The tenants of the Glover Tunlaw Apartments, 2725 39th St. NW, which were recently purchased by American University, have won a small victory in their fight to remain residents there.
Jeanne O'Donnell, hearing examiner of the District's Rental Accomodations Office, has determined that the university's notices to vacate, which were issued to the tenants April 29 when the university decided to turn the building into a student dormitory, were technically invalid.
O'Donnell ruled that the school's ownership of the building was not officially registered with the city rental office at the time the notices to vacate were issued, and that the university was therefore not legally authorized to order the building emptied.
Brian Frosh, an attorney hired by the tenants, arranged the RAO hearing, which led to O'Connell's decision.
"It's kind of bittersweet," he said about the decision. "We won on a minor technicality, but the major battle over the university's right to vacate is still to come."
Frosh said that O'Donnell didn't consider the "substance" of his argument, namely that the university's action was in violation of the rental accomodations act.
According to Frosh the act states that a new owner must discontinue the housing use of rental property over a period of six continous months before reoccupation. The law, Frosh argued, conflicts with American University's announced plans to open Glover Tunlaw as a dormitory in September.
A spokesman for Anthony Morella, American Universtiy attorney, said, however, that buildings whose uses are changed to dormitory status are exempt from the act's six-month provision.
"If the university decides to issue vacation notices again,"Frosh said, "we'll take the issue before the entire rent commission and, if necessary, the Superior Court."
In response to student demands for more housing, the school bought Glover Tunlaw, a 63-unit building, for $1.26 million on April 28. The transaction and the subsequent issuance of vacation notices by the university resulted in the formation, by protesting tenants, of the Glover Tunslaw Tenants Association.
"We don't plan at this time to reissue the notices. We want to work with the tenants on an individual basis and help them as much as we can to move," said Cindy Moran, a university spokeswoman.
Moran said that O'Connell's determination that the university's vacation notices were issued before the ownership registration was recorded had no bearing on its right to issue such notices in the future.
"The actual wording of the eviction notice was valid," she said. "If it becomes necessary to reissue them, we will."
Half the tenants who were residents of the building when the original notices were given out have now moved, according to the university.
Summer students at the Performing Acts Academy are partially filling vacancies in the building and are charged rates in accordance with rent control, said Moran.
Many of the remaining tenants in Glover Tunlaw, however, say they are determined to stay there. Joan Tunstall and Barbara Kraus, of the tenants association, said the university's strategy of persuading tenants to move on an individual basis won't work.
"We won't budge an inch," Kraus said. "They're trying to divide and conquer us by attrition. But we're going to stay together. We have to."
It's simple deplorable what A.U. is trying to do," said Tunstall. "The university has lots of room on campus to build its own buildings.
"I love the city and wan to live here," Tunstall continued. "I really get fire up when I think of all the middle class residents who want to stay in town but can't find any affordable places to live."