Mastering the DC rental market — taking lessons from Scott Pruitt's $50 per night rental deal

Mastering the DC rental market — taking lessons from Scott Pruitt's $50 per night rental deal

Apparently, Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittJuan Williams: Swamp creature at the White House Science protections must be enforceable Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE is unusually savvy when it comes to the Washington, D.C., rental market. While mere mortals struggle to balance the cost of housing in the District with commuting demands and neighborhood amenities, Pruitt was able to find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. For only $50 a night, Pruitt rented a bedroom in a duplex “a stone’s throw from the Capitol.” As anyone in the D.C. area knows — and perhaps anyone anywhere in the world knows as well there is a reason my father-in-law called D.C. “el capitol del imperio”— that is prime real estate.

When I ask my law students where they want to live after they graduate, most mention places like Ledriot Park or RFK, gentrifying areas of the city, and when pressed admit they don’t even consider Dupont Circle or Capitol Hill because those areas are prohibitively expensive.

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The real estate market, including the rental market, is all about location, location, location, which makes Pruitt’s prowess as a tenant impressive. With such skills navigating the rental market, finding and securing a $50 per night deal in a great part of Capitol Hill, it is not surprising that another person famous for his negotiating skills, President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE, made Pruitt a member of his Cabinet. I know if any of my friends found such a deal, I would be impressed.

 

And if that was not enough, Pruitt also got his landlord to agree that he only had to pay for those days that he slept in the duplex. As a person who spends a lot of time traveling back-and-forth between D.C. and his home state of Oklahoma (not to mention trips to Rome and even Disney), this was a significant concession that Pruitt got from the landlord.

When I first moved to D.C. in 1999, I rented a bedroom near the corner of 7th and Q Northwest. And while that area is now hip and expensive, at the time I paid less rent than any of my peers. When rollerblading home late at night from school (this was when rollerblades were still popular), drug dealers would wave and prostitutes would jokingly ask if I was going to pick them up on those, meaning the rollerblades.

But even then and even though the furnace was out for most of December that year, my landlord likely would have laughed in my face if I had suggested that I only have to pay for the nights that I slept in the unit. Pruitt really is a master negotiator.

Dark thoughts did briefly cross my mind. Could it be that Pruitt is not actually the king of the D.C. rental market, that he got a break from his landlord? As the Chicago Tribune noted in an editorial on Friday, “The building is co-owned by Vicki Hart, a health care lobbyist. She is married to J. Steven Hart, a lobbyist whose firm represents clients in the energy sector among other industries.”

Perhaps this lobbyist power couple offered Pruitt a sweetheart deal as a way to curry favor with the head of the EPA. Perhaps. But Kevin S. Minoli, the Designated Agency Ethics Official & Principal Deputy General Counsel at the EPA, cleared things up for me. In a memo also released on Friday, Minoli cleared Pruitt of any wrongdoing.

The memo explained, “Market value for rental apartments is commonly thought of in terms of rental cost per month.” Whew, I was worried Minoli was going to jump off the deep end and assert that members of Trump’s Cabinet cannot be expected to pay for things the way commoners do. The Minoli memo went on to say that Pruitt’s family could stay in the unit when they were in D.C., which does suggest, but not definitely show, that Pruitt was getting more than a single bedroom at $50 per night, but the memo does not go into detail on that point.

Glossing over the provision that Pruitt did not have to pay for nights he did not sleep in the unit, Minoli concluded, “entering into the lease was consistent with federal ethics regulations . . . and use of the property in accordance with the lease agreement did not constitute a gift.”

This is a huge relief. For a moment I thought Minoli, a 2000 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School might have been forced into a Sean SpicerSean Michael SpicerKellyanne Conway to leave White House at end of month Pro-Trump duo Diamond and Silk launch new program on Newsmax TV The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Supreme Court's unanimous decision on the Electoral College MORE-moment, denying the obvious truth of the nature of Pruitt’s tenancy in much the same way that Spicer asked the public to suspend disbelief about the size of Trump’s inaugural crowd. But the memo makes it clear that that is not the case. Pruitt simply uncovered truths about the D.C.-housing market that I did not know: there are incredible deals out there in great neighborhoods and landlords will allow you to live somewhere but not pay rent when you are on vacation.

With that in mind, my hunt for a similar market jewel begins.

I hit pay dirt immediately. Padmapper.com shows a great one bedroom, one bath apartment also within a stone’s throw of the Capitol. I’m onto something! Plus it is on Airbnb so there might be a possibility of paying by the night. But wait, it costs $9,707 / month. We are not in Kansas anymore.

Padmapper shows that half a block away the price has gone down significantly. There is a studio available for $2,950 / month. Not so great for extended family visits — Pruitt’s daughter was a White House intern for part of the time — and still double the amount Pruitt was theoretically paying, but it is an improvement and my optimism is increasing.

I decide to sort by price and look only for one or two bedroom rentals that cost less than $1500 / month. The third apartment that pops up looks great. Beautiful spaces, large screen TVs and great common areas in the building. But it asks me to contact someone with a foreign email address to find out more info. Overall it looks like a scam.

The forth apartment is promising. Reasonably close to the Capitol (nowhere near as good as Pruitt’s original location, but still decent), it meets all the basic requirements, with an emphasis on basic. The bedroom can probably fit a twin bed, an air conditioner fills the bottom half one of the bedroom windows, the kitchen comes complete with appliances that look to come from the 1970s, and there appears to be a shared coin-operated washer and dryer in the basement. Something tells me it is not the sort of housing a Cabinet secretary would pay to stay in for multiple nights, but I will save the listing as a placeholder.

As I continue to search, I grow even more impressed with Pruitt’s negotiating skill. I have not given up but I could be here a while.

Ezra Rosser is a law professor at American University Washington College of Law. You can follow him on Twitter @EzraRosser.