Residents of Onyx on First, a 266-unit high-rise rental building located at 1100 1st St. SE in Washington DC’s new and dynamic Capitol Riverfront neighborhood filed their intent to pursue their rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act  (TOPA) with the DC Department of Housing and Community Development today. Under TOPA, a landlord must provide tenants with an offer of sale. This can be done either before or after the landlord has signed a contract with a third party. This offer must include the asking price; a statement as to whether a third-party contract already exists; a statement that the owner shall make certain information about the property, including a floor plan of the building (if one exists), available to the tenants within seven days after receiving a written request and an itemized list of monthly operating expenses. Additionally, tenants have the absolute right to sell or assign their rights to yet another third party.

The residents recently formed the association and are trying to determine the best possible use for the building which opened in late 2008. The newly formed association represents approximately 60 percent of eligible units in the building. By pursuing their rights under TOPA, the association hopes to reverse problems which plagued the area for years: poor housing conditions, rent increases and attempts by developers to force residents out of the District.

Some of the building’s residents confessed to not reading the notice of the planned $82 million sale (previously expected to close later this month) which was posted in the lobby as required by law. However, many residents immediately recognized that for the residents this wasn’t just another real estate deal. They saw it as an opportunity to control their own destiny and preserve the affordability of their community, which has a diverse and eclectic mix of professionals.

“We are very happy that the Canyon-Johnson team brought Class ‘A’ housing to this emerging submarket,” said Timothy Bolden, President of the association. “They’ve been great owners. Quite frankly, we were shocked that they would want to sell this property rather than retain it or even further their expansion in the burgeoning Capitol Riverfront neighborhood. They’re not selling the Hilton in NW DC.”  Bolden went on to say, “By exploring our rights under TOPA, we are able to better examine our overall housing choices. Ultimately, we will have to decide if we want to continue as rental housing, convert to condominiums, form a cooperative, or some hybrid model. And, given the renaissance of the area, all are excellent options.”

Regardless of the final outcome, tenants’ concerns and priorities generally have the same overarching themes in the areas of affordability, available amenities, building operations, maintenance and the ability to continuously make a positive impact in the community. Bolden went on to add, “Sure it’s a daunting task to for us to learn real estate legalese, but the worst thing that we can do is to do nothing. We don’t want to become the new displaced face of the new Southeast DC corridor. We have an array of talented professionals that are assisting us with our efforts moving forward. That’s an added benefit of having such great neighbors. Moving forward, our challenge is to balance everyone’s goals while crafting a transaction that is economically viable. The association is excited about all of the possibilities. This is an incredible opportunity and we want to be sure that everyone walks away from the table happy.”

By Timothy Bolden, president of the Onyx on First Tenants’ Association.

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