Coronavirus in DC Area

DC Renters Organize for Tenants' Rights During Pandemic

Residents of DC's Tivoli Gardens are asking landlords to cancel rent

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More people than ever are struggling to pay rent. In one D.C. apartment building, tenants are organizing to ask the landlords to cancel rent during the pandemic.

Residents at Tivoli Gardens, an apartment building in Columbia Heights, are passing around a petition to cancel rent while the pandemic ravages local economies and puts many out of work.

“I’m laid off just like the rest of my team,” said Simone Jacobson, a restaurant owner and resident of Tivoli Gardens. “I’m unable to pay my rent for the first time in ten years.”

The owners of Jacobson’s building told News4 they are waiving late fees, taking partial payments and are willing to work out agreements with people who can’t pay.

Jacobson said that even when the pandemic is over, people will still have trouble with rent.

“Even when the crisis is over — which none of us know when that is — we won’t be able to pay three, four months,” she said. “I know I can’t.”

D.C. has put in place rules to help tenants during the pandemic: evictions are on hold, utilities can’t be shut off and landlords are encouraged to develop individualized payment plans with tenants. However, renters will still be on-the-hook for rent payments owed from pandemic months.

“Even during hardship, the expectation is that the tenant will repay that rent at some point in time,” said Anne Venezia, acting housing director in Arlington County. Venezia said that if tenants cannot work out an agreement with their landlord, they can go to the human rights commission in their city or county.

Whether they can make rent or not, many are concerned about whether they’ll be notified if someone in their building is diagnosed with COVID-19. Because of HIPAA, landlords are not required to notify tenants if someone is diagnosed, however residents are required to self-report if they do contract the virus.

Back at Tivoli Gardens, Jacobson is leading the charge as neighbors try to communicate and organize while socially distant.

“I’ve been getting a call every hour on the hour from a different neighbor in English and Spanish saying, ‘I’ve lost my job, I cannot pay, how are we gonna do this together?’” Jacobson said.

News4 reached out to Tivoli Gardens’ owners, The Donaldson Group, to ask how they’ll respond to the petition. This was their response:

Aimee,

Thank you for reaching out.

We understand that times are tough for a lot of people right now due to the COVID-19 epidemic. We are waiving late fees and suspending all evictions and legal actions through the end of the month, offering to take partial payments, and are reimbursing all of our residents for any credit card, debit card, or check fees they may incur by paying their rent remotely to ensure social distancing. These benefits are for all of our residents, regardless of how the COVID-19 outbreak may have effected [sic] them. We have proactively communicated these modified policies to our residents often, in print and electronically. We’ve also offered a community resource guide to residents that lists organizations that may assist them in their time of need.  

It is very important to us that we strictly adhere to Fair Housing law in all of our programs, so we are awaiting further guidance from the federal government regarding the recent housing legislation that has been enacted as well as pending legislation which is supposed to have additional resources for housing providers. Once we have clear guidelines for offering rental work out agreements for those who have been negatively affected by COVID-19, we will be working with any of our residents who have not been able to meet the payment terms of their rental contract. All of our residents have the opportunity to put in a request for a work out agreement if they cannot pay their rent by the end of April.

Stay Safe!

Angelique M. Wheelock, PhD | Senior Vice President of Operations

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