Residents of the Mintwood Apartments and supporters from the Adams Morgan area picketed the Vermont Avenue office of the building's manager last week, seeking negotiations they hoped would result in the tenants being allowed to stay in the building.
Carrying signs saying, "We Won't Move," and "Mintwood Tenants Association," the group of about 20 protesters chanted "Walter Brown. Negotiate," "The tenants have community support," and "Hell no, we won't go."
The tenants received notices to vacate last November, after the building at 1843 Mintwood Place NW was sold.
Walter A. Brown III, who said he sold the building because he couldn't afford the upkeep, now manages the Mintwood for an unidentified group of investors. The new owners reportedly plan to renovate the 24-unit, three-story brick building extrensively and leave it vacant for several months.
Brown did not talk with the picketers last week. He has also refused several times to attend the Mintwood Tenants Association's weekly meetings, saying that he would not come until he was assured that only tenants would be present.
"This is a tenant situation. This is not a neighborhood situation. I'll be glad to come to a meeting of just the tenants . . . The tenants want other groups there," Brown said in an interview. "We don't want a carnival atmosphere.
"Why should I negotiate with yelling people," Brown said, referring to the picketers outside. "I'll talk to any tenant on a one-to-one basis."
Residents of the building said that they see Brown's refusal to meet with them and other groups as a tactic to break up their support in the community.
One goal of the protest, said Bill Berry, a resident of the Mintwood, was "to get public support for the tenants." He has lived in the Mintwood for eight years.
John Hannon, a member of the D.C. Fight Back, said that the group had accomplished what it set out to do. "We're pressuring Brown," he said. "We have shown him that we have community support. We won't be walked over."
D.C. Fight Back is a group that recently has been organizing tenant's associations and community groups in the District to fight evictions and rent increases and to protest unemployment.
Two of the picketers outside Brown's office were tenants. Others were Adams Morgan residents and community activists who said they have become alarmed about the increased number of evictions of low-income people from the neighborhood.
Organizers of the picketing said they thought the protest drew a small turnout of citizens because of cold weather and the time of day -- 5 p.m. on a Friday.
"I've placed nine out of 21 tenants in that building elsewhere. I've given a lot of personal effort to find what I can for people at comparable rents, and I've given them a list of vacancies that they have first preference on," Brown said.
One-bedroom apartments at the Mintwood presently rent for $120 a month, while two-bedroom units cost $124, and bachelor units (with no cooking facilities) rent for $76.50 per month, Brown said. The list of available units that Brown sent to the tenants had units priced higher than --and in some cases double -- the rents at the Mintwood.
Asked if the Mintwood residents would be able to return after the building renovation is completed, Brown said, "I don't know what the new owners plan to do . . . If the building couldn't carry itself on this rent schedule, how could these people move in after the renovation when, presumably, the units will rent for more?" he said.
The protesters left a letter at Brown's office, stating, "We want to impress upon you and to state that we want to be able to stay . . . and that we want to be able to come to some agreement in order to stay."
Some of the eviction notices sent out last November were declared invalid by the D.C. Rental Accommodations Commission because of a technicality. Tenants in several units have not received valid notices yet, according to Patricia Bobo, of the commission. Under city rental laws, tenants have 90 days to move after they receive valid eviction notices.
John Carlton, an attorney for the new owners of the Mintwood, said that he could not comment on eviction notices because "if there were a deficiency, it's something that might be litigated."
In addition, he said, he has been instructed by the owners not to comment on any plans for the Mintwood.