Washington, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced a lawsuit against Thomas K. Stephenson, the owner and operator of two rent-controlled apartment buildings in Northeast D.C., for persistently neglecting the properties and forcing tenants to live in conditions that threaten their health and safety. In the complaint, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleges that Stephenson collected rent from tenants but refused to maintain the apartments as required by law, leading to rodent and other vermin infestations, inconsistent heat and hot water, and dangerous fire code violations. OAG is seeking monetary and injunctive relief for harmed tenants, building repairs, and penalties.
“Mr. Stephenson neglected his apartment buildings and endangered his tenants’ health and safety,” said Attorney General Racine. “We’re suing to get relief for the harmed renters and to protect their legal right to live in habitable and safe conditions. While the majority of landlords follow the law, those that endanger District residents and otherwise jeopardize their access to affordable and safe housing will be held accountable.”
Thomas K. Stephenson is a District resident and owner of several residential properties in the District, including two apartment buildings in Ward 7 that are the subject of this lawsuit. Since 2000, Stephenson has owned the two buildings, which contain a total of 19 rent-controlled units.
According to OAG’s complaint, Stephenson collected rent but failed to maintain the apartment buildings or make necessary repairs, as required by District law. Instead, tenants were subjected to mouse, rat, roach, and bedbug infestations, inconsistent heat and hot water, unidentified leaks, mold, and fire code violations. OAG’s complaint alleges that these practices violated the District’s Tenant Receivership Act and Consumer Protection Procedures Act. Specifically, Stephenson’s alleged violations include:
- Failing to provide safe living conditions for tenants: The defendant’s failure to make necessary repairs to his apartment buildings put his tenants’ health and safety at risk. In one case, a tenant suffered a ceiling collapse. In another, a tenant reported seeking treatment at a hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning after the landlord refused to fix a broken stove.
- Violating the District’s housing and fire codes repeatedly: The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs frequently cited Stephenson for failure to correct housing and fire code violations that threatened the health and safety of tenants. The defendant did not maintain smoke detectors and fire extinguishing equipment, used extension cords as permanent wiring, and did not provide tenants with consistent hot water and heat.
- Deceiving tenants about rental accommodations: When Stephenson offered apartments for rent, he represented that he 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 Stephenson failed to uphold his end of the bargain.
A copy of the complaint is available at: http://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2018-06/DC-v-Stephenson-Complaint.pdf
In the complaint, OAG is asking the court to enter an abatement order at the start of the process to get relief for tenants as quickly as possible. OAG is also seeking relief for harmed residents including refunding rent that tenants paid while housing conditions violated District law, an injunction to stop the illegal behavior, penalties, and court costs. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the defendant has actually violated the law.