Tenants of the Mintwood Apartments were notified last week that Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler had dsimissed an eviction suit brought against them by the Mintwood Corporation, the new owners of the building.
The suit was dismissed chiefly because no valid notice to quit eviction notice; was served," said Tim Rieser, a law student who helped the tenants prepare a defense.
In a 21-page opinion, Kessler also ruled that consent agreements signed in April by four tenants were invalid because of the presence of "undue influence."
The judge pointed out in her opinion that "many of the tenants had special need for the counsel of lawyers: Some were old and frightened. some were limited in their use of the English language or spoke only Spanish, most had limited education and all were of low to moderate incomes."
The agreements signed by the four tenants with Mintwood Corporation gave the tenants a cash settlement and forgave back rents. None of the tenants was represented by an attorney when the agreements were signed.
Residents of the 24 unit apartment building at 1843 Mintwood Pl. NW received eviction notices last November after the structure was sold. Mark Brodsky, an attorney who has extensive real estate holdings in the District. and John Carleton, an attorney and associate of Brodsky, are shareholders in the Mintwood Corporation. Brodsky, who is president of the corporation, refused to name the other shareholders.
The Mintwood owners filed suit in February in Landlord-Tenant Court against tenants in six units who refused to move out. The tenants were backed in their fight to remain in the building by the We Won't Move Coalition, D.C. Unite to Fight Back and other community and tenants groups concerned with displacememnt to low - and moderate-income families.
John Hannon, an attorney representing the tenants, said that in response, he and law students Rieser and Lisa Krisher filed "motions to dismiss the case for three reasons because the service of the summons was improper, that the notices to quit that the suit was based on were defective and because the notices to quit had been restrained by the D.C. Rental Accommodations Office."
Neighbors said at the time the suit was filed that they were particularly worried about an elderly couple, Saver Morell, 84, and his sister, Flavia Jaillet, 83, who had lived in the Mintwood for many years. Morell and his sister are still in the Mintwood.
Two other tenants who signed the consent agreements moved out before the judge's decision. The suit against them was dismissed as moot.
The Mintwood Corporation now has several options. Among them are appealing the judge's decision, issuing new eviction notices giving the tenants six months to vacate, or re-filing a complaint and suing the tenants on other grounds. Brodsky would not comment on what the corporation will do now.
The owners reportedly planned at the time they purchased the Adams-Morgan building to renovate it extensively and leave it vacant for several months. However, they have recently rented several units in it to the Antioch School of Law. Brodsky said the owners have not made any long-range plan for the apartment building.
An Antioch spokesman said the college is using the Mintwood to house 70 native Americans and migrant farm workers who are attending a paralegal training program funded by a Department of Labor Comprehensive Training and Employment Act (CETA) grant.
In an ironic twist, it is Antioch law students who have defended the Mintwood tenants in the suit to evict them.
Arthur von Keller, director of the Antioch Landlord-Tenant Law Clinic, said his office took on the defense of the Mintwood tenants in late March.
"On March 30 I was asked by someone from the dean's office to look at the Mintwood lease (for the paralegal students). I told them that we were in trouble, that we were defending the Mintwood tenants," he said, "Jean Cahn (co-dean of Antioch) told me that they had no desire to kick the tenants out, and they were not in the position of landlord."
When asked why Antioch, which has a reputation for defending tenants' rights, had agreed to rent a building that was the object of a landlord-tenant dispute, Von Keller said that when Antioch had contracted for a building with the Mintwood owners, Antioch officials thought they were renting an empty building.
The paralegal students began moving into the Mintwood in mid-April and about three-quarters of the building reportedly is now occupied by students.
Gretchen Young, a resident of the Mintwood for 10 years, said she was told by one of the Antioch students that the college was renting the units at the Mintwood for $7,000 a month. Both Bordsky and Stephen Plumer, project director of Antioch's Paralegal Traning Programs, refused to disvulge how much rent Antioch is paying.
Recently, 100 tenants from throughout the city marched from the Mintwood to the office of Columbia Management as a protest against citywide evictions. They also held an all-day block party on Mintwood Place to celebrate tenants ' "victory."