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RENT COMMISSION IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
TUESDAY, JANUARY 13, 1925
CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA,
, The joint subcommittee met, pursuant to call, at 10 o'clock a. m., in the room of the Committee on the District of Columbia, Capitol, Senator L. Heisler Ball (presiding).
Present: Senators Ball® (chairman), Jones of Washington, and Copeland.
Present also: Representatives Lampert, Hammer, Stalker, and Blanton.
Present also: Mrs. Henry C. Brown, secretary of the Tenants’ League, and others.
The "CHAIRMAN. The committee have arranged to grant eight hours to each side in connection with the hearings on this bill, eight hours for those in favor of its passage and eight hours for those opposed to its passage. In order that those present may present their case thoroughly in eight hours it will be infinitely better for either side to have somebody representing a certain class or character of complaints to present those as concisely as possible; otherwise if each one of the many present is going to voice the same or similar complaints we will have a great deal of repetition which will occupy much time and which does not result in a proper presentation of the case. What we want those present to do is, within the eight hours allotted, to present the facts they have within their possession bearing on the merits or demerits of the bill which we have under consideration. We want to hear from those who object to the bill and from those who favor its passage. We think eight hours is ample time for each side to accomplish that, but it can only be done by having some one representative of all classes of certain kinds of complaints or certain reasons why the bill should be passed to present their feature of the matter. We hope that representatives have been selected to-day to present certain phases of the reason why the bill should be passed. We shall now be glad to hear from the representative of the Tenants' League. Mrs. Brown, do you want to testify?
Mrs. HENRY C. BROWN (secretary of Tenant's League). I do not want to give my testimony now, but we have some tenants who have come here to present their cases.
The CHAIRMAN. I will ask the members of the committee if they think it wise to swear the witnesses who may testify?
Senator JONES of Washington. I do not think so.
The CHAIRMAN. What is your judgment on that, Senator Copeland?
Senator COPELAND. I do not think it is necessary.
The CHAIRMAN. Very well. Now, Mrs. Brown, whom do you desire to call first?
Mrs. Brown. I will call Mrs. Wardby, a tenant who has a story to tell.
STATEMENT OF MRS. W. S. WARDBY
The CHAIRMAN. You may proceed, Mrs. Wardby.
Mrs. WARDBY. I live at 3025 Fifteenth Street NW. When I first rented that apartment it rented for $32.50 per month in advance. It previously rented for $28.50.
Senator COPELAND. When was that?
Mrs. WARDBY. Five and one-half years ago. This property has gone up by degrees until it has reached $52.50, which I strongly objected to, but was told that if I did not come down and sign a lease I would have to vacate the premises.
Senator Jones of Washington. You may talk as rapidly as you want to. The stenographer will take it down.
. Mrs. WARDBY. I was just thinking as I went along because I want to be accurate in my statements.
Senator Jones of Washington. Very well.
Mrs. WARDBY. I went down to the office and told him that I was unable to pay that increase, that I did not think the premises warranted it. It is an old, run-down wooden apartment, in very bad condition, and there had been no repairs made. I have had to purchase my own gas stove for the kitchen, because it had become so dangerous that I was afraid to use it. It had been completely worn out. I had to purchase my own gas stove and make my own repairs.
I told him I refused to sign the lease because there was a codicil to the lease that said, “I hereby state and agree that this increase in rent is perfectly justifiable and right.” I do not know the exact wording of it, but it was to the effect that I was perfectly willing and satisfied to sign the lease at the increased rate of rental" above stated.” I said, “I positively refuse to sign that because I do not agree
to it.” "The CHAIRMAN. Was that statement in the lease one that was making you state you thought the rent was reasonable !
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes. I told him I did not think it was reasonable, that it was exhorbitant, that it was unjust, and he said, “Very well, then get out."
Senator COPELAND. When was this?
Senator COPELAND. Had any changes been made in the building or had any improvements been made?
Mrs. WARDBY. Not in my apartment. The corridors were painted I believe. I had no witness, so I went out into the street and found
a man in a near-by shop and asked him if he would come back with me and witness the fact that I was signing this lease under protest. I said, "It is just the same as if you held me up with a pistol and told me to stand and deliver. This is unjust. This is exorbitant. I can not sign it unless I protest, or will you allow me to state my objection on the margin of the lease?" He said, “No; you can not touch it. You have to sign it as it is or get out."
The CHAIRMAN. Who is the owner or manager of the apartment?
Mrs. WARDBY. The owner is a man by the name of Isadore Small. He is a hardware dealer on Seventh Street. The agent is Louis J. Raebech, and his offices are in the 800 block on Ninth Street,
Representative STALKER. How many rooms have you?
Mrs. WARDBY. There is no bedroom. We have a tiny living room and a room that we use for a bedroom and a little dining room that we use for a sleeping room and dining room combined-sleeping in the dining room; the first time I have ever done such a thing in my life.
Senator COPELAND. Let me clear this matter up just a little bit. As I understand it, five years ago the rent was $28?
Mrs. WARDBY. Six years ago the rent was $28.50. We came into it five and a half years ago and they raised it to $32.50.
Senator COPELAND. Then the latest lease calls for what?
Mrs. WARDBY. $52.50. I asked what the reason was. I said, “If you had made any repairs and the expenses were not the same I would be perfectly willing and glad to pay any increase. If you will tell me why you are asking for this increase I would like to know.” He said, “I don't have to tell you why." I said, “ I am going to take it to the Rent Commission." He said, "I have enough money to buy up anything that stands in my way."
Senator COPELAND. Why do you not want to leave the place? Was it difficult to find another place?
Mr. WARDBY. Yes. Every place I went the rent was so high I could not afford it. The apartments were beyond our means.
Senator COPELAND. Did you try to find such a place!
Mrs. WARDBY. I did; and my husband now is paying half of his salary for rent.
Senator Jones of Washington. Is this a regular apartment house? Mrs. WARDBY. Yes.
Senator Jones of Washington. How many apartments are in the building?
Mrs. WARDBY. I think there are 15.
Senator COPELAND. Do you know whether the other tenants were raised or not?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes. He told us he would influence each against the other so there would be no confidences and that one would not know what the other paid. I know one woman on the very first floor, the most desirable apartment, who pays $.10. Her name is Mrs. Meigs. The people on the second floor--there are three floorshave been paying $42.50 while we paid $17.50 for three years. Now, because I have gone to the Rent Commission I am paying $52.50 for the top floor and it is a walk-up apartment, while the people on the ground floor are paying $50.
Senator COPELAND. Did you have the feeling that you had been punished for your activity before the Rent Commission?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes: I have, because from the man's expressions that he used I knew that he was spiteful.
The CHAIRMAN. Did you receive any notice or any call by phone that if you appeared before this joint committee you would be put out of your apartment?
Mrs. WARDBY. No; I did not.
Representative BLANTON. I desire to ask a question, Mr. Chairman, if the other members of the committee are through.
The CHAIRMAN. I think it very wise for members of the committee to make their questions as concise and short as possible, because there are very many witnesses here and we do not want to prolong the hearing more than is absolutely necessary.
Representative BLANTON. Mrs. Wardby, you say you have been in this apartment five and a half years?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes, sir.
Representative BLANTON. When you went in there the apartment previously had been renting for $28.50 ?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes, sir.
Representative BLANTON. And you have had how many raises since in the five and a half years!
Mrs. WARDBY. I can not tell until I look at my notes.
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes; and then $37.50 and then $42.50 and then $47.50 and then $50.50 and now $52.50.
Representative BLANTON. Then you have been raised in the five and a half years from $32.50 to $52.50 ?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes, sir.
Representative BLANton. Your apartment consists of how many bedrooms?
Mrs. WARDBY. There are three rooms and you can use them as you like. We use the dining room for a bedroom.
Representative BLANTON. There are three large rooms?
Representative BLANTON. You have a bath in connection with the rooms?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes.
Representative BLANTON, A kitchenette in addition to the three rooms?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes, sir.
Representative BLANTON. You were given the alternative of signing the lease or moving out?
Mrs. WARDBY. Yes, sir.
Representative BLANTON. Have you ever been to a circus where you had to pay?
Mrs. WARDBY. This is the biggest circus I have ever been to.
Representative BLANTON. A circus where you had to pay $1.50 or $1.75 to get in, or else you staid out? I have staid out lots of times.
Mrs. WARDBY. A circus is an amusement. You do not eat and sleep and depend on a circus for your health and life.
Representative BLANTON. You have to have amusements in life as well as a place to eat and sleep.
Mrs. WARDBY. They are not absolutely necessary to an existence.
Representative BLANTON. Have you ever in your life kept renters or boarders?
Mrs. WARDBY. No, sir.
Representative BLANTON. Have you ever had anyone to take a room at your house in your life?
Mrs. WARDBY. Only as a guest.
Representative BLANTON. If you did have a property rented and it was yours and the parties who wanted to rent it did not pay what you wanted for it, you would feel like keeping that property, would you not?
Senator COPELAND. I submit we are here to get the evidence from the witness and the facts, and we are not going to controvert that proposition, I believe.
The CHAIRMAN. Eight hours has been allotted to the tenants for the presentation of their evidence. While it is right for members of the committee to ask pertinent questions, it is not right certainly to take up the time with questions such as Representative Blanton is now asking. The lady is giving her statement clearly and concisely. If there is anything she has not brought out, he has a perfect right to put a question that will bring it out, but certainly not to go over the testimony that she has already given as clearly as she could.
Representative BLANTON. I presume, Mr. Chairman, that in a hearing of this kind it would be the same as a trial of a case in court, that you could present every phase of the matter and bring out every phase of the testimony of the witness. If you are going to present just one side I submit that many of the questions that were asked of this witness were leading questions.
The CHAIRMAN. The Representative from Texas and all of the members of the committee will have every opportunity to present to the committee every phase of the testimony when it comes to consider it in executive session and argue it out with the other members of the committee. He is entitled to ask any question or bring out any additional testimony beyond that which the witness has already given. But to go over it and over it and over it and merely take up our time will not be permitted by the committee.