WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that his office filed two separate lawsuits against neglectful landlords to protect District residents in Ward 5 and Ward 2 from displacement and remedy hazardous housing conditions.
In a lawsuit against the owners and managers of the apartment complex at 65 through 97 Hawaii Avenue NE and 66 and 98 Webster Street NE (“Hawaii-Webster Apartments”) in Ward 5, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges that the complex’s owners have actively neglected the property in an effort to force longtime District residents and working-class families out of their homes to make way for redevelopment. In a separate lawsuit, OAG alleges that the owners and managers of King Towers, an apartment building in Ward 2 where many of the tenants use housing vouchers, have allowed conditions to deteriorate dramatically and discriminate against physically disabled tenants. In both cases, OAG is seeking court orders to ensure building owners make necessary repairs, restitution for harmed tenants, and penalties for violating District law.
“It is illegal and morally repugnant for slumlords and developers to subject District residents to dangerous and unlawful conditions or attempt to force them out of their homes. My office will fight for vulnerable tenants against these illegal efforts at every turn,” said AG Racine. “We filed these new lawsuits as part of our long-term effort to protect tenants, preserve affordable housing, and disrupt the illegal and immoral business model that is driving out long-term residents who deserve to be able to stay in their homes. We will continue to stand up for tenants and hold property owners accountable if they neglect their properties or try to make a quick buck by circumventing tenants’ rights.”
“For too long, my family has been forced to live with water leaks, bubbling paint, and mold that has caused health problems for me and for my children. Though we pay our rent on time each month, our landlord refuses to make necessary repairs,” said Fatima Guardado, a tenant at the Hawaii-Webster apartments. “I want to raise my children in this community, near their school and our family. I am grateful that Attorney General Racine is standing up for us and for my neighbors, and I am hopeful that this lawsuit will make this complex a safe place for families like mine.”
As part of OAG’s focus on protecting tenants, the office enforces District laws, including the Tenant Receivership Act (TRA) and the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), Lead-Hazard Prevention and Elimination Act (LHPEA), and DC Human Rights Act (DCHRA). Under the TRA, landlords can be forced to fix health and safety issues at a rental property. The LHPEA protects tenants from exposure to toxic lead paint, and the DCHRA prohibits discrimination, including housing discrimination. When landlords fail to provide safe and habitable housing or violate other laws, OAG also can take action under the CPPA, which prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unfair business practices and protects consumers, including tenants. OAG has continued to use these laws to aggressively stand up for the rights of District tenants, resulting in significant recent victories.
Hawaii-Webster Apartments (65 through 97 Hawaii Avenue NE and 66 and 98 Webster Street NE)
Hawaii-Webster Apartments is an 11-building garden apartment complex located in Ward 5. The 88-unit complex houses working class families with young children, older adults, and immigrants from Latin-American countries who chose this location for its affordability. Many have limited income and few other housing options in DC’s expensive rental market. Many of the tenants have lived in their homes for more than a decade.
In late 2020, the complex was purchased by new owners, who failed to perform basic maintenance and neglected their legal obligations to tenants. In April 2021—as tenants’ living conditions continued to worsen—the new owners submitted an application to the Board of Zoning Adjustment to redevelop the property into new market rate condominiums and rental units. Only 16 of the 134 apartments in the planned redevelopment are affordable units. Tenants living in the 52 occupied units suspect that their landlords are neglecting the complex to displace them.
OAG filed suit against the owners and managers of the Hawaii-Webster Apartments, Solid Brick Ventures LLC, 93 Hawaii Ventures LLC, 98 Webster Ventures LLC, and M Squared Real Estate LLC for actively neglecting the property and endangering tenants. The complaint details the dangerous and unlawful conditions at the complex, including:
- Infestations of vermin: Mice and cockroaches have infested the complex for years, but the infestations worsened substantially in 2021. The new owners failed to remove trash from the property from July 2021 through October 2021, and the garbage that accumulated in the alleys behind the buildings attracted even more pests. The owners do not provide regular or effective extermination services and tenants are left to purchase their own mouse traps, sprays, and other products. One tenant reported purchasing 30 mouse traps in a single month. OAG investigators found evidence of infestations in all 15 of the apartments they visited.
- Pervasive water leaks: Tenants have been forced to live with widespread water leaks that have dissolved drywall and paint and created holes in walls and ceilings. One tenant expressed fear that a leaking ceiling might fall onto her children. The leaks have also caused extensive mold growth in apartments, including on ceilings, walls, bathtubs, showers, and windows. Mold has also grown on tenants’ belongings and clothes.
- Lack of heat: The heat at the complex frequently malfunctions in winter, leaving tenants to deal with frigid indoor temperatures. In one of the buildings, 77 Hawaii Ave, tenants had heat for only three days during a 32-day period in November and December 2021, when temperatures consistently dropped into the 30s at night. As a result, tenants frequently rely on space heaters—which can be expensive (their electric bill is not included in the rent) and pose an increased risk of fire (which is especially dangerous in buildings that have also been cited for missing smoke detectors and blocked fire exits).
- Crumbling lead paint: Across the property, paint and drywall are peeling, chipping, and bubbling. Because the complex was built in 1941, the paint is presumed to contain lead, a toxic metal that can cause painful physical symptoms, including organ and brain damage. Lead exposure is especially dangerous to young children, and under District law, property owners are required to fix lead-based paint hazards.
In its suit, OAG is asking the court to appoint a receiver to ensure all necessary repairs are made at the property. OAG is also seeking relief for harmed tenants for rent that was collected while the buildings were in violation of the District’s laws and regulations, and civil penalties.
A copy of OAG’s legal complaint against the owners and managers of the Hawaii-Webster Apartments is available here.
King Towers (1220 12th St NW)
King Towers is a 10-story apartment building in Ward 2. Built in 1969 and originally called Martin Luther King Towers, the building’s 129 units are primarily home to families with children and older adults, including individuals who have lived there for decades. Nearly half of the tenants receive housing assistance through either District of Columbia Housing Choice Vouchers or Project-Based Vouchers (commonly called “Section 8”), and many tenants speak Spanish or Amharic as their first language.
Since at least 2015, the owners and managers of King Towers have allowed conditions at the building to deteriorate. OAG filed suit against King Housing, Inc., King Housing LLC, and Edgewood Management Corporation, alleging that they violated District law by:
- Threatening the life, health, and safety of tenants: More than 300 inspections by District and Federal agencies have documented dangerous conditions at King Towers, including floods and leaks, mold growth, vermin infestations, and heating and ventilation failures. The building has been infested by rodents and bugs for over six years, and tenants are left to purchase rodent traps and dispose of dead rodents themselves. Tenants struggle to breathe because of dust, dirt, and contaminants in the ventilation system that leave a dirty residue on their walls and ceilings. Temperature control is inconsistent. In some cases, tenants have gone without heat for a week. In another case, a broken thermostat led to a temperature of 99 degrees in one tenant’s apartment, despite the fact that the tenant set the temperature to 75 degrees. Tenants at King Towers, including young children, have been injured by the various hazards that owners and managers fail to repair.
- Discriminating against tenants with physical disabilities: The owners’ and managers’ refusal to make needed repairs to malfunctioning elevators and broken stairlifts unlawfully discriminates against tenants with physical disabilities and has trapped tenants in the building lobby. Tenants with physical disabilities are denied use of the basement laundry room and parking garage, which lack ramp and elevator access. And landlords also refused multiple requests of a tenant to transfer from a unit where they struggled to maneuver their walker in a too-narrow space.
- Exposing children to toxic lead paint: The many children living at King Towers face serious health risks, including from peeling paint across the property. Exposure to lead-based paint hazards can cause painful physical symptoms, including organ and brain damage, and exposure is especially dangerous to young children. King Towers ownership and management has failed to eliminate lead-based paint hazards despite receiving multiple citations from the District.
In its suit, OAG is asking the court to appoint a receiver to ensure all necessary repairs are made at the building. OAG is also seeking to recover restitution of rent paid by tenants who suffered with unsafe housing conditions, and additional penalties and costs.
A copy of OAG’s complaint against the owners and managers of King Towers is available here.
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.