At this week’s Council Legislative Session, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds introduced the “TOPA Accessory Dwelling Unit Act of 2017,” to help insure that the 1980 Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) is continuously used as an effective tool to address the District’s affordability crisis of ever escalating housing costs.
Specifically, the Act will exempt owner-occupied, single family homes with accessory dwelling units from TOPA laws under narrow circumstances.
There must be two dwelling units in the housing accommodation, one of which must contain at least 2/3rd of the total square footage of the housing accommodation, and the larger dwelling unit must be occupied by the owner. The accessory dwelling unit must have all required building and occupancy permits and it must be identified at the District of Columbia Office of the Recorder of Deeds with a single square, suffix, and lot.
DC’s TOPA law is an important tool that has been successful in preventing tenant displacement, maintaining affordable housing options, and promoting home ownership. The 1980 law was created to allow tenants to join together and purchase the housing accommodation to prevent displacement due to a sale, condo conversion or discontinuance of the unit. Single Family homes are seldom purchased by the tenant that resides in the accessory dwelling. Therefore, the law has been shown to have little practical benefit to these tenants.
In single-family homes with one accessory dwelling unit, some tenants have abused the spirit of the law by delaying the sale of the property for up to 6 months and demanding large amounts of money from the owner in exchange for not exercising the TOPA law. This practice has led to a growing cottage industry of “TOPA lawyers” and adds to the overall cost of a single family home sale which is passed to the buyer and decreases affordability. The Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization has reviewed all single-family home TOPA offers of the past several years and found that offers very rarely resulted in tenant purchases.
“Given the significant regulatory burden of potentially postponing a sale, and the very rare use of TOPA by tenants in single-family homes, and even likely rarer use of TOPA by tenants of accessory dwelling units, it is time to make a change,” stated Councilmember Bonds at today’s introduction of the Act. Adding, “I believe this bill strikes the appropriate regulatory balance by carving out a narrow exception to TOPA that applies only to single-family homes with accessory dwelling units under specific conditions.”
The legislation was co- introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson, Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie, Jack Evans, Brandon Todd, David Grosso, Vincent C. Gray and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Charles Allen and Brianne Nadeau.