D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) has filed a pair of new lawsuits alleging poor housing conditions at buildings formerly owned by Sanford Capital, a company with an extensive network of apartments for low-income people that has drawn scrutiny for squalid conditions.
The new litigation, citing the city’s consumer protection laws, seeks to recoup rent paid by tenants who lived at Sanford properties on Franklin Street NE and G Street SE. The lawsuits allege that property managers failed to respond to rodent and bedbug infestations, flooding and criminal squatters in vacant units, as well as broken heating systems in winter and sewage backups on G Street.
“Under District law, landlords have the duty to provide tenants with safe, secure and habitable housing,” Racine said in a statement. “Landlords who fail to adhere to these legal obligations cannot dodge liability by simply selling their properties.
An investigation by The Washington Post last year found a pattern of similar conditions at 19 complexes linked to Sanford Capital, which receives millions from the city annually through taxpayer-funded housing vouchers.
“These tenants made the difficult decision to continue residing at the property despite the hazardous and dangerous conditions caused by the defendants’ failure to maintain the property because these tenants lacked the means to move to another location,” the attorney general’s office says in both lawsuits.
Aubrey Carter Nowell, a principal of Sanford, did not respond to an email seeking comment on the latest allegations.
Housing inspectors reviewed both properties last year as part of a full sweep of Sanford buildings ordered by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) following investigative reports in The Post and the Washington City Paper about poor housing conditions at Sanford. Bowser called the company out by name in her State of the District address last year.
During that sweep, inspectors found more than 1,000 violations of the housing code that carried the potential for more than $500,000 in fines. Sanford contested the violations in court. A spokeswoman for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs said the agency has since levied nearly $268,000 and the company has paid $158,000 of that balance.
The lawsuits say Sanford Capital failed to abate 86 of 93 violations noted at the Franklin Street apartments and at least 57 of 94 serious violations at G Street.