DCRA: Student Lessons to be Learned from 1841 16th Street NW

There has been a lot of discussion in recent days regarding the fate of 1841 16th Street NW – a beautiful home on the corner of 16th and T Street. While the current discussion focuses on whether the building will be razed or stabilized (and eventually renovated), an important point is being missed. One of the reasons the home was allowed to crumble was that tenants said they were too scared to call the city.

“We all knew it should have been condemned,” said Mike Corcoran, a former tenant told the Examiner. “It was collapsing.”

Yet, the most recent complaint received by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs was in 2004. When owners failed to make exterior repairs, DCRA stepped in and spent $9,000 to fix the exterior. At the same time, the city revoked the owners’ rental license.

The owners then illegally allowed tenants back into the building. Because the rent rates were low and the location was good – no one wanted to complain to the city, according to former tenants.

Stephanie Larsen, a third-floor tenant at the time of the collapse, told the Examiner that they complained to the owners about the conditions to no avail, but they feared a backlash, including eviction, if they blabbed to the government.

While details of the legitimacy of tenants and other details are unclear and are being investigated, it is very clear that these students should have called the city and reported the conditions. There would have been an immediate inspection and a lot of the current controversy may have been able to be avoided.

Since the collapse, DCRA has instituted a new Proactive Inspections program that will inspect all multi-unit buildings in the District of Columbia over a three-year period whether a tenant complains or not. We hope this eliminates many of these situations.

But if you know there are issues as serious as Corcoran and Larsen implied, call 202-442-9557 immediately or email dcra.housingcomplaints@dc.gov, DO NOT WAIT and be sure you are safe. And no matter how great of a deal the rent and location may be, always ask if the potential landlord is licensed. You can check for yourself here.