A D.C. Superior Court judge, responding to a request for leniency by city attorneys, sentenced a landlord to 180 days in jail yesterday, then placed him on probation providing he correct housing and fire code violations at a 14th Street apartment building.
Judge George D. Neilson told landlord Emanuel Dickey that if all fire and housing code violations were not corrected at 2523 14th St. NW within 60 days, the one year's probation could be revoked.
An attorney for the city, Thomas A. Medford, said his request for leniency was based on the city's policy of trying to get landlords to fix up their property rather than punish them.
In January, Medford's supervisor, Nathaniel H. Speights, chief of the law enforcement section of the D.C. Corporation Counsel's Office, told a D.C. City Council committee that city lawyers prefer to negotiate with landlords rather than prosecute them because even if a landlord is fined or jailed, the law contains no requirement that the violations be corrected.
In recommending a suspended sentence with the special condition for probation, Medford told the court yesterday, "As long as he is under the supervision of the court, he will act right."
Less than a year ago, the city government charged Dickey with virtually the same fire code violations--obstruction of fire escapes, a broken fire alarm system, missing fire extinquishers and exit lights--at the 56-unit, three-story, beige-brick building. At that time he was allowed to pay a $450 fine, with no court-imposed condition that the violations be corrected. Then last September the city charged him with eight more fire code violations. In an arrangement with prosecutors, he was allowed to plead guilty to two of them.
Most tenants at the building appeared to support the court's action. "I was pleased," said Rachel Anderson, secretary of the building's tenants council. "If's he's in jail we wouldn't get anything done. We just want to get what we are paying for."
Dickey's attorney, John C. LaPrade, argued against a jail sentence, saying that Dickey had fixed the fire alarm system, repaired the fire escape, installed new fire extinguishers and smoke detectors, replaced the exit lights and removed some refrigerators that had obstructed some entrances to the fire escape.
LaPrade also said that the landlord was now working to correct the 40 pages of housing code violations placed against the 14th Street property.
Dickey, who owns 12 other apartment buildings in the city, said that when he purchased the 14th Street building in 1974, it was "in bad condition" and nearly empty. He said he repaired the building and filled it with tenants, then was hit by rent control and vandalism. There are currently 26 empty apartments, according to the tenants.
"I have never neglected a building. I'm not in business to oppress people," Dickey said.