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Last week, Washington City Paper reported on deteriorating housing conditions at 1451 Sheridan St. NW, where one tenant, Kassahun Workneh, has been dealing with a recurring leak in his apartment for more than 10 years.
While water comes into the apartment almost every time it rains or snows, a heavy storm on Monday night caused a large section of the living room ceiling to fully collapse in the one-bedroom unit Workneh shares with his wife and two sons. The destruction of the ceiling caused other damage in the apartment and forced Workneh and his family to spend the night in their neighbor’s apartment.
“The thunderstorm wrecked the whole ceiling,” Workneh said on Wednesday morning. “The whole ceiling! The ceiling fall down, on the furniture, on the carpet. Everywhere. So when we came [home], it was really a shock. Honestly, without any exaggeration, the whole carpet was wet, wet, wet. When you lift it up, water everywhere. The sofa, wet.”
Workneh’s building is owned by Saifur Khan, who operates as the 16th St. Heights Noah LLC and owns several buildings in the neighborhood. The morning after the storm and ceiling collapse, Workneh says, building management plastered the ceiling and cleaned up the debris and water on the floor. But after more than a decade of dealing with mold, fungus, and ruined property from the recurring leak, Workneh is not optimistic there will be a lasting solution. “Every time rain coming, if there is no drip, the wall is getting wet,” he says. “The wall getting wet means there is smell. I am telling you, they never fix it permanently.”
Workneh also says that a desk his two sons use to do their homework was destroyed from the water damage. “In the corner there is a small desk I bought from Ikea—it’s smashed. With the books, it fall down from the load, it smashed completely. It is big loss.”
Talia Brock, an organizer with the Latino Economic Development Center, leads tenant meetings at 1451 Sheridan and other buildings in the neighborhood, and acts as a resource for residents in situations similar to Workneh.
“Slumlords,” she says, “are much more concerned with their business than they are with the people who live in their buildings. So you can’t really appeal to their concern for these people, because they just flat out say ‘no’ a lot of the time. The reason could be genuinely financial, that they don’t have enough funds, but you know, when it comes to the tenant’s safety, it’s really important that landlords are willing to figure something out.”
This week, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds introduced a bill that empowers advocates, as well as D.C.’s attorney general, to file an action against landlords in D.C. Superior Court if buildings have been severely neglected for at least 30 days. In addition to the cover story, City Paper‘s Will Sommer recently detailed the deplorable conditions at a condemned building at 5509 9th St. NW whose low-income tenants didn’t want to leave—they had nowhere else to go.
As his ceiling was being patched up on Tuesday morning, Workneh says he called Khan: “And even he didn’t say the word ‘sorry.’ I swear to God, it’s not human. I know he’s a businessman, but still. Besides his business, we all human beings.”
Photo courtesy Talia Brock