ice from the sidewalk. Should the fallen injured pizza man sue him for his neglect, or me for ordering the pizza and endangering him?

    Why is this even posted if you're so impressed by DC's valiant actions in defense of vulnerable tenants?

    Black Jesus lives at 16th and Penn. Why does his top worker live in a cave all the way down on the hill?

  11. It's posted because I wanted to post it.

  12. It's posted because I wanted to post it.

    --I like your attitude. I mean, it comes down to who's top and who's bottom. Like Obama told the republican congressman. "I won."

  13. Dave,

    Thanks for the kind words on thisshouldbeillegal.com. We have made some huge strides and glad you noticed. We're not perfect, but we're getting much better. Gave you a hat tip today in the most recent post on Mr. Rigby and upcoming events in his honor. http://thisshouldbeillegal.com/2009/02/05/two-great-ways-to-raise-awareness-on-rental-housing-safety/
    Twitter isn't for everyone, but we're doing everything we can to improve communication. I won't bore your readers with stats, but anyone can email me with questions, comments or rants anytime and I'll do my best to help. It's michael.rupert@dc.gov. Thanks again.

    Mike Rupert, DCRA

  14. Are you guys seriously writing posts about this nonsense? Let's be real. having a C of O doesnt mean shit. You can apply and receive a C of O without having an inspection in some cases. I think you are more so referring to a basic busines license for residential rentals. Which more protects the landlord than the tenant in the case of eviction and so forth. I mean come on.....is that all they got?

  15. Mr. Rupert,

    A. Please addess publicly the pizza delivery question from the anonymous poster above.

    B. Once you do, please let that be your last post here. You're a total buzzkill.

  16. Little Guy,

    Talk to your parents (the "landlord"). Maybe if they take away your phone for a month, the pizza man will settle for a portion of your allowance. (But no more pizza to your addess [sic].) Meanwhile, we'd be grateful if they would suspend your computer privileges.

  17. "My landlord didn't clear ice from the sidewalk. Should the fallen injured pizza man sue him for his neglect, or me for ordering the pizza and endangering him?"

    Tenants are responsible for clearing the ice from their own sidewalks, not the landlord. Did you think you were renting a hotel?

    Tenants must also take out their own garbage and wipe their own asses, FYI.

  18. The landlord could be cited for failure to clear the sidewalks if he didn't clear it within 8 hours after the storm. It's up to pizza to decide to sue or not, that a civil court issue. As for "buzzkill," well, sorry. Helping when people are complaining about not getting help or service ruins your "buzz"? Easy to say when your anonymous ...

  19. DCRA, check your own web site. The law specifically identifies that the person in control of the building -- not the owner -- is responsible. So if you are living in a rental house, the tenant, not the landlord, is almost certainly responsible.

    I have lived in rental houses for many years in DC and we always knew we had to clear our own sidewalks. It is almost always written in your lease too.


    “It shall be the duty of every person, partnership, corporation, joint-stock company, or syndicate in charge or control of any building or lot of land within the fire limits of the District of Columbia, fronting or abutting on a paved sidewalk, whether as owner, tenant, occupant, lessee, or otherwise, within the first 8 hours of daylight after the ceasing to fall of any snow or sleet, to remove and clear away, or cause to be removed and cleared away, such snow or sleet from so much of said sidewalk as is in front of or abuts on said building or lot of land.”

  20. Jamie,
    I'm Mike from DCRA. You're right. If you're a sole renter of a house, you're mostly likely responsible for keeping the sidewalk clear, keeping grass down, etc. and could be held liable, definitely if its in your lease. But for multi-unit houses, apartments or big buildings, the landlord or property manager is responsible, unless some other agreement or stipulation in the lease.

  21. This thread is why I hate DC bitches.

    My God, what's next, a panel discussion on channel 16 featuring a high-octane roundtable of city bureaucrats discussing the meaning of "in charge or control of any building?"

  22. @Anon, excellent point. In fact it would make a good Why I Hate DC topic. At the same time you can hardly blame us, since this blog apparently has been hijacked by teletubbies who keep managing to find the silver lining, when we really didn't here for tea and crumpets. Many of the recent posts would be much better suited for a blog called "Why I Love DC".

    I mean he ends the post with "I'm actually not completely enraged...?" Then what the hell did you post here for?

  23. "Black Jesus lives at 16th and Penn. Why does his top worker live in a cave all the way down on the hill?"

    It sounds as if you think Jesus of Nazareth was white. Is that the case? Do you think he spoke English and drove a Chevy, too?

  24. You're all missing the big picture.

    There's a pizza man with a cracked skull to worry about.

    Jim Graham's organizing a candle light vigil as we speak . . .

  25. Zah?

    Jesus was Jewish, spoke Aramaic, and drove a Crown Vic.