Sanford's Congress Heights property
Sanford's Congress Heights property Credit: Darrow Montgomery

Within the space of a year, D.C.’s attorney general has sued the same real estate company twice, alleging that it has allowed one of its Ward 8 properties near the District’s border with Maryland to fall into dangerous disrepair.

Attorney General Karl Racine announced a lawsuit against Bethesda-based Sanford Capital and its affiliates Monday afternoon. The property in question is called Terrace Manor and is located near the Suitland Parkway at Savannah and 23rd streets SE. It consists of 61 rental units across 11 buildings that were acquired in late 2012 after residents failed to exercise their rights under the District’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

Racine’s office contends that Sanford has demonstrated a “pattern of neglect” by repeatedly declining to abate poor living conditions at Terrace Manor, ignoring tenant complaints or “performing shoddy, superficial fixes.” The property has racked up more than 120 housing code violations, including rodent and bedbug infestations, defunct or missing fire alarms and extinguishers, inadequate ventilation, and lack of proper heat.

Filed in D.C. Superior Court, the lawsuit seeks to place Terrace Manor in receivership so the property can be repaired. It also asks for restitution awards for tenants and an injunction mandating that the owner fix all housing code violations.

An attorney for Sanford declined to comment. In a statement, Racine said the property’s residents, including those who have since relocated due to “deplorable conditions,” deserve legal relief. “The District is facing an affordable housing crisis, and tenants should not be forced to choose between living in unsafe and uninhabitable conditions or leaving their residents,” he added.

The Office of the Attorney General also went after Sanford in January, filing suit and alleging similar failures at a complex of low-income buildings that the company wants to redevelop around the Congress Heights Metro station. A court-ordered abatement plan came into effect in April, requiring Sanford to perform regular unit inspections, respond efficiently to maintenance requests, and conduct pest exterminations for the dozen-plus tenants who remained there.

That lawsuit remains open and Sanford faces penalties if it fails to comply with the abatement agreement. Will Merrifield, an attorney for the Congress Heights tenants who works at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, says the new Terrace Manor suit shows the company “cannot be trusted to be proper stewards of these properties.” The residents of the Congress Heights complex are seeking to exercise their TOPA rights and purchase the property.

The full Terrace Manor lawsuit can be found here.