- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 12, 2003

Tenants who live in the Capitol Park Plaza Apartments in Southwest raised their voices yesterday during a demonstration in front of their apartment building to protest what residents call drastic rent increases, intrusive construction and owner negligence.

Members of the New Capitol Park Tenants Association and WISH (Washington Innercity Self Help) chanted a variety of slogans and hoisted placards reading: “Down with Rent Hikes” and “Tony Williams: Who is Your Landlord?” in front of the apartment building at 3rd and I streets in Southwest. American Community Properties Trust owns both Capitol Park Plaza Apartments and the Capitol Plaza Twin Towers.

Some motorists joined in support by honking horns, and children who live nearby added to the noise by banging on utility boxes — a substitute for drums — during the hourlong rally that ended at Ward 6 Council member Sharon Ambrose’s home on Capitol Hill.

Richard Coward, 54, a seven-year Capitol Park Plaza tenant, said residents feel that management subverted tenants’ first right to purchase.

“Management should not be able to circumvent a law to their benefit and to the detriment of tenants,” Mr. Coward said, “and I think it’s incredible that the city would allow management to do substantial rehabilitation when people are still living here.

“Anywhere [in the building] where work is being done, the windows are sealed and there is no fresh air entering the apartment and, in case of a fire, there’s only one exit, and that’s the front door,” said the former chief housing inspector and senior investigator for the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Andrew Critchfield, 32, moved into his apartment at the Capitol Park Twin Towers 10 months ago. He said he has big problems with the new 12 percent annual rent increase, especially considering the problems in his apartment, which range from broken vents to leaky cracked sinks.

“I want the 12 percent rent increase reduced. The apartment is not worth the former rent, let alone a 12 percent increase,” he said.

Kevin Fitzgerald, who serves as an interim board member on the New Capitol Park Plaza Tenants’ Association said he hopes the loophole in the Tenants Right to Purchase law is effectively closed for the benefit of residents of Capitol Park Plaza and Twin Towers and tenants throughout the District.

“The law states when a building is sold, tenants should be offered the Right of First Refusal. … In 1994, the law was amended to define a sale as only those transactions that transfer 100 percent of the property to another. In our case, 95 percent interest in these properties were transferred to another owner and 5 percent retained by the original owner. This seems to be the preferred percentage transferred to get around the requirement to offer tenants the right of first refusal,” he said.

“You know, this is the summer of our discontent,” said Mr. Fitzgerald, an energy and environmental consultant.

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