The case of a private nonprofit group that is attempting to evict four tenants from a low-income apartment house for alleged drug dealing is scheduled to go before a jury in D.C. Civil Court next month, according to a group spokesman.
Bob Boulter, vice president of Jubilee Housing Inc., said this week that the tenants requested a jury trial after Jubilee filed a suit in D.C. Landlord Tenant Court in an effort to remove them from the Mozart apartment house at 1630 Fuller St. NW. He said the tenants received a notice of eviction over the summer but have not moved from their apartments.
Meanwhile, the same tenants have gone before the Rental Accommodations Office and asked for the revokation of an exemption from the Rental Accommodations Act that was issued to Jubilee because it is a nonprofit charitable organization. Under the exemption, Jubilee can evict tenants without showing cause, Boulter said.
RAO hearing officer Thomas Word heard testimony from two tenants last week and is scheduled to hear the case of the other two tenants next week.
Kenneth Riaf, an Antioch Law School student who is representing two of the tenants, argued last week that, under the law, the exemption is for nonprofit groups that provide temporary, long-term housing to people in need. He said that Jubilee, which owns five low-income apartment houses, provides long-term, but not temporary, housing and therefore is not entitled to the exemption.
He also argued that at least one of the evicted tenants lives alone, and is therefore, in effect, exempt from the exemption, under the law.
Boulter said whether the RAO decides Jubilee has a right to the exemption or not, the group will continue its fight in the courts to evict the four tenants.
"We are not an organization to callously evict people," he said last week. "These tenants are infringing on the rights of the majority of our tenants."
Boulter said that drugs have been bought and sold in the four apartments for more than two years, resulting in violence and vandalism.
He said tenants have complained of outsiders using drugs openly, fighting, and urinating in the halls. There have been five drug-related murders near the building, one on the front sidewalk, over the last two years, he said. The gun used in one of the murders was found in the Mozart basement, in an area used for a pre-school program for children.
Boulter said Jubilee received its exemption from the Rental Accommodations Act in February, a year after legislation permitting such exemptions was voted into law. He said the group wants to use the exemption to protect other tenants who are afraid to testify against their drug-dealing neighbors.
"It is very difficult to get people to snitch, because they are afraid of retribution," he said. "Under the exemption, we don't have to prove those tenants are dealing in drugs. It is very hard to prove, because it is hard to get neighbors to give evidence."
Boulter said Jubilee decided to evict the tenants after a thorough investigation and is convinced the four tenants, all women, have allowed drugs to be bought and sold in their apartments.
"We aren't pointing fingers at someone who is innocent," said Boulter. "This is a tragedy we have been dealing with for years."
At the RAO hearing, Word asked Boulter if he would consider helping to rehabilitate the four tenants and allowing them stay in the building. But Boulter said Jubilee officals had talked with the women and thought it best for the rest of the tenants if the four were to move out.
Word said at the end of the hearing last week that his position is "dead center." He said he may abstain from making a decision because RAO already has given Jubilee an exemption.
Riaf said that, under the law, the RAO should decide exemptions on a tenant-by-tenant basis. He said the exemption did not cover tenants living alone or tenants whose incomes exceed a certain level. He said some of Jubilee's tenants fall within these categories.