The pair are among the last remaining residents of the rent-controlled building, located at 654 Girard St. NW, which was once home to 70 families. Dyson and Green-Young allege in the lawsuit, filed June 1 in D.C. Superior Court, that Howard University “employed high-pressure tactics through its agents … in efforts to induce the Plaintiffs to forfeit their tenancies.”
Last summer, the two spoke to The Washington Post about their belief that the university has long tried to shuttle them, as well as their neighbors, out of the building in attempt to renovate and flip it. (Property managers can legally ask for more in rent after a unit becomes vacant than they can annually when it’s occupied.)
At the time, and in response to those allegations, a Howard spokeswoman told the Post in an email that “modernization efforts across our real estate portfolio are critical to advancing Howard’s mission to create an educational environment in which all students can thrive.”
In the lawsuit, Dyson and Green-Young allege that Howard University sent tenants a letter in October of 2015 stating that it “hoped to have the building completely vacant by the end of March 2016, and informed residents of permanent relocation services,” justifying the effort by claiming that the building necessitated repairs that a company couldn’t make unless the property was totally vacant.
But the pair are calling bunk on those claims, arguing that the university hasn’t even sought an inspection from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs “to verify its claims regarding the necessary scope of renovations.” Further, they say, in communications to Howard Manor residents, the university “emphasized relocation,” and did not make clear to tenants that they “had the right to maintain their tenancies throughout the renovations.” (A spokesperson for the university did not immediately respond to City Paper‘s request for comment.)
In actions that they call tantamount to “harassment,” Dyson and Green-Young say that the school’s agents “bombard[ed] tenants with numerous calls daily,” made “in-person visits to pressure tenants to vacate their premises,” and “repeatedly offer[ed] cash payments in consideration for tenants agreeing to terminate their tenancies.”
Finally, Dyson and Green-Young claim that the property manager did not cash rent checks between April and October 2015, before debiting tenants’ account for those months “all at once” in October of that year. They argue it was a “strategy” to weaken tenants’ bargaining positions during relocation negotiations. Only three tenants remained in the building by last May.
Howard has been in the spotlight this year for what students and faculty have called chronic mismanagement of university property, including student housing and other residential property. The lawsuit comes as Howard also moves forward with ambitious plans to renovate another property on its campus, the long-embattled Bond Bread Factory.