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Council greenlights tenant purchase proposal, Veolia deals

on September 20, 2019

Richmond landlords may be forced to give tenants the first shot at buying their homes before putting them on the market under a proposed rule whose drafting the City Council kicked off on Tuesday.

The “Tenant Opportunity to Purchase” (TOPA) ordinance would aim to offset the displacement of low-income residents who can’t match rising housing prices by making landlords offer them the first opportunity to buy their buildings before they are sold or demolished.

Washington, DC’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act is considered the blueprint for such legislation, and council members Melvin Willis, Demnlus Johnson III and Jael Myrick came up with the idea of creating a similar policy for Richmond. 

“Although it was started in Washington, DC, we want to make sure [the ordinance] fits Richmond,” Johnson said.

“[It’s about] keeping it fair for people who don’t have the robust pockets the market tends to have,” Willis said.

The council voted 7-1 to start drafting the legislation, with only Mayor Butt voting no.

“It will discourage those who want to develop more housing in Richmond. I can set up a nightmare scenario where a group of tenants can delay the sale of a building for nearly a year and just abandon the effort,” Butt said.

Local landlord Ilona Clark spoke against adopting a version of TOPA in Richmond. “Under Richmond’s strict rent control, [the policy] smacks of eminent domain but not for the greater good,” she said. “This ordinance would have the effect of taking from one private citizen only to give to another.”

The price landlords offer tenants for their buildings will likely be set through an appraisal process, Councilman Myrick told Richmond Confidential by phone. Next steps in drafting the ordinance will include tailoring the vision behind TOPA to Richmond – such as finding ways to help tenants access capital.

“I want to get an ordinance passed by the end of the year,” Myrick said.

The council also approved standing contracts for Veolia Water to manage engineering design services with eight companies. Director of the Waste Water Program Yader Bermudez came to the meeting to account for future spending related to the contract. 

Councilmember Eduardo Martinez questioned him about the allocation of $1.5 million rolled over from the 2018-2019 budget. Bermudez said it will be spent on the maintenance of sewage system pipelines that need to be repaired and may be spent on the Veolia Water contracts, which cost no more than $600,000 per firm.

The council further approved requests by Councilmembers Nathaniel Bates, Johnson and Martinez for funding to travel to the Obi Matsuri Festival in Richmond’s sister city of Shimada, Japan next month. During the festival, which happens annually, attendees wear a traditional women’s belt called an obi and pray for the safe delivery of children. 

Some community members expressed discontent with the request, and brought up councilmembers’ previous trip to Zhoushan, Richmond’s sister city in China, in September 2017. 

“In JFK Park, the grass is as tall as the trees…If you want to pay your money [for the trip], it is fine. If not, let’s get some…on these parks,’ said Madelyn Law, the president of the Park Plaza Neighborhood Council.

Martinez said the Zhoushan trip “was not a vacation, it was a conference and that was actual work that was accomplished.” “We will be doing a presentation on what was accomplished so that the public knows what fruits are born from that visit,” he added. 


  1. Jerry Davenport on September 20, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    Unbelievable. Good going Richmond City Council. Let the recall begin. And Johnson? The newbie? You obviously know nothing about what to do here. This is a version of eminent domain. The city telling us how we can sell our property? Hey how about if I take YOUR stuff, Jael, and tell you who to give it to? Your stuff that you worked your whole life for? Oh, but Myrick, you probably are not a property owner, are you? It’s doubtful that you are. You already hate landlords with the Just Cause laws. Now you hate landlords so much that they cannot sell their property in the open market, the way we purchased it? How about the landlords who sell their property to LIVE? to RETIRE? Oh, no, landlords can live in poverty on social security, right. 🙁 Remind the whole east bay to NEVER EVER buy property in Richmond. And NEVER rent your property to ANYONE. Thanks Myrick. Go to H____.

  2. Armen on September 22, 2019 at 10:00 am

    I recently made a significant investment in Richmond but the city ordinances the Richmond city council has enacted or is trying to enact is absolutely disgusting. With all due respect, we have a bunch of left wing facist politicians that are ruining this city. What gives you or anyone else the right to tell me who I would like to sell my property to?

    The entire idea of owning property is controlling that little piece of land that you worked extremely hard for. My parents fled persecution in the Caucuses and my people have left their historical Homeland to achieve the American dream but sadly it appears as if this great nation is adopting some extremely backward laws in order to solve unpopular issues.

    If you want to solve the inequality gap stop making excuses for people, improve education, move away from the current education model which is a scam and provide people an opportunity to learn a skill, give them something to lose and they’ll grow. Right now you guys are trying to solve major issues with handouts and free money. These types of short sighted policies will destroy this city and this country.

    Every politician in Richmond absolutely disgusts me, I wonder if any of you have successfully founded and or run a business.

    You guys are a complete disaster

  3. ritchie cook on October 4, 2019 at 7:52 am

    I suppose these remarks are trolls. However to set the record straight If someone bought property in 2010 even someone that went to and from school up hill both ways would have seen the price and the rent easily triple in value. This without having to do any repair or investment other than the purchase. That’s America!

  4. […] Tenant Opportunity to Purchase resolution (a type of law called a TOPA nationwide), which the city council last month agreed to draft. It would allow tenants the first opportunity to buy their homes before […]

  5. Dd on October 29, 2019 at 3:39 pm

    These posts are not trolls, looks like anyone supporting this bill is a troll. This act doesn’t help renters.

    All it is is a bid for the city to steal properties from their owners without regard for the free market.

    This corrupt legislation is an attempt at a legal form of fascist theft.

    If tenants rights were in question, the discussion would end with giving the tenant first right of refusal – NOT dictating sale prices.

    The property owners in question are not corporations, they’re parents and grandparents – many of whom are immigrants, whose life savings is now at risk of seizure by the very assets they worked hard and sacrificed to purchase.

    The ordinance doesn’t even help tenants to improve their economic standing because even in the unlikely event that a tenant would be able to purchase a property, the tenant would now be stuck with the same horrific ordinance, stealing their property too!

    This ordinance is a symbol of corruption and nothing more. Non profit organizations can leverage city support through campaign donations, creating a brand new easy mechanism to manipulate property values for ‘select’ buyers.

    This ordinance takes the power away from the people and puts it in the hands of individuals…..fascism at its finest….

  6. […] the meeting, several people used the open forum as an opportunity to speak out against the Tenant’s Opportunity to Purchase Ordinance (TOPA), citing that the bill works unfavorably for […]

  7. Ben Z. on November 14, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    TOPA is government sanctioned robbery, pure and simple. It forces a property owner to sell a rental property to a so called “nonprofit” organization at a price that corresponds to permanent affordable housing, but allows that “nonprofit” organization to sell the property at market value. This forces transfer of value from a property owner to a “nonprofit” organization who had no prior connection to the property.

    And what about the renter living in that property? Bad news – once the “nonprofit” organization buys the property, the renter loses rent control protection and can be kicked out.

    So, this TOPA steals from BOTH the housing provider and the tenant!

    For those accusing people as trolls, use your brain and think through!

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