Unequal Opportunity

A savvy lawyer continues to slide through a loophole in the D.C. Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, preventing longtime apartment residents from becoming homeowners at the time of sale.

"Thanks to a tenant-friendly provision in D.C. law, [the day the tenants could buy] appeared to have come in early 2001, when one of their building's owners...sold her 50 percent share to an investor...The tenants learned about the sale two weeks later, when Lee offered to sell his share to the tenants for nearly five times what he had just paid. The tenants thought that the transaction...should have triggered their right to buy, a right guaranteed by the District's Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA)."

But it didn't. Instead, "the arrangement sailed through the offices of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), the agency entrusted with enforcing TOPA. As long as the transaction didn't convey 100 percent of the property, according to the agency, the tenants were out in the cold."

"Dozens of times since 1987, [one lawyer] has assisted landlords in minimizing their obligations under TOPA, usually through a loophole that has come to be known as the '95/5' sale, in which a seller transfers around 95 percent of a property and retains the remainder."

Full Story: The Painmaker

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