Tenants’ opportunity to purchase ordinance pitched for Richmond

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Two Richmond councilmembers are exploring a city ordinance that would require owners of rental units to offer their tenants the first opportunity to purchase the facility before it is demolished, discontinued or sold on the market to a third-party buyer.

Councilmembers Jael Myrick and Melvin Willis are proposing to establish a Tenants Opportunity to Purchase ordinance in Richmond as one strategy to protect tenants from displacement amid increasing housing costs.

Wasington D.C., Berkeley and Oakland are other jurisdictions that have implemented or are in the process of implementing such ordinances, which, according to supporters, allow tenants to pool resources to preserve their housing and to become homeowners in the process.

The issue is set to be discussed at Richmond City Council’s next meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Community Services Building at 440 Civic Center Plaza.

The councilmembers plan to ask staff to draft an ordinance that could be voted upon by council before year’s end.

Washington D.C. enacted its tenants’ opportunity to purchase act, or TOPA, over 30 years ago to protect renters. Following complaints about the program’s effectiveness in regard to single-family homes, including cases where tenants would demand a lot of money to release their TOPA rights, the D.C. law was revised last year to exclude single-family dwellings, except those occupied by the eldery or disabled tenants.

The D.C. law provides tenants the right to purchase when the owner opts to sell, and the right to match a third party sale. 

“Tenants can work together as a group (known as a ‘Tenants Association’) to purchase the apartment building, or transfer their right to another buyer,” according to city documents describing the D.C. law.

A tenants’ opportunity to purchase law in Richmond “can be done in different ways and it will be important to make sure that we tailor this policy appropriately to the needs of Richmond,” according to city documents promoted by Myrick and Willis.