The District is in the midst of a housing crisis, with too many residents struggling to access safe and affordable places to live. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) has been using all the tools in our toolbox to preserve existing housing and protect tenants. One of OAG’s core missions remains preserving affordable housing and disrupting the business model drives out long-term residents for quick profits. Over the past seven years, the office has secured major victories that have a real impact in the lives of Washingtonians.
As of April 2022, OAG has returned more than more than $3 million to District tenants, and won court judgements that will return another more than $1.3 million to tenants who have been wronged by their landlords. We will always 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.
This advocacy for tenants makes a big difference—and often their health and safety are on the line.
- Felipa Arias, a tenant of 2724 11th Street NW which OAG sued and then got to pay restitution to tenants and penalties, explained: “I have lived in this apartment for nearly 30 years. It’s home. But it hasn’t always felt that way. My family has had to deal with issues such as crumbling walls, water damage, and mold. We’ve also had to deal with an array of pests: rats, mice, bedbugs, roaches, and more. Whenever we would ask the building’s management to remedy these issues, the repairs that were made either didn’t last long or didn’t actually fix the issue. Many of us living in this building are immigrants. We had to deal with a language barrier and laws that were unfamiliar to us. Although this has been a frustrating and long journey, I appreciate AG Racine for standing up for us and for his office’s work to support us.”
- Fatima Guardado, a tenant at the Hawaii-Webster apartments which OAG sued in February of 2022, explained: “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 “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 a variety of laws, including the Tenant Receivership Act, Consumer Protection Procedures Act, Lead-Hazard Prevention and Elimination Act, and DC Human Rights Act which protect tenants from civil rights or housing code violations, including lead paint exposure, and provide them restitution. OAG uses these laws to aggressively stand up for the rights of tenants, and has secured significant housing justice victories for residents.
Here are the legal wins OAG has secured on housing justice issues:
Standing Up for Safety and Quality of Life
- Congress Heights Apartments: In 2016, OAG filed suit against Sanford Capital, the owners of the Congress Heights Apartments, over extreme disrepair and dangerous housing code violations. OAG forced Sanford Capitol to pay restitution to tenants, and leave the DC market. Unfortunately, Sanford tried to transfer the building to new owners who were using the same tricks to push residents out. OAG sued again in 2020, and in January 2022, the building’s new nonprofit owner agreed to transform the current 47-unit apartment complex into approximately 180 units of affordable housing as well as significant retail at the site.
- 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. In December 2021, a judge granted $4.75 million in penalties—$3.2 million for lead violations, and $1.57 million in CPPA violations. The judge also granted more than $615,000 in restitution for tenants to refund the rent they paid while there were housing code violations and required the landlord to shape up its practices and hire a new property manager.
- 2724 11th Street NW: OAG sued the Columbia Heights landlord of 2724 11th Street NW in 2017. In September 2021, 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 landlord was also required to hire a new management company and put in place policies and trainings to prevent such negligence from happening again.
- 1450 Somerset Place NW and 1451 Sheridan Street NW: In July 2021, 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. In December 2021, the Court ordered that a uniformed, armed guard must remain nightly at the properties for the duration of the lawsuit and required the landlord to provide OAG monthly invoices and contracts proving their compliance.
- Forest Ridge/The Vistas Apartments: In 2018, OAG sued Castle Management and other owners of the complexes in Ward 8 over dangerous and deplorable conditions including gun crime and drug-related violence at its properties. In 2020, Castle Management agreed to pay $3.5 million to settle our lawsuit, including nearly $2 million to tenants and $1 million to OAG’s violence reduction program.
- Park Southern Neighborhood Corporation: OAG took legal action against the former president of Park Southern Neighborhood Corporation in 2014, and 2017, secured a more than $242,000 judgment against her for stealing money from the building and allowing the affordable housing complex to fall into disrepair.
- Jefferson and Insun Hofgard: In 2015, OAG sued Jefferson and Insun Hofgard for engaging in a shoddy and illegal house-flipping scheme. In 2016, the Hofgards settled the lawsuit and were required to pay full restitution to affected consumers, amounting to at least $1.3 million.
- Terrace Manor Apartments: After OAG sued over intolerable housing conditions, in 2018, Sanford Capitol and the companies that owned and managed the Terrace Manor apartments agreed to exit the District’s housing market. In 2019, OAG secured more than $1.1 million in restitution for the 155 tenants who were forced to live in squalor. Sanford Capitol also owned and managed other low-income housing complexes throughout the city including the Franklin Street Apartments in Ward 5, the G Street Apartments in Ward 7 and the Congress Heights Apartments in Ward 8.
- Thomas K. Stephenson: OAG sued Stephenson in 2018, alleging that while he collected rent from tenants in several building in the District, 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. In February 2021, the court required Stephenson to pay more than $270,000 in restitution to tenants and notify the District if he ever plans to manage more than four units again.
- 1828 Q St SE: On October 21, 2020, OAG filed a lawsuit against the owners and managers of 1828 Q St SE, in the Fairlawn neighborhood of Ward 8. OAG alleged that the building was plagued by persistent violence linked to drug activity and that neighbors and local children felt unsafe walking near the building. In February 2021, the building settled our lawsuit, agreeing to do needed maintenance, secure all entrances, and make a comprehensive security plan.
- District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA): OAG sued DCHA in June 2020 for neglecting to make necessary security improvements to protect residents from persistent drug- and firearm-related activity at ten public housing properties: Kenilworth Courts Apartments, Langston Terrace and Additions, Lincoln Heights Apartments, and Richardson Dwellings Apartments in Northeast; LeDroit Apartments and Kelly Miller Apartments in Northwest; James Creek Apartments and Syphax Gardens Apartments in Southwest; and Benning Terrace Apartments, Stoddert Terrace Apartments, and the Arthur Capper/Carrollsburg Apartments in Southeast. In September 2020, DCHA agreed to a settlement requiring the agency to implement a comprehensive security plan at the properties and contribute funds to violence interruption efforts. The settlement led to rehabilitation of several vacant units at the properties for occupancy.
Cracking Down on Toxic Lead in the District
- Meredith Lyda and Shaw Mostashari: OAG investigated Meredith Lyda and Shaw Mostashari, and several corporations under their control, for failing to disclose the presence of lead-based paint or hazards to tenants in residential properties at 4242 6th Street SE and 433 Atlantic Street SE. They settled in May 2021 with OAG and agreed to pay a $35,000 penalty and disclose the presence of lead at the properties.
- Mohammad Y. Sikder: OAG investigated Mohammad Y. Sikder and several of his companies, after Sikder pleaded guilty to federal criminal violations for renovating at least 26 homes across DC without taking legally required precautions to protect against possible lead exposure and environmental contamination. Sikder settled OAG’s legal complaint and agreed to pay $400,000 in penalties and improve health and safety protocols.
Taking Down Slumlords’ Companies
- Tavana Corporation: For years, OAG has been working to hold local slumlord Mehrdad Valibeigi accountable for his mismanagement of three rental companies: Astor, Bennington, and Tavana Corporation. In June 2021, OAG got a court order dissolving the Tavana, 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.
Defending Tenants’ Civil Rights
- Zillow and Apartments.com: In October 2019, OAG announced a partnership with Apartments.com to eliminate ads on its platform that discriminate against renters who rely on Section 8 vouchers and other forms of housing assistance. In November, Zillow agreed to do the same.
- Curtis Investment Group: In 2019, OAG sued Curtis Investment Group and several related corporate entities for refusing to accept housing vouchers and other forms of assistance from prospective tenants and posting discriminatory housing advertisements online. In 2020, they settled with OAG and agreed to pay $900,000 to resolve the lawsuit and implement new antidiscrimination policies.
- Evolve: In 2018, OAG sued Evolve for refusing to rent or even show apartments to potential tenants who planned to use housing vouchers. In 2020, Evolve paid DC $250,000 to resolve the lawsuit, and agreed to implement anti-discrimination practices and update all advertisements and website materials.
- Burrello Group: OAG sued 16 real estate companies, including the Burrello Group, for illegal discrimination against voucher holders. The Burrello Group posted advertisements saying, "Not Approved for Vouchers.” The Superior Court decided that such advertisements are discriminatory and illegal on their face.
- Spring Hill Real Estate, Fairfax Reality of Falls Church, and Global Alliance Realty & Management Services: At the same time OAG sued Burello Group, OAG also sued Spring Hill Real Estate, Fairfax Reality of Falls Church, and Global Alliance Realty and Management Services for discrimination against voucher holders. In August 2021, they settled our lawsuits and agreed to pay a total of nearly $50,000 in penalties, conduct annual fair housing trainings for staff, implement anti-discrimination policies, and report compliance with the law.
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. To report problems with your landlord to OAG’s Social Justice Section, e-mail SocialJustice@dc.gov.
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.