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The office of Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit last month against property management company 220 Hamilton Street LLC, which owns its namesake apartment complex, a 34-unit building in Brightwood Park. The District is suing the LLC along with its registered agent Vivienne Awasum and property managers Vision Realty Management LLC, alleging that the parties have demonstrated a pattern of neglect in their management of the building.
Racine’s office is seeking a third-party receiver to take over management of the property and make critical repairs for tenants.
These owners and operators are merely continuing a long tradition of neglect at the property, the District’s suit alleges, a trend that began with former owner Rufus Stancil, who was in possession of the building from 1996 to 2017 and was previously sued by the District for neglecting residential properties. The wife of one of the co-founders of slumlord Sanford Capital, Mary Strauss, originally created the LLC that Awasum now operates. (Neither Awasum nor a representative from Vision Realty Management immediately responded to City Paper’s requests for comment.)
City Paper first wrote about 220 Hamilton Street in 2017, shortly after Rufus Stancil’s son Gary filed for bankruptcy. Doing so allowed the younger Stancil, who co-owned the building, to offload it in a bankruptcy auction that year. (WAMU also wrote about facility conditions at the property in early 2017.)
Tenants of 220 Hamilton Street “have lived in deteriorating conditions for years,” D.C.’s complaint says. A conditions assessment of the property completed in November of 2017 noted that there is “extensive structural damage to the wood framed floors caused by water damage,” that “the cast iron sewage pipes in the building were broken and leaked sewage and rainwater into the building,” that “the building did not meet life safety codes.” It detailed a number of other fire safety hazards at the property, including limited exits and nearly inoperable windows.
Other issues include rodent infestations, plumbing and other leaks, a lack of heat, structural issues, and inadequate flooring.
The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs conducted an inspection of the property in July last year, citing 173 housing code violations on the property. Ninety-eight of those were “severe violations” that threatened tenants’ life and safety, the complaint alleges, and 113 of the total violations were not abated when DCRA re-inspected the property 30 days later.
Further, the complaint alleges that there have been “no major updates at the property for years,” and that “the tenants have also lived in these conditions for years.”
The District is asking a D.C. Superior Court judge to appoint a third party to oversee the abatement of housing code violations at the property, as well as order the defendants to “contribute funds in excess of the rents collected from the rental housing accommodation” for rehabilitation of the property.
Five tenants submitted affidavits with the District’s complaint; one, Maurice Tesheira, has lived in the building for 27 years. Some say their windows routinely fall out of their panes, while others say their kitchen appliances are sinking into the floor. One person reported that tenants can see the basement through holes in the common room floor. Another person reported extensive termite damage to their bedroom.
Racine’s office alleges that Awasum, her LLC and Vision Realty Management “implicitly represented to tenants … that the property was habitable” by offering and executing leases, which it says constitutes an unlawful trade practice under the Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
Racine’s office was recently successful in lobbying a D.C. Superior Court judge to appoint a receiver for a different apartment complex in the same neighborhood, a 39-unit Brightwood Park apartment complex the court found was in disrepair.
Alexa Mills contributed to this report.