As we mentioned recently, this Thursday, February 4 there will be a crucial hearing on the apartment buildings around the Congress Heights Metro. We need to pack the hearing room to show that we will not tolerate slum conditions or displacement. We also need as many people as possible to testify to show how important an issue this is to you. Don't forget to RSVP and let us know you will be there Thursday evening, and to sign up to testify!
As promised, please find below some talking points to help you craft your testimony:
1.) The Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) requires landlords in D.C. to provide tenants the opportunity to purchase the rental building they occupy before the landlord is allowed to demolish or sell it to anyone else. However, as it currently is written, TOPA allows landlords to sit on buildings that they plan to demolish or sell for an unlimited amount of time, during which tenants are often forced from their homes due to slum conditions or other means. This allows the landlord to effectively avoid giving tenants their TOPA rights, which is what has been happening to the tenants at Congress Heights for the past several years.
TOPA must be reformed so that slumlords like Sanford Capitol are not allowed to constructively evict tenants and force them out of their units. The D.C. Council can and should amend the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act to create a reasonable timeline by which TOPA notices must be issued. To be most effective, such a law should include a “trigger” that starts the process of issuing TOPA notices within six months of the Zoning Commission’s approval of a project.
The D.C. Council must pass emergency legislation to this effect immediately and should make such legislation retroactive. This would allow relief for tenants at Congress Heights and around the District to prevent displacement and the perpetuation of slums.
2.) Sanford’s behavior is deplorable and intentional. They are clearly trying to force out Congress Heights tenants to minimize the number of affordable units required at the property. In other words, Sanford Capital — a known slumlord with many properties across D.C. — is forcing people to live in deplorable conditions purely to enhance their profit margin.
The D.C. Council needs to pass a “bad actor” law. Landlords with an excessive number of code violations found by the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) should be banned from receiving any public monies or tax relief. Any development group containing a partner with code violations, or that was partnered with an entity with code violations, should also be ineligible for the these funds and relief measures. This should apply to both corporate entities and their officers. The ban should be in perpetuity.
3.) Sanford’s actions are criminal in nature and have posed a very real threat to the health and safety of the tenants at Congress Heights. Some of the issues that have been present in the buildings since shortly after Sanford gained ownership of the properties, and that continue to plague tenants today, include: no heat in the winter; raw sewage in the basement; unsecured buildings; rodent and bedbug infestations that are not treated properly; and many other issues.
Again, this reinforces the point that the District must strengthen penalties and enforcement on slum conditions. In particular, the District needs to establish stronger criminal penalties for maintaining slum conditions. Any property placed in receivership for failure to make repairs should open up the executives of said entity to criminal prosecution and jail time.
4.) The D.C. Council should establish a broad “claw back” law. In addition to the potential new enforcement tools mentioned above, any entity that is clearly guilty of constructive eviction of this type should be forced to forfeit any District loans, grants or tax relief on all projects in which they are involved.