Apr 14, 2008
Property owners and their developers in Washington D.C. have emptied more than 200 apartment buildings of thousands of tenants over the last four years. They have made millions of dollars doing it.
According to the Washington Post, landlords engaged in a range of dirty tricks to get rid of tenants. Tenants often had to put up with multiple violations – like a lack of heat or water or electricity. When threats or lies or eviction notices didn’t get them out, some property companies accused tenants – falsely – of not paying rent and took them to court. Of course, tenants in these rent-controlled apartments tended to be low-wage working people lacking money to hire a lawyer to defend themselves in court.
In at least two of the cases discussed in the newspaper, arson destroyed an apartment building just as the landlord was trying to evict the last few tenants. So far, no one was prosecuted for these crimes.
In the 1980s, the Washington D.C. City Council passed rent control laws that they claimed would protect tenants. Of course, enforcement of building codes remained lax, to say the least. And the city council gave landlords a special exemption: if a building was already empty, then the landlords would pay no fees to convert from apartments to condos.
So the faster a property deteriorated, the larger the rats, the quicker that tenants took payments the landlords offered them to get out. One property manager was paid a fee for every apartment he emptied. In six months, he earned $75,000 by “clearing” 30 apartments.
Washington D.C. landlords have gained at least 300 million dollars by emptying apartments with lower rents and turning them into condos. They have sold some condos for a million dollars apiece.
On March 12, fire destroyed an apartment building in an area becoming more upscale. It was the largest D.C. residential fire in over 30 years. Fortunately, no one was killed.
It was hardly a coincidence that tenants in this building had been fighting the owner for years over lack of heat or electricity or workable plumbing.
Arson, threats, cutting off services – they’re all just another method of doing business – and very profitable at that.