Sanford Capital LLC and its owner have been ordered by D.C.’s attorney general to return more than $1.1 million in rent payments to 155 tenants in Wards 5, 7 and 8 who were forced to live in uninhabitable conditions.
The joint settlement agreement, announced Wednesday by Attorney General Karl Racine, resolves three consumer protection lawsuits the AG’s office brought against the Bethesda, Md.-based Sanford Capital for charging rent while failing to maintain properties and endangering tenants.
“The Office of the Attorney General fought Sanford Capital’s shocking abuses for years alongside tenants and their advocates,” Racine said in a statement. “I am pleased that this settlement will provide long-overdue monetary relief to vulnerable residents who were forced to endure inhumane living conditions. 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.”
Sanford Capital, which has a long and troubled history in the District, once owned more than 65 buildings in the city.
With Racine’s office having begun legal action since 2016 against Sanford and related companies, several of the buildings had remained in dilapidated conditions.
The settlement also resolves 32 claims filed by the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia on behalf of individual tenants relating to housing conditions at one of the Sanford properties.
Sanford Capital, which formerly operated residential apartment buildings in the District, and its principal Aubrey Carter Nowell, allegedly engaged in a pattern of neglect and forced hundreds of vulnerable low-income tenants to live in unsafe and inhumane conditions, according to Racine’s office.
Two of Sanford’s properties, the Terrace Manor apartment complex in Ward 8 and the Congress Heights Apartments in Ward 7, were placed under receivership by the Superior Court due to their appalling condition. As part of a 2018 settlement of the case involving the Terrace Manor complex, Sanford Capital and Nowell were required to pay $325,000 in restitution to tenants at that building and stop doing business in the District.
Litigation involving three properties located at 1309 Alabama Avenue, 315 and 325 Franklin Street NE, and 4951 G Street SE continued. The original housing conditions lawsuit involving the Alabama Ave SE property (also known as the Congress Heights Apartments) was filed in 2016, and the OAG later added consumer protection claims.
The lawsuits involving the Franklin Ave NE and G St SE properties were filed in 2018, and according to OAG’s filings, Sanford collected rent from tenants but refused to maintain apartments as required by law and failed to make necessary repairs.
As a result, tenants suffered for years with problems that included vermin infestations, inconsistent heat, broken plumbingand dangerous fire code violations.
The settlement agreement, which requires Sanford to pay at least a $27,000 penalty to the Department and Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in connection with housing code violations, also earmarks any remaining funds after the District pays restitution to tenants, to go toward D.C. coffers for violating consumer protection law.
Further, Sanford Capital and Nowell must continue to divest from their properties in the District, in accordance with the previous settlement of the Terrace Manor Case.
“Thanks to the advocates, organizers, and attorneys who have worked tirelessly to seek justice for these harmed tenants and have kept up the fight for years,” Racine said. “This resolution would not have been possible without the efforts of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, Housing Counselling Services, and Arnold & Porter.”
A copy of the Congress Heights Apartments settlement agreement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-11/Congress-Heights-Settlement.pdf
A copy of the G St settlement agreement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-11/4951-G-Street-Settlement.pdf
A copy of the Franklin St Settlement agreement is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2019-11/315-Franklin-Settlement.pdf