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Hello, D.C. Only one presidential candidate brought up D.C. statehood during last night’s Democratic debate, and it was South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Mayor Muriel Bowser took note

THE NEWS: 

Attorney General Karl A. Racine just filed a lawsuit against the owner of a Ward 7 apartment building for exposing tenants to lead-based paint and endangering their health and safety. This is the first time the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) sued a landlord for violating the District’s Lead Hazard Act. 

Backstory: Since 2017, the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) has received multiple complaints about peeling or chipping paint in this building. After inspecting the four-unit, two story property, DOEE said it found lead-based paint and dust, and asked the landlord to eliminate the hazards. 

After the owner mostly ignored the administrative orders to remove or contain the lead paint for two years, OAG decided to sue. Attorneys with OAG believe all four units are still occupied, with eight to 10 tenants total; the landlord actually lives in one of the apartments herself.     

Racine has filed dozens of lawsuits against property managers since he was first elected in 2014. While housing advocates welcome all the cases, they also don’t want the lawsuits to distract from the systemic problem of improving code violations enforcement.  

“It’s definitely a positive step for the AG to tackle these issues, but I worry that the scale of the problem with housing conditions exceeds the OAG’s capacity,” says tenant organizer Rob Wohlof the Latino Economic Development Center. “The problem with the administrative agencies isn’t that they never investigate or cite violations; the problem is that they don’t do a very good job collecting fines, so landlords aren’t afraid of violating the law.”

DOEE says it “has issued 201 administrative orders to eliminate lead-based paint hazards to owners of rental properties in the District since DOEE began issuing these orders in December 2015. 143 have been resolved by the owner making repairs and submitting a clearance report prepared by a certified lead risk assessor.” The agency can’t comment on pending litigation, but says it supports Racine’s effort. 

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Lead paint is a big issue in D.C., and one that the city has struggled to address. —Amanda Michelle Gomez (Email me at agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)  

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