WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) had five significant and recent wins in different lawsuits brought to defend vulnerable District residents from neglectful slumlords, dangerous living conditions, and housing discrimination. The lawsuits resulted in record-breaking refunds to tenants, the dissolution of a local slumlord’s company, penalties against landlords that violate District lead law, and groundbreaking civil rights precedent being set in the courts.
Apart from these court victories, since the beginning of the pandemic, the OAG has completed claim programs from prior actions that paid out more than $1.95 million to District tenants in two different housing cases: Forest Ridge/Vistas, and Sanford Capital. In both cases, tenants were forced to live in squalid, unsafe conditions—but now have restitution in hand, an important measure of relief and justice.
“As attorney general, I have made it a priority to stand up for every resident who calls the District home,” Said AG Racine. “Our laws make clear that landlords and property managers have a legal responsibility to provide habitable living conditions to tenants, and must not discriminate. Fortunately, most adhere to District law. However, those who discriminate or force tenants to live in squalor, including in conditions replete with mold, lead, and other hazards, will be prosecuted. My colleagues and I will continue to launch investigations and, where appropriate, bring lawsuits against defendants that violate these basic requirements without regard to whether the defendant is well connected, wealthy, or is affiliated with a faith-based entity. Thank you to our local courts for their role in assessing the facts and law. The message is clear, no one is above the law. Protecting all residents, without regard to their wealth, race, age, is not only my legal obligation, it is the reason I wanted to serve as attorney general.”
As part of OAG’s focus on protecting tenants, the office has enforced a variety of laws on behalf of tenants, including the Tenant Receivership Act, Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA), Lead-Hazard Prevention and Elimination Act (LHPEA), and DC Human Rights Act (DCHRA) which protect tenants from civil rights or housing code violations, including lead paint exposure, and provide them restitution. In the last year, OAG has continued to use these laws to aggressively stand up for the rights of tenants resulting in significant recent victories.
OAG’s recent judgements to support tenants and advocate for affordable housing and safety include:
Standing Up for Safety and Quality of Life
6145-6149 Kansas Ave NE
In 2020, OAG sued the landlords of 6145-6149 Kansas Ave NE over housing code violations, including mold, leaks, infestations, fire safety violations, and toxic lead. Earlier this month, a judge granted $4.75 million in penalties—$3.2 million for lead violations, and $1.57 million in CPPA violations. In addition, the judgement granted more than $615,000 in restitution for tenants to refund all of the rent they paid while there were housing code violations. The landlord was also required to shape up its practices and hire a new property manager. This judgement was the first of its kind under the District’s lead enforcement law, and it sets a strong precedent for future lead cases. The order is available here.
2724 11th Street NW
OAG sued the Columbia Heights landlord in 2017, and in September a judge required them to pay nearly $680,000 in restitution and penalties for forcing tenants to live in deplorable conditions that jeopardized their health, safety, and security. The judgment provided more than $422,000 in rent restitution for tenants and required the landlord to pay $215,000 in penalties for hundreds of housing code violations that persisted for years. The landlord was also required to hire a new management company and put in place policies and trainings to prevent such negligence from happening again. The judgement is available here.
1450 Somerset Place NW and 1451 Sheridan Street NW
In July, OAG sued the landlord of adjacent buildings at 1450 Somerset Place NW and 1451 Sheridan Street NW in Brightwood over failures to keep tenants safe, resulting in tenants suffering assaults, robberies, and attempted home invasions. This month, the Court ordered that a uniformed, armed guard must remain nightly at the properties for the duration of our lawsuit and required the landlord to provide us monthly invoices/contracts proving their compliance, as well as other security improvements. The order is available here.
Defending Tenants’ Civil Rights
OAG sued 16 real estate companies, including the Burrello Group, for illegal discrimination against voucher holders. The Burrello Group post advertisements saying, "Not Approved for Vouchers,” and last week, the Superior Court decided that such advertisements are discriminatory and illegal on their face. The judge found that defendants can be held liable for DCHRA violations whether or not they specifically intend to discriminate, a big legal victory that sets a powerful precedent for the other housing discrimination lawsuits filed by OAG. The order is available here.
Taking Down Slumlords’ Companies
For more than three years, OAG has been working to hold local slumlord Mehrdad Valibeigi accountable for his mismanagement of three rental companies: Astor, Bennington, and Tavana. In June, OAG got a court order dissolving the Tavana Corporation, which profits from dangerous and unsanitary housing in the District. This was OAG’s first dissolution of a for-profit corporation through the courts—and it sets a strong precedent that slumlord practices will not be tolerated. The order is available here.
Resources for Tenants
OAG’s resources to help renters and tips on how to report problems with your landlord or your housing conditions. Access specific guidance around tenant rights now that the public health emergency has ended.
If you believe you have been a victim of discrimination, you can report it to OAG’s Civil Rights Section by calling (202) 727-3400 or e-mailing OAGCivilRights@dc.gov.