Two bills in the D.C. Council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, chaired by Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), were marked up Friday.
The first bill — the Partition of Real Property Act — is designed to protect homeowners by creating a new legal process when one or more co-owners want to sell their stake in the property. The legislation shields property owners, including heirs, seeking to maintain their stake in an inherited property by requiring a court-ordered appraisal to determine the property’s fair market value, giving co-tenants the right of first refusal to buy out the other co-tenants, and requiring that the property be sold at the court-determined fair market value.
“One of the insidious ways Black Americans have lost wealth and land is when exploitative third parties buy a slice of a valuable inheritance and force everyone else in the family out,” Allen said. “About three in four African Americans don’t have a will. And when there isn’t a clear will, property ownership can get easily complicated, and families are vulnerable to speculators. This happens all the time. That’s why these legal protections are so incredibly important in preserving Black wealth and homeownership here and nationwide.”
The second bill — the Expanding Fee Waivers for Low-Income Litigants Amendment Act — would let more indigent public benefit program participants automatically qualify for waivers.
“Because of the barriers of today’s fee waiver process, the law is really telling tenants to forget about their landlord-tenant disputes, domestic violence victims that a filing fee is worth more than their safety, and workers that they don’t deserve their day in court,” Allen said. “We should be opening the courthouse doors, not nickel-and-dimed people. This is a small change to a court process with big implications for access to the justice system.”
The two bills will be considered by the full council on Oct. 4.