3022 Channing Street N.E.

Does the name Vincent Abell ring a bell?

It probably doesn’t. But here’s why it might: Back in July, City Paper wrote a story about several landlords accused of negligence in a lawsuit from the city. Abell was among them.

Last April, Attorney General Peter Nickles filed the suit against “23 of the very worst ‘slumlords,’ asking the court to put many of their 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.”

Now, Abell wants to buy one of the vacant properties auctioned off on January 30 by the city. Abell had the top bid on 3022 Channing Street N.E.

Here’s what we wrote about Abell:

  1. Vincent Abell
  2. Abell’s home in Silver Spring

    Vincent Abell and Marta Bertola bought their big white house in Silver Spring in 2004 for $1.2 million. The 1982 wooden house, with plantation columns and rows of shuttered windows, has six bathrooms, three fireplaces, a four-car garage, and a pool out back.

    I ring the bell and wait. The vestibule is cluttered with garden implements and household bric-a-brac, a Buddhist statue, a can of WD-40. The paint on the front door is chipped. A teenage boy opens up, then closes the door in my face to go fetch his father. A moment later, a balding man wearing a bluetooth headset and broken glasses asks me to come inside. Abell, 54, says he’d be happy to talk about the city’s case and leads me through his shabby-chic home—honey woods, pastel upholstery, faux Colonial wallpaper—to a little sitting room with two small couches. He explains that the suit dings him only for failing to obtain business licenses for two dozen properties—not for housing-code violations.

    I remember coming across a few nasty rumors about Abell on the Internet—a conviction for fraud, a critical story in the Post. I ask him if he’s had legal troubles before or found his name in the papers. He shrugs and says sure he’s been written about, but he can’t really remember. I’ve read about so many landlords in the last few weeks, I figure I got him confused with someone else. Abell’s wife and business partner, Marta Bertola, comes in then, and Abell assures her I’m not to be feared. We have a few laughs, and I head home.

    Abell’s rental on Q Street NW

    I plug their names into the computer again. Abell was being modest. He gets lots of attention in the papers. In 1989, he served six months in federal prison for lying to federal housing officials. More recently, he’s been sued several times for scamming senior citizens out of their homes. Most of the cases accuse Abell of approaching the owners of homes at risk of foreclosure, offering to help erase the debt, and walking away with the deed.

    This January, five elderly D.C. residents settled with Abell for $500,000. And in February, 72-year-old Walter Malone, who also lost his home to Abell, testified before a Senate hearing: “People like Mr. Abell,” he said, “make their living by hitting you when you’re down, all the while pretending they’re helping you.”

    Abell was right about one thing: The city’s suit accuses him only of failing to obtain business licenses for his rental properties. I visit one of his listed buildings, 424 Q St. NW. No one answers the door. It’s a beautiful brick building that stretches far back from the street. As recently as six months ago, neighbors say, Abell was renting out six units. But he never kept the place up, and people slowly moved out—which perhaps explains why Abell isn’t in bigger trouble. Neighbors believe one woman still lives in a back unit, but she doesn’t come out very often. Meanwhile, the front stoop has become a late-night gathering place for local hoodlums, and the piles of trash are growing.

    When I call Abell back to ask about his record, he tells me, “You should write your article about positive things.” He says his criminal conviction resulted from his own benevolence; he forgave the down payment on a house. “That was 25 years ago,” he says. As for the Q Street building, he says he’s been planning on making repairs for months now. Late last year, he says he offered to let the tenants live in another of his buildings while he did the work. They didn’t want to wait, then mysteriously moved out over the next six months. Abell claims it had nothing to do with his upkeep. He says no one lives there anymore and he’s just waiting for the city to approve his building permit.

According to a spokesperson for Nickles’ office, “the case against Mr. Abell was dismissed after he provided proof of basic business licenses and/or certificate of occupancies for all properties named in the petition that was owned by him.”