WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) won a court judgment in a lawsuit against Thomas K. Stephenson, a neglectful landlord who endangered the health and safety of tenants at two Ward 7 apartment buildings, and resolved two other housing cases through settlements with property owners and managers. Under the terms of the judgment in OAG’s lawsuit against Thomas K. Stephenson, Stephenson will be required to pay a total of more than $624,000 in restitution to harmed tenants and penalties and costs to the District. Separately, OAG resolved a lawsuit against the owners of 1828 Q St SE, requiring the owners of the Ward 8 apartment building to improve security and combat ongoing gun violence at the property. In an additional settlement, OAG resolved an investigation into improper eviction notices issued by Lenkin, a property management firm, to tenants of the Yorkshire Apartments in Ward 1 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The settlement requires Lenkin to pay a penalty of more than $17,000 to the District and formally rescind the improper eviction notices.
“The majority of landlords and property managers follow the law and treat tenants fairly. Those that do not, however, will be held accountable by the Office of the Attorney General. This is especially so when landlords and property managers fail to provide basic services that endanger the health and safety of District residents,” said AG Racine. “Standing up for vulnerable tenants is and will continue to be a priority for our office. The judgment we won against Thomas K. Stephenson will provide restitution to low-income tenants who paid rent but were unlawfully forced to live in dangerous and inhabitable conditions. Our settlement with the owners of 1828 Q St SE will increase security for residents who have lived in fear of gun violence. Today’s resolution with Yorkshire Apartments and Lenkin Management makes clear that misleading eviction efforts run counter to the District’s moratorium on evictions during the pandemic.”
OAG enforces the District’s Tenant Receivership Act (TRA) and the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) to protect tenants. Under the TRA, landlords can be forced to fix health and safety issues at a rental property. When landlords fail to provide safe and habitable housing to consumers, OAG also can take action under the CPPA, which prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unlawful business practices and protects consumers, including tenants.
The District’s Drug-, Firearm-, or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act (Nuisance Act) allows OAG to take action against building owners and managers who fail to implement basic security measures and allow drug and firearm activity at a property. OAG investigates properties referred by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and community groups and works collaboratively with property owners whenever possible to solve the problem. But when property owners fail to implement basic security measures, even after warnings, OAG files lawsuits to help ensure that residents are safe in their neighborhoods.
Under emergency legislation passed by the Council of the District of Columbia, D.C. tenants have special protections related to housing during the COVID-19 public health emergency. Residents may not be evicted, charged late fees on rent, or have utilities shut off during the emergency. Also, landlords may not raise tenants’ rent during the emergency, may not send notices to vacate to tenants, and must allow tenants experiencing financial hardship because of the pandemic to enter into payment plans to cover any back rent that they owe. Separately, the Rental Housing Act requires that all notices to vacate must be served personally on tenants, be translated into Spanish, and include a statement that the notices were served on the Rent Administrator of the Department of Housing and Community Development.
Thomas K. Stephenson Judgment
Thomas K. Stephenson is a District resident and owner of several residential properties in the District, including two apartment buildings in Ward 7 that contain a total of 19 rent-controlled units. OAG filed suit against Stephenson in 2018, alleging that while he collected rent from tenants, he failed to maintain their homes as required by District law. Those living in his buildings were subjected to mouse, rat, roach, and bedbug infestations, inconsistent heat and hot water, water leaks, mold, and fire code violations. With the lawsuit, OAG sought the appointment of a receiver to manage building repairs under the TRA and injunctive and monetary relief, including restitution for harmed tenants, under the CPPA.
The District obtained a preliminary injunction requiring Stephenson to make repairs in 2018. When he failed to comply with the court order, the court appointed a receiver to manage the building’s rehabilitation. Stephenson declared bankruptcy in 2019, and the buildings were sold. The bankruptcy is still pending final resolution, and OAG continues to monitor the condition of the buildings.
In a February 1, 2021 judgment in favor of the District, the court affirmed that Stephenson had violated the District’s consumer protection laws and awarded injunctive and monetary relief. The court ordered Stephenson to:
- Pay $270,367.27 in restitution to harmed tenants: Stephenson will be required to refund $270,367.27 paid in rent by 20 tenants from January 2017 through January 2019, some who are seniors and long-time tenants, for the period during which he collected full rent but failed to fix dangerous housing conditions.
- Pay $354,065.67 in penalties and costs to the District: Stephenson will be required to pay $313,000.00 in civil penalties for violating District law. He will also be required to pay $41,065.67 in costs and fees to reimburse the District’s expenditures in bringing this lawsuit.
- Notify OAG if he ever owns or manages more than four residential units in D.C. again: Stephenson must notify OAG within one month if he acquires more than four residential units in the District at any time in the future. If he does own more than four houses or apartments in the future, he must hire a licensed property manager to collect rent and make repairs at the property, conduct financial audits twice a year, and implement written policies and training procedures, among other conditions.
A copy of the judgment is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/Stephenson-judgment_0.pdf
1828 Q St SE Settlement
On October 21, 2020, OAG filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of 1828 Q St SE, a 36-unit apartment building located in a dense residential area in the Fairlawn neighborhood of Ward 8. In the lawsuit, OAG alleged that the building has been plagued by persistent violence linked to drug activity and that neighbors and local children felt unsafe walking near the building and feared becoming victims of gun violence. In 2020 alone, there were multiple shootings at the property, including a homicide, and MPD recovered bags of crack cocaine, a gun, a ballistic vest, and multiple rounds of ammunition from a vacant unit. Despite the ongoing violence and notices from OAG, the owners of 1828 Q St SE failed to take simple and necessary security measures, like securing entrances, installing security cameras, and hiring security staff to monitor the property.
As part of a settlement to resolve the lawsuit, the owners of 1828 Q St SE will be required to:
- Secure all building entrances: Within 21 days, the owners must install controlled access panels to all entrances of the building and provide electronic access keys (either fobs or electronic cards) to each tenant. They must also ensure the doors are self-closing and that if doors remain open, an alarm will sound.
- Implement a comprehensive security plan: The owners must implement a comprehensive plan to improve physical security and keep residents safe in their homes. As part of the plan, they must install and maintain security cameras, install and maintain exterior lighting, hire security guards to monitor the property seven days a week, and report to OAG regarding their compliance with these measures.
- Perform frequent maintenance: The building’s owners must maintain the interior and exterior common areas of the building so that it is free from the appearance of blight. They will be required to provide janitorial services a minimum of four times a week and consistent trash collection.
- Pay $3,000 in penalties to the District: Within 30 days, the property owners must pay $3,000 in penalties to the District. They will also face additional penalties of at least $20,100 if they fail to comply with the terms of the agreement.
A copy of the complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/1828-Q-St-SE-Complaint.pdf
A copy of the settlement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/1828-Q-St-SE-Settlement.pdf
Lenkin/Yorkshire Apartments Settlement
Lenkin is a D.C.-based property management company that manages the Yorkshire Apartments, located at 3355 16th St NW in Ward 1. The building is home to 96 households, including many monolingual Spanish speakers. OAG opened an investigation into Lenkin after receiving a tip that improper eviction notices had been issued to tenants at the property in August 2020.
OAG’s investigation uncovered evidence that Lenkin had issued at least 23 notices threatening tenants with eviction if they did not pay back rent or enter a payment plan within 30 days, even though evictions for non-payment of rent cannot legally move forward during the COVID-19 public health emergency. In addition to misleadingly implying that evictions were imminent—in violation of the CPPA—the notices were served in English only, violating a District law requiring all eviction notices to be served in both English and Spanish. Several tenants who received the misleading English-only notices speak only Spanish.
As part of a settlement that resolves OAG’s investigation, Lenkin will be required to:
- Pay $17,250 in penalties to the District: Lenkin must pay $17,250 to the District for misleading tenants in violation of the District’s consumer protection laws.
- Issue a notice to tenants withdrawing the previous eviction notice: Lenkin must issue another notice to the tenants who received the improper eviction notices informing them that the previous notices are being withdrawn. The new notices must be provided in both English and Spanish and properly served on tenants and the District’s Rental Administrator, as required by law.
A copy of the settlement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-02/Lenkin-Settlement.pdf
Resources for Tenants
OAG works to make sure residents across the District have access to safe and affordable housing and holds landlords accountable if they violate the law. Access OAG’s resources to help renters and tips on how to report problems with your landlord or your housing conditions.