D.C. attorney general files lawsuit after Van Ness complex allegedly misled tenants

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine speaks at his 2015 inauguration. (Brian Kapur/The Current/January 2015)

D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine has filed a lawsuit alleging that a Van Ness apartment complex circumvented the District’s rent control laws, according to a news release.

The suit claims that the owners and managers of 3003 Van Ness Apartments misrepresented the true rates for rent-controlled units and how much rent could legally be raised. According to the suit, rent concessions were used to mislead prospective tenants into signing leases without being provided all the material terms. Tenants then faced higher rent increases than District law allows.

“Landlords should clearly inform consumers up-front about the base rent from which subsequent increases will be calculated — but, we allege in this case, the defendants misled them,” Racine said in the release.

Advertisements for apartments listed lower prices than were reported to the city, the complaint alleges. The listed rate included a rent concession, essentially a monthly discount, that was not disclosed to tenants. Management then raised rents from the higher starting point that had been filed officially, giving tenants an unexpectedly steep increase.

The suit further alleges that when tenants questioned the difference between the advertised rates and the amounts listed in their leases, the managers claimed that the rent concessions were permanent and offered through a D.C. government program, neither of which was true. According to the suit, tenants were also wrongly led to believe that rent increases would be calculated based on the advertised amount, but instead they were calculated based on the rate reported to the government.