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The CHAIRMAN. Has the District of Columbia fire department had occasion to call your attention to poor lighting of parts of your building?
Mr. Low. That is the point I mentioned. Since this agitation about rents, they are apt every day to steal bulbs, and the Fire Department advised me, because the flares were being stolen, to put a guard on every bulb so that they would not be stolen. I am simply helpless. I can not do anything. They smash a light and make a complaint about it. They plug up the plumbing system and notify the department we are giving poor service.
Those are actual occurrences.
Representative STALKER. About what net interest do you desire to obtain on these investments?
Mr. Low. I should imagine that the net return on an investment in apartment house property should be about 8 per cent, or even a little better, for the reason that it is a very troublesome, worrisome, and dangerous business. It is a type of business, where in the middle of the night, the janitor may call you, to tell you that the boiler has exploded and we hop down and fix it. While our tenants were busy talking about us on Christmas and New Year's days, we were down fixing boilers and pulling towels out of the plumbing system.
Representative STALKER. Have you any amendment that you could offer which would allow a landlord to evict an undesirable tenant ?
Mr. Low. Well, I take it you mean that if this particular bill is passed you want to put in some provision to enable the landlord to put out an undesirable tenant? I think the suggestion has been made before, that if the rent is to be fixed anyhow it does not matter who the tenant is. I mean that there can be no purpose in having a landlord simply maliciously picking on the man.
Representative STALKER. I understood you to say that you felt you were entitled to about 8 or 10 per cent net on your investment.
Mr. Low. I did not say 10 per cent. I said 8 or a little better. Representative STALKER. I think it is fair at 6 or 8 per cent.
Mr. Low. I do not believe that 6 per cent is a fair return in the apartment-house business. As I said, it is a very troublesome business. It is pictured generally, as some of the tenants have pictured it to me, in these words: “ You sit in a nice chair and as the tenant comes in you ‘ball him out' a little.”
If you are going to conduct an apartment house efficiently, you have got to be down in the cellar more than in the office, and I think it is a business where you have to worry about conditions 24 hours a day, and it is dangerous in that apartment houses very often depreciate in value. You are apt to lose your investment quite often, and you are not entitled to a better return than from an ordinary business.
The CHAIRMAN. I understood you to make the statement.in reading your testimony that the Rent Commission had fixed the rents in many instances at a higher rate than you thought proper?
Mr. Low. Yes.
The CHAIRMAN. Have all the rents, so far as you know, fixed by the Rent Commission been reasonable rents, so far as the return on the property is concerned?
Mr. Low. They have not, sir. I read to you part of the opinion of the court of appeals in connection with this Clifton Terrace, and I might point out that the case that happens most generally is this: The commission will take up a building and fix a gross return and then apportion that return over the individual apartments and do it so haphazardly that—well, either they have not the time or they have not the specific knowledge to attend to the individual details. They will make some rents top-heavy and others very low, with the result that your low apartments are all taken and you can not get the rent out of the higher ones.
The CHAIRMAN. The testimony presented by the assessor is to the effect that the Rent Commission has fixed the values of properties unreasonably high.
Mr. Low. I personally have never found that accusation to be true. What he may have meant is that, based on his assessments, the figures of the Rent Commission were high, but it is current knowledge in all cities that the assessor's figures are very low and far under the selling price and the actual value of the building.
The CHAIRMAN. The tax assessor declared to us most positively that he set it at full value. It has always been understood that it is not over two-thirds.
Mr. Low. I would like to see the assessor try to buy some of the buildings at his value.
The CHAIRMAN. I do not think he gave the itemized figures in his statement, but he gave a long list of the assessed values and the valuations placed upon those buildings by the Rent Commission, and in many of the cases the sale prices of those properties since, and almost invariably the Rent Commission's valuation was above the amount for which they sold and while there were a few where that was not so, the fact is that as to the majority of them, they were higher than the assessed value and I think that in about 90 per cent of them where sales had been made the values fixed by the Rent Commission were above the actual selling price.
Mr. Low. I see. I might say, Senator, that the element of time is very important in connection with all these figures. The last two, three, and four years have shown so many radical changes in values; the market has been fluctuating so rapidly that a figure which was good a year ago might be worthless to-day.
The CHAIRMAN. I would like to state that he states that up to 1915 there was really a fixed valuation on property but that to-day it is very difficult to get fixed valuation, and in his itemized statement, in another column, he gives also the valuation in 1915 of such of those buildings that were in existence at that time.
Mr. Low. That is exactly so.
Mr. Low. I might say, too, that the assessors, like all people who deal with a fixed quantity year in and year out, do not like to be dislodged suddenly from their opinion about values. They are like the people who had German marks when they were worth 20 cents and, inside of a fortnight to have them shoot down to nothing is something they could not realize; and yet that is what has happened with real property. The replacement cost has shot up so rapidly that it is hard to keep pace with it, and that is all the
difference between success and failure in this particular line of business.
The CHAIRMAN. Has not the assessor in his valuation tried to fix a valuation that he thought fair if properties would come down to a natural level!
Mr. Low. That is exactly what I imagine that he has tried to do, but the question arises, what is this natural value going to be? I should venture to say that 90 per cent of the real estate people will probably agree with the assessor on what the future will bring about, but I personally am not at all sure that their opinion is correct. We are living in a very strange age and I do not think that anyone can give us any definite light on the future, and it is up to every man to form his own opinion.
Representative STALKER. I shall not insist on your answering this unless it is satisfactory to you. Are you able to-day, under present conditions, to make 8 per cent net on the property?
Mr. Low. If you mean 8 per cent on what we consider to be the fair value of the buildings, I will say no.
Representative HAMMER. Eight per cent at the value fixed by the Rent Commission?
Mr. Low. We won't make more than one-half of one per cent.
Representative HAMMER. There is one matter that I wanted to correct. I said there was no complaint about the Plaza. I was mistaken about that. A report has been made to the Rent Commission that 98 per cent of the apartments complained about
Mr. Low (interposing). That is absolutely not so.
Mr. Low. Well, let us take their own testimony. Mrs. Shoemaker says her rent was increased from $60 to $80. As a matter of fact, it was not that much.
Representative HAMMER. That is 3312 per cent.
Mr. Low. Incidentally, as I say, she moved in at $80. She means that the person before was paying $60, and incidentally I gave her $50.
Representative HAMMER. That is 3313 per cent?
Mr. Low. Not over what she was paying, but what somebody before was paying. As I say, I gave her $50 in connection with that occasion. That was one of the most drastic increases.
Representative LAMPERT. What was the value fixed on Clifton Terrace by the court? You mentioned it, but I did not catch it.
Mr. Low. The value fixed is $2,363,992.50. I might say, incidentally, that that figure is pretty close to being true because quite recently, in connection with some loans, they appraised it at that.
Representative LAMPERT. I do not exactly know what the significance of the 50 cents is on that, but I would like to know what the valuation of Clifton Terrace is as fixed by the assessor. Have you got that?
Mr. Low. I have not got it here. It is about one-three or onefour.
Representative LAMPERT. What do you mean by that?
Representative LAMPERT. What was the valuation fixed by the court?
Mr. Low. Over $2,000,000.
Representative LAMPERT. So this valuation is about 50 per cent of what the court found ?
Mr. Low. About 65 to 70 per cent.
Representative HAMMER. Who was it purchased from?
Senator Jones of Washington. I have no complaint to make of Mr. Low, but he has a senatorial failing of asking for 15 minutes and talking over an hour, and I think we ought to fix the time so that a few more may have the opportunity to express themselves. I suggest that we fix a limit of 10 minutes, with the understanding, of course, that if the committee deems it necessary that time will be extended.
Mr. Low. I do not like to take any more time, but I just happen to have a list of some apartments that rent below the Rent Commission schedule. I have one apartment which was fixed for $130 which we will rent for $85.
The CHAIRMAN. You have promised to furnish the committee with a complete list.
Now, are there any other property owners who wish to testify to-night?
TESTIMONY OF MR. C. C. WILKERSON
(The witness was sworn by the chairman.)
Mr. WILKERSON. Why, that [handing blue print to chairman) is the apartment house that I built there, mainly to occupy the first apartment myself. In building it I made it more elaborate than most anybody would want it. You can see how large the rooms are. The parlor is 23 feet and a half long.
Senator JONES of Washington. What is the name of the building! Mr. WILKERSON. The Carroll apartments, at Sixth and Stanton Place NE., right on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue. Of course, when I built it I expected to get $60 a month for it. At that time people were not much experienced in apartments, especially on the hill, and they did not want six rooms in places like that because it would cost too much money to furnish them, so all I could get was $50.
Repersentative HAMMER. What apartment do you represent?
Mr. WILKERSON. My own apartment. the Carroll, at Sixth and Stanton Place. In 1908, 1909, and 1910 Representative Addison T. Smith lived in that apartment, and he paid me $45.
Senator Jones of Washington. For what sized apartment?
Mr. WILKERSON. Six rooms, large rooms. The architect says you won't find anywhere in this town an apartment built like it.
Senator Jones of Washington. You include in the six rooms the kitchen and a bath?
Mr. WILKERSON. No, I do not include the bath at all: I include the kitchen. Besides the kitchen you have a pantry, and I do not include that, and I have a porch there that is about 12 by 18 feet,
outside measurement, and all I got for it was $50, but still I built it for my own use.
Testimony has been offered here by Mrs. Hyde, if you remember, and she says that when she came there she paid $41.50, which is true. We could not get any more. The town was over built. You had to give people a month's rent to get them in your house.
Representative STALKER. What year was that?
Mr. WILKERSON. I am getting $70 for it, and this lady testifies in here that she has looked around, but for six rooms she has to pay $100 to $150. The lady on the third floor had an increase of $15, and she told me it was worth it, worth more than that, and she said her friend told her, “I would not do for you what that man is doing for you for that amount of money. He has a valuable piece of property on this corner."
Now, I asked this lady $85 for it, and I have a letter in my pocket regarding the demands she makes on me and wants me to do, and I think if anybody will examine that building they will find that they can not get its equivalent for $100 or $150. She would rather go to somebody else and pay $150 than pay me $85.
Senator Jones of Washington. Did the Rent Commission regulate your rents any?
Mr. WILKERSON. I took them to the Rent Commission; they did not take me. I told them that I wanted $85 and that I would rather sell the property if I can not get that. I am not making six per cent on my money, on what the property is worth, and they put the rent up to $70. I asked $85 for that and $75 for the top.
Now, the lady on the top floor is paying me $75 and is perfectly satisfied. She does not want to pay an increase. I have a statement in my pocket, but there is already too much time that has been taken up.
Senator JONES of Washington. Are you opposed to this legislation?
Mr. WILKERSON. I should say so. The bills that I have in my pocket show that I paid plumbers $5 a day in 1918 and I am paying the plumbers $16 a day now. I had to go up there to-day, and she stopped the sink up twice in November in 10 She uses it to send some of her garbage down, and the like of that. I had to notify her, “ If you keep it stopped up like this, you will pay the plumbers' bills."
Now, I have a boiler there. I put in the best boiler, the largest boiler, that I could put in that apartment. The man who put that in said, “ You have the best heating plant in Washington. I called him up the other day and told him the boiler was leaking. I have bills here where I can show you that in 1918 I repaired one section of it that cost me $166.89. He told me, “I can take it down and see what I can do to it," but he said, “I am afraid, from what you said-does it leak?" I said, “ Yes." He said, “I think you will have to put in a new boiler."
I said, " What will it cost?" He said, “From $950 to $1,000,”
You can see why I want a little increase. I want an increase to help pay for that boiler. I won't make a copper off of it this year at all-not a copper. My taxes have been increased, as you all know. I paid $3.75 for coal when I built it in 1905 and 25 cents