When operating a large apartment building under the city’s radar, it’s probably best to stay out of court-bound squabbles with tenants. So when married couple Ciprian and Daniela Berghea asked their landlord, June Layne, to repair a rotted bedroom floor, the smart move would have been to do it quickly and quietly. Instead of prompt repairs, they got an eviction notice.

Researching for the hearing, the Bergheas discovered that their 33-unit building in Columbia Heights has no business license and is not registered as an apartment building with the city. The couple won the hearing, but a day later someone slipped a rent increase under the Bergheas’ door, printed on Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs letterhead that, according to one city housing inspector, was forged. When they called to report further code violations and notify the city that the building was itself illegal, the Bergheas say they were told by a DCRA official that because Layne didn’t have a business license, the building was not a business that the agency could regulate, and so it couldn’t send an inspector out.

“That is not department policy,” says DCRA spokesperson Karyn-Siobhan Robinson, who suggests that the Bergheas might have been confused by the complexity of DCRA’s mandate. As a result of the inquiry, she says, the agency has opened an investigation. Reached by phone, Layne immediately hung up on a reporter.