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This has been the year of the slumlord. In early March, the Washington Post published a three-part series drilling into the practices of landlords who let their buildings rot, forcing out low-income renters to make way for wealthy condo buyers. As if on cue, real life provided an example of why the story mattered. On March 12, a fire ripped through a modern-day tenement in Mount Pleasant, displacing about 200 residents and drawing immediate scrutiny of the owners who’d neglected the building.
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District residents wanted a response, and within weeks, the city delivered. On April 4, Interim Attorney General Peter Nickles filed a lawsuit against 23 of the very worst “slumlords,” asking the court to put many of the properties into receivership so the city could make sure rents got spent on making repairs. A few weeks later, Nickles released a revised list, touting the addition of several more landlords.
The slumlord is a classic urban character, a keeper of the class divide and a reminder of our occasional fears that the entrepreneurial spirit can go too far. We imagine a turn-of-the-century fat cat who stays in the money because he forces the cramped masses to live in squalor. Jacob Riis described these men 120 years ago in How the Other Half Lives, writing about wealthy, absentee landlords, “the worst offenders,” who lived out in the still-idyllic countryside and didn’t know or care to know about the conditions of their buildings. The idea hasn’t changed much since. But do the District’s alleged slumlords live up to the old description?
- Rufus Stancil
- Steven Madeoy
- Scott Herrick and Bernadette Manara
- David Tolson
- Vincent Abell
- Talley R. Holmes Jr.