The Capitol Hill condominium building where the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt has stayed in Washington. (Andrew Harnik / AP)
Among the ethical scandals that now revolve around the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt is the recent revelation that he rented a room in a DC condominium from the wife of a lobbyist of the Energy.
For approximately six months in 2017, Pruitt rented a room in a woman-owned condominium in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, a majestic enclave where you can see the white dome of the building of the same name that stands on brick houses in many streets.
He paid a fee of $ 50 per night for the room, which amounts to approximately $ 1,500 per month, but had reached an agreement with the tenant to pay only for the nights he stayed there. In fact, he paid approximately $ 6,100 during the period of approximately six months, or approximately $ 1,000 per month.
The accommodation has been the subject of much media coverage since it was unveiled last month. On Friday Hill reported that the Government Supervision and Reform Committee was investigating the housing agreement.
Federal ethics regulations prohibit executive branch employees from accepting gifts given because of their charges or from "certain interested sources" that a rented apartment at a price lower than the market rate could qualify. Impartiality rules also prohibit employees from participating in certain activities that give "the appearance of impropriety."
The Post contacted real estate agents with experience in the Capitol Hill and DC market in general with a simple question: Would they consider $ 1,500 for a room in a condominium in the neighborhood portion of the Capitol as the rate? of the market?
Nancy Simmons, the chairwoman of the apartment search department in the DC Detectives area, provided The Washington Post with a sample of Recently rented listings in the area around the condominium in which Pruitt rented a room. The two-bedroom apartments in the area are rented from $ 2,550 to $ 4,300, or around $ 1,275 to $ 2,150 if divided equally. The average of the seven lists he provided was $ 3,300, or $ 1,650 per room.
The $ 4,300 listing was a two bedroom apartment a few steps from one rented by Pruitt. A selection of one-bedroom apartments offered showed prices ranging from $ 1,525 to $ 2,400.
What made Pruitt's listing unusual, Simmons said, was a provision in the lease that Pruitt was responsible for paying only for "actual occupation" days. which means he did not have to pay the rent when he was out of town or out of town.
"That's strange," he said. "Typically, when you rent something, rent something at a monthly rate, unless it's like an Airbnb scenario."
Susan Berger, real estate agent of Evers & Co., whose late husband, Sandy, was President Bill Clinton, second national security adviser, agreed that the contract was "very strange".
"I've never seen it before," he said.
Kevin Minoli, EPA's chief deputy general counsel, had determined that the rental of the apartment was not a gift because it was a "fair market value," citing the Airbnb lists in the area that rented rooms for just $ 55 per day or less.
Pruitt has also compared the situation with the housing rental application.
"This was like an Airbnb situation," he told Fox News this week. "When I was not there, the owner, they had access to the entire facility … When I was there, I only had access to one room."
An Airbnb search in the area found more than a dozen rooms listed at similar prices. Some seemed to be inactive, and others usually charged as much as double, although they were occasionally available for as little as $ 50 per night. Many of these apartments used to be reserved months in advance, so it was unlikely that a tenant could spontaneously come and go without the room being reserved by another person when they were not there.
"That's the point, you can not leave your stuff in there and reserve it for the month if you do not pay for the month, so that's unusual," Simmons said.
Rooms available for $ 55 or less in the area near where Pruitt rented the room in a condo. Some are inactive. (Airbnb)
Lindsay Reishman, senior vice president of the real estate company Compass roots said that on Capitol Hill "$ 1,500 is not a glamorous bedroom, it's like a basement bedroom that is not prepared for snuff, or a nice studio."
Additional rooms with other roommates could reduce the price, he said.
"If it was a group house, with four or five rooms, I guess it would still be $ 1,300 or $ 1,400 per room," he said.
He said it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a two-room apartment in the area for $ 1,500 and described the occupation provision as "a little out of the ordinary," saying that he had never heard of such an arrangement before.
"You could have an Airbnb but not something where you only have the right to use it when you need it and only pay during the time it is used," he said. "Surely it's a friendly agreement with the tenants."
Several EPA officials have confirmed that Pruitt's adult daughter remained in a second room for a while when working at the White House. It is not believed that anyone else has stayed in the second bedroom for other portions of Pruitt's stay in the apartment.
Minoli wrote this week in a memo that his first evaluation was based on the terms of the contract, not including potential activities that did not meet it.
"Assessing those questions would have required objective information that was not before us and the Review does not address those questions," he wrote.
Justina Fugh, ethics attorney at the EPA, has said she did not have "the complete picture" when she signed an ethical judgment after the facts about the housing situation.
"The advice given by an ethics officer is only as good as the information that is provided," she told The Post.
Minoli also said he did not rule on whether the housing agreement had violated the fairness rule.
Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.
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