WASHINGTON CITY PAPER: Slumlord Sanford Capital to Return More Than $1 Million in Rent to Tenants

MITCH RYALSALEXA MILLS 

NOV 13, 2019 12 PM

Cover G Street SE3 5892641f5fed6Broken lock at G Street Apartments, February 2017DARROW MONTGOMERYExiled slumlord Sanford Capital agreed to pay $1.1 million to 155 tenants in three of its residential properties as part of another settlement with the District, the Office of the Attorney General announced today.

The settlement resolves three consumer protection lawsuits against the Bethesda-based property company, and its principal, Carter Nowell, whose tenants in buildings across the city dealt with living conditions that included rodent infestations, front doors that wouldn’t lock, sewage bubbling up in their tubs and spilling into their apartments, seeing benches and playgrounds removed from their properties, shuttered laundry rooms, broken appliances, a lack of heat in the winter, and standing water in building basements. 

The OAG found “numerous housing and fire code violations that threatened the health and safety of tenants,” according to the office’s news release. “When Sanford Capital offered apartments for rent, it represented that properties would be maintained according to District law.” 

Some Sanford tenants paid market rent, while for others, Sanford received government vouchers contributing to rent. Under this agreement, Sanford is required to return rent paid by residents at its Alabama Avenue SE, G Street SE, and Franklin Street NE properties. Eligible tenants at these three properties will receive an average of $7,357.34 in restitution. 

The settlement agreement resolves both the OAG’s allegations that Sanford violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act at three properties and claims brought by the Legal Aid Society for the District of Columbia on behalf of 32 tenants at one property. 

“Today’s settlement sends a message to slumlords that business practices that put profit ahead of the safety and wellbeing of their tenants will not be tolerated in the District,” said Attorney General Karl Racine.

In a 2018 settlement with the OAG, Sanford agreed to divest all ownership in its residential properties in D.C. and stay out of the District for the next seven years.

The fight is not over for the tenants of Sanford Capital’s former property above the Congress Heights Metro station. Politically connected D.C. developer Geoff Griffis and Nowell had plans to redevelop the property a decade ago. As Sanford offloaded its properties in the wake of press reports and lawsuits, it transferred valuable Congress Heights property to CityPartners, a real estate firm headed by Griffis. In 2017, a judge ordered Sanford to negotiate exclusively with the tenants for the sale of the property, which is now across from the new Entertainment and Sports Arena. 

After a fire displaced the tenants from the Congress Heights property last November, the tenants moved to units in the nearby area. But they continue to press for their right to return to Congress Heights and to express their vision for the property: safe, affordable housing for people in the community. 

“The Alabama Ave/13th Street Tenant’s Coalition has been fighting Sanford Capital and their various business partners for the past six years,” says Will Merrifield, Staff Attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. “In that time, the Office of the Attorney General has been an indispensable partner in making certain that Sanford Capital be held accountable for attempting to illegally empty the buildings above the Congress Heights metro in order to deprive Coalition members of their rights under the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.”