Photo by Victoria Pickering
From the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia:
“Attorney General Karl A. Racine today announced that Castle Management and other defendants, which owned and managed the Forest Ridge and The Vista Apartment complexes (398 units) in Ward 8, will pay $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit over dangerous and deplorable conditions at its properties. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) alleged the property owner forced hundreds of tenants to live with vermin infestations, water damage and mold, no fire safety systems, and security defects that led to persistent gun violence. Separately, OAG resolved a lawsuit against the owner of Good Hope Laundromat requiring it to address persistent gun and drug nuisances at the property and pay penalties to the District. In a third settlement, the landlord and management of a Ward 4 apartment building accused of misrepresenting its apartments as safe and habitable despite ongoing housing code violations is required to substantially renovate the property, prove its properties are compliant with D.C. housing laws for future rentals, pay $50,000 in combined civil penalties, and implement an employee Housing Code training.
“The Office of the Attorney General will not allow landlords to ignore their legal responsibilities to maintain their properties or disregard the health and safety of District tenants,” said AG Racine. “These settlements will provide much-needed relief for hundreds of renters, many of whom were forced to live in fear for their physical safety and health for far too long. Our office will enforce the District’s housing laws to ensure landlords follow the law and protect tenants, especially our most vulnerable residents.”
OAG enforces the District’s Tenant Receivership Act (TRA) and the Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) to protect tenants. Under the TRA, landlords can be forced to fix chronic health and safety issues at a rental property. When landlords fail to provide safe and habitable housing to consumers, OAG also can take action under the CPPA, which prohibits a wide variety of deceptive and unlawful business practices and protects consumers, including tenants.
The District’s Drug-, Firearm-, or Prostitution-Related Nuisance Abatement Act (Nuisance Act) allows OAG to take action against owners and operators to remedy drug and firearm nuisance activity at a property. OAG investigates properties referred by the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) and community groups and works collaboratively with property owners whenever possible to solve the problem. However, when property owners fail to implement basic security measures, even after warnings, OAG files lawsuits to help ensure that residents are safe in their neighborhoods.
Ward 8: Forest Ridge and The Vista Apartments
Forest Ridge and The Vista Apartments are two Ward 8 apartment complexes containing 398 units total. The properties are located near schools, daycare facilities, and include an on-site child development center, Horton’s Kids. In 2018, OAG filed suit against Castle Management and other named defendants (Vista Ridge defendants) for forcing tenants to live with dangerous and unlawful conditions at these properties. OAG alleged that the landlord refused to address chronic housing code violations, including repeated flooding, severe rodent infestations, and a lack of working smoke detectors. OAG alleged Vista Ridge defendants also failed to implement basic security measures, such as installing more lighting and fencing, or increasing security guard presence to address rampant gun and drug-related crime and violence in and around the property.
As part of the settlement with OAG, Vista Ridge defendants are required to:
- Pay at least $1.9 million in restitution to tenants: Vista Ridge defendants must pay at least $1.9 million to eligible current or former tenants to compensate them for being forced to live in unsafe conditions, as well as for property damage and serious bodily injuries. The District will be sending letters to the tenants with instructions regarding how to obtain their money.
- Pay $1 million to OAG: Roughly $1 million will be retained by the District to support OAG’s community-driven violence reduction program, Cure the Streets, and to support OAG’s future litigation expenses.
- Pay $100,000 to Horton’s Kids: Vista Ridge defendants will pay $100,000 in relief to Horton’s Kids, a non-profit that rents space in The Vista Apartments.
- Pay $150,000 to a District charity: Vista Ridge defendants must pay $150,000 to D.C. Central Kitchen, a non-profit and social enterprise that combats hunger and poverty through job training and job creation.
A copy of the settlement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/VistaRidge-Settlement.pdf
Ward 8: Good Hope Laundromat
Good Hope Laundromat, located in Ward 8’s historic Anacostia neighborhood, is owned by Hope Sound Corporation and its principal Cheung Kee Cheung. The property is known as a location where drugs are sold and purchased and is located close to a local elementary school, day care facility, and non-profit. In April 2020, OAG filed suit, alleging that the property failed to implement security measure to address rampant drug-related activity on the property. Between April 2019 and April 2020, MPD responded to 75 calls to the property including incidents of stabbings, shootings, and other drug-related violence.
As part of the settlement with OAG, the defendants are required to:
- Install and maintain exterior lighting and security cameras: The owners of Good Hope Laundromat must install and maintain exterior lighting and security cameras and must replace them quickly if they stop working.
- Hire security guards: The owners of Good Hope Laundromat must hire security guards to be present at the property seven days a week.
- Bar individuals engaged in criminal activity: Individuals who have engaged in criminal activity must be barred from the property. Barring notices against individuals must be enforced by the security guard.
- Pay a $24,000 fine to the District: The owners of Good Hope Laundromat must pay the District $24,000 if they fail to comply with the provisions set forth in the settlement agreement.
A copy of the settlement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/Good-Hope-Laundromat-Settlement.pdf
Ward 4: 220 Hamilton Street NW
220 Hamilton Street LLC, Vivienne Awasum, and Vision Realty Management LLC are the owners and property managers of 220 Hamilton Street, a 34-unit apartment building in Ward 4. In 2018, OAG filed suit alleging that the property had failed to address 113 out of the 173 housing code violations initially reported by the District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. OAG alleged that persistent housing code violations and the defendants neglected persistent problems at the property for almost two-years, including severe rodent and insect infestation; leaking from the roof, plumbing, and windows; as well as other needed structural repairs.
As part of the settlement with OAG, the defendants are required to:
- Renovate the property in compliance with a District-approved renovation plan: 220 Hamilton Street defendants are required to comply with an Office of Administrative Hearings approved renovation plan to abate all housing conditions at the rental property.
- Supply proof of compliance for future property rentals: 220 Hamilton Street defendants are prohibited from renting any residential properties in D.C. without first supplying proof that the property complies with D.C. housing laws.
- Implement a D.C. Housing Code training program for employees: The defendants are required to implement a D.C. housing law training for all of their employees.
- Pay the District $50,000: Defendants are required to pay a combined total of $50,000 to the District for failing to remedy housing code violations.
A copy of the settlement with 220 Hamilton Street LLC and Vivienne Awasum is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/220-Hamilton-St-Awasum-Settlement.pdf
A copy of the settlement with Vision Realty Management is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-07/Vision-Realty-Management-Settlement.pdf
OAG’s Social Justice Section uses the law and creative problem solving to improve the quality of life for District residents, preserve affordable housing, and to hold landlords accountable for providing safe and habitable conditions. Learn how to report nuisance activity in your neighborhood and find more renter resources at OAG’s Tenant Resources.”