April 21, 2009

Rent Strike at Marbury Plaza

The April issue of East of the River magazine includes the following story about Marbury Plaza, a housing project with which Bread for the City's legal department has been deeply engaged.

Marbury Plaza Gains Support
Tenants Seek Abatement Assistance

Rats. Mold. Leaks. Fires. It might seem the list of problems at Marbury Plaza, 2300 Good Hope Road SE, couldn't get worse. But tenants also face financial and legal complications.

The Lightstone Group owns the 672-unit apartment complex as well as many commercial properties around the country. Recently, according to New York Times and Wall Street Journal reports, the company defaulted on several loans. At least four properties are now in receivership, and the future of others is in doubt.

Meanwhile, more than 50 Marbury Plaza tenants are participating in a rent strike. The strike was launched in October of 2008, after previous efforts failed to achieve needed repairs in rental units and common areas. Several individual tenants were sued for non-payment of rent, and the nonprofit Bread for the City is representing some of those sued. Vytas Vergeer, legal clinic director, says mediation will be the first goal at an upcoming status hearing.

Tenants can file counterclaims against landlords in such cases, Vergeer adds, but a change of ownership complicates matters. In the event of foreclosure, the bank would be responsible for bringing apartments and common areas up to code, he says, but foreclosure could limit tenants' ability to seek restitution from current owners.

In a separate effort, the District's attorney general, Peter Nickles, wrote last month to the owner/manager threatening suit unless “the property is maintained up to code as required by law.”

In addition, tenants are meeting with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs officials and the District's Tenant Advocate to explore the possibility of assistance from the city's emergency abatement fund.

When asked if he'd like to add anything else to the story, Bread for the City's Vytas V. Vergeer said, "Yeah, my middle initial." And so it has been done.

1 comment:

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