D.C. Slumlords' Progress
Saturday, December 20, 2008
The owners of some of the District's most run-down apartment complexes have made major repairs in recent months, correcting more than 2,300 housing code violations, as D.C. leaders continue to pursue a sweeping lawsuit meant to rid the city of dangerous buildings.
The repairs have come after a months-long crackdown by city leaders, who have fired housing inspectors and strengthened laws to better protect tenants. Attorney General Peter Nickles asked D.C. Superior Court in April to force repairs and impose fines at 13 buildings that had racked up more than 2,800 code violations, with conditions that he said were among the most "egregious" in the city.
Since the lawsuit was introduced, the owners of all 13 buildings have made a series of repairs, Nickles said. Six of the properties were fixed entirely, he said, and have been dropped from the lawsuit.
"We've had a big impact so far," he said.
But housing advocates caution that new violations are not being addressed and that the city is not moving quickly enough against owners slow to make repairs. One example is a building on 10th Place SE, where tenants have been living for years without heat.
Earlier this week, water from tenant Michael Baylor's bathroom poured into the vacant unit below, streamed past dead squirrels and rotted drywall, then seeped into Kim Patten's adjacent apartment. Ceilings had buckled, and appliances were broken. Tenants use blankets and space heaters to stay warm.
"We had our hopes up high thinking the government was going to step in," Patten said. "But we've been pretty much on our own."
Nickles said the owners at properties with outstanding violations have all promised to finish the repairs. One owner who faces at least $100,000 in fines has agreed to correct lingering violations by next month. Another has promised to fix 175 violations by March. The city still plans to shut down that building and relocate tenants, because officials fear the roof could collapse.
Edward Knott, the owner of the building on 10th Place SE, was originally cited for 609 violations. The building was featured in a Washington Post article in March about landlords who had intentionally allowed properties to deteriorate to force tenants from rent-controlled apartments.
Tenants at the building were living without heat, and raw sewage teeming with bugs covered the basement floor. Knott, who bought the building in 2002, said at the time that he wanted the building vacant so he could sell it but that he has tried to maintain the property.
Attorney Donald Temple, who is advising Knott on another financial dispute at the building, said Knott has not had the money to make repairs.
The District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs stepped in when asked about the building by The Post, sending inspectors and promising repairs. Nickles also named Knott in the lawsuit against landlords.