WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that the owner of the Foster House Apartments, a federally subsidized complex in the Shaw neighborhood, has agreed to remedy emergency housing conditions that threaten the health and safety of tenants, many of whom are elderly or have disabilities. This interim agreement comes after the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed suit against New Bethel Baptist Church Housing Corporation, Inc. (New Bethel), a nonprofit that owns the building, and Evergreen 801 RI Apartments LLC (Evergreen), which has a contractual relationship with New Bethel related to the property. In the suit, OAG alleges that these companies have consistently failed to maintain Foster House and that as a result, at-risk low-income seniors are living with water leaks, mold, broken appliances, rat and bug infestations, and ongoing issues with electricity, heating, cooling, and ventilation. The lawsuit further alleges that New Bethel is failing to serve its nonprofit purpose to provide safe and affordable housing. After OAG filed suit, New Bethel consented to an injunction under which it will address issues related to leaks and mold, fire safety, HVAC systems, electrical systems, elevators, and rodent infestation, while the lawsuit is ongoing.
“We are pleased that New Bethel cooperated with the Office of the Attorney General to remedy housing conditions at Foster House Apartments that were creating health and safety issues for tenants—many of whom are low-income seniors with medical issues and disabilities,” said AG Racine. “We look forward to working with New Bethel to resolve the case in a way that addresses these issues without further litigation and urge Evergreen to cooperate with our office.”
Foster House is an eight-story, federally subsidized apartment building located in the Shaw neighborhood at 801 Rhode Island Ave. NW. The property has 76 apartments, but only 43 are currently occupied. Most of Foster House’s tenants are seniors living on fixed incomes, and many have lived in the building for decades. The building is owned by New Bethel, a nonprofit established in the 1960s to provide low- and moderate-income families with housing. New Bethel constructed Foster House in 1971 and began leasing apartments in the building in 1973. In 2018, after operating the building for 45 years, New Bethel entered into a long-term ground lease with Evergreen under which Evergreen agreed to manage the property. A series of inspections since 2018 has documented the rapid decline in conditions that coincides with Evergreen’s involvement at the property.
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 chronic health and safety issues at a rental property. When landlords fail to provide safe and habitable housing to tenants, OAG can also take action under the CPPA, which prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unlawful business practices and protects consumers, including tenants. In addition, OAG enforces the District’s Nonprofit Corporation Act (NCA), which requires nonprofit entities to fulfill their stated public purpose.
In this lawsuit, OAG alleges that New Bethel and Evergreen violated District law by:
- Threatening the health, safety, and security of tenants: For years, the residents of Foster House, who are largely seniors or people with disabilities, have lived with numerous dangerous conditions, including mold and serious water leaks, malfunctioning heating, defective HVAC systems and faulty air-circulation equipment, exposed wires, missing carbon monoxide alarms and inoperable smoke detectors, malfunctioning elevators, bedbug and rodent infestations, and insecure doors. In addition to posing clear safety risks, these deplorable conditions have severely impacted these tenants by exacerbating pre-existing health conditions and causing mobility difficulties, particularly while they have remained at home more during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, several residents with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease reported that mold and poor ventilation in their apartments made their breathing difficulties worse. Additionally, many residents depend on the building’s elevators to reach apartments on upper floors, but they break down frequently and remain out of service for significant periods of time. Some tenants have also complained that insecure doors and gates allow unauthorized people to enter the building’s grounds, creating safety concerns. One senior lacked heat and returned home from the hospital unable to use his wheelchair in his kitchen due to crumbled flooring from a ceiling leak.
- Failing to maintain Foster House: Since New Bethel began renting apartments in Foster House in 1973, the company has not performed any major renovations, and the building has been in a state of serious disrepair since at least 2018. In a 2018 inspection, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) noted that conditions at the property had worsened significantly since its last inspection in 2015. In 2019, the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs inspected 15 apartments and found 103 code violations. In 2020, an inspector hired by OAG documented more than 200 serious violations. These inspections show a history of neglect and indifference by the building’s owners and managers that coincide with New Bethel’s agreement with Evergreen.
- Deceiving tenants about rental accommodations: When New Bethel and Evergreen offered apartments for rent, they represented that they would maintain the property according to District law. Tenants agreed to pay rent in exchange for what they believed would be safe, habitable apartments—but the owners and managers of Foster House failed to uphold their end of the bargain.
OAG also alleges that New Bethel failed to serve its nonprofit purpose by failing to maintain the housing it provides to low-income tenants. OAG is asking the court to appoint a receiver to oversee repairs at the property. OAG is also seeking relief for harmed residents, including refunds of rent that tenants paid while housing conditions violated District law, an injunction to stop the illegal behavior, penalties, and court costs.
Shortly after OAG filed suit, representatives of New Bethel entered into conversations with OAG and agreed to begin addressing many of the health and safety issues at the property while the case is ongoing. Specifically, New Bethel agreed to remediate mold, water infiltration issues, fire safety, electrical system, heating, and HVAC issues at the property. New Bethel will also ensure that the elevator system remains functional and that a licensed exterminator addresses rodent and vermin issues at the property. The agreement reached between OAG and New Bethel without the involvement of Evergreen will remain in place for the duration of the case.
A copy of the complaint is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Foster-House-Complaint.pdf
A copy of the preliminary injunction is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2021-03/Foster-House-New-Bethel-Consent-Order.pdf
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