- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 27, 2016

For the second time this year, the District is suing a property management company over housing code violations that the city says have left tenants with bed bugs and rodents, and without heat and hot water.

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed the lawsuit against Sanford Capital LLC, citing 129 code violations in an apartment complex in Ward 8. Many of the infractions are the same the city noted against the firm earlier this year at another complex it manages.

The lawsuit charges Sanford Capital with leaving tenants at its Terrace Manor apartments, an 11-building complex that serves mostly low-income residents along Savannah and 23rd streets Southeast, in “deplorable” conditions. It says 25 of the 129 violations constitute a “serious threat to the life, health and safety” of the tenants.

“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 residences,” Mr. Racine said. “The residents at Terrace Manor, including dozens of former residents who were forced to move out because of deplorable conditions, deserve relief and restitution.”

The lawsuit contends that Sanford Capital, based in Bethesda, Maryland, repeatedly declined to rectify the problems by ignoring them or by performing “shoddy” fixes. Meanwhile, the management company continued to demand and collect full rent despite the “serious threat to the health and safety” of the tenants.

Sanford Capital did not return calls for comment.

The attorney general is seeking several results from the suit, including the appointment of a receiver to develop a plan to rehabilitate the property, an injunction requiring Sanford Capital to make all necessary repairs, and restitution for tenants who paid rent at the complex despite the conditions.

Earlier this year, Mr. Racine filed a lawsuit against the company’s apartment buildings adjacent to the Congress Heights Metro station.

In April, the city and Sanford Capital agreed to a court-monitored plan to rehabilitate the complex and make sure the tenants are living in habitable conditions. That case remains open. The court is receiving quarterly reports to make sure Sanford Capital complies with the plan.

Will Merrifield, an attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless who is representing the Congress Heights tenants, said that the second lawsuit isn’t surprising, considering what he has seen at the Congress Heights complex.

“There was just the worst possible stuff,” Mr. Merrifield said. “Raw sewage in the basement, insect and rodent infestation, no heat in winter.”

He said the latest suit against Sanford Capital shows that the company has a pattern of exploiting low-income residents.

“They are just terrible stewards of these properties,” he said.

In January, Mr. Racine said in a statement about the Congress Heights case was one of intentional neglect.

Mr. Merrifield backed that claim, saying that the company was trying to push out tenants to make way for a 285,000-square-foot, mixed-use development that will include retail, offices and about 200 new apartments.

“They’re trying to clear the buildings out through willful neglect,” he said. “I think it’s just their business model. They buy property in underserved neighborhoods and aren’t concerned about keeping them in habitable conditions.”

The four low-income buildings that would need to be razed to make way for that development sit across what will be the new Washington Wizards practice facility, which has been touted as the first in a series of moves to bring economic vitality to that neighborhood east of the Anacostia River.

In September, Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled plans to build a 5,000-seat, 118,000-square-foot arena on the campus of the former St. Elizabeths Hospital.

The arena, which is projected to open in 2018, would serve as a practice facility for the Washington Wizards and Mystics about 40 percent of the time; the rest would be used for concerts and other events. The project could bring about 900 jobs to the city and about $90 million in tax revenue annually.

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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