For years, Darrell Green has gotten away with renting substandard properties. That's because he's a D.C. cop--and because he's had only one tenant like Linda Rose.
When one of Darrell L. Green's tenants came home to a dead man lying in the doorway, he knew it was time to move. It was 1998, and he had been renting a room for $500 a month in Green's 1337 Harvard St. NW property. Even before the morbid encounter, he had figured he was getting ripped off: His "very, very tiny" one-bedroom apartment had been filthy when he'd moved in a year before, he says. He'd taken a week off from work to clean it, and he'd been forced to run extension cords through it because one of the electric circuits was blown.
Since then, he'd spent most of the winter at a friend's house, because the building had no heat. "That was literally the worst living experience I've ever had," he says.
Then one day, he just about tripped over the body of Edward L. Thompson, an 81-year-old man who had lived in the Columbia Heights building for more than 20 years. Thompson had died of a heart attack in the building's lobby, the former tenant says. When he and a police officer went up to Thompson's apartment shortly after finding the body, they discovered that the old man had had all of his stove burners and his oven roaring in a desperate attempt to keep warm.
"I was like, 'OK, I'm gonna start looking around to get the hell out of here,'" the former tenant says. "Finding dead people on the ground is not my style." The man moved out soon afterward. He requested that his name not appear in the paper for the same reason that he says he never reported Green to the authorities: Green is a 4th District police officer.
"It's my word against a white D.C. cop," says the man. "I'm not pushing my luck. I'd much rather just leave the entire situation and get the hell out from under it."
Unfortunately for Green, not all of his unhappy tenants have died or turned the other cheek. Linda Rose moved into a ramshackle garage attached to the same building four years ago. She had originally moved from Jamaica to D.C. to be closer to her daughter, but her daughter was living with in-laws and had no extra room. So Rose was floating from shelter to shelter, desperate for a place to stay. When she found out about Green's one-bedroom unit, she agreed to pay $300 a month for it--and he agreed to fix the place up, she says.
Since then, Green has made no repairs, Rose says. Instead, he has launched a campaign of harassment against her, she claims. After giving him about $800 total, she stopped paying rent in protest, she says. Now they have sued each other in D.C. Superior Court, with no resolution imminent.
For the last year, Rose--a former high school English teacher who writes for the Georgetowner newspaper and models for local artists--has been on a quest. She has kept detailed records of all of her encounters with her landlord. She has called the police on him dozens of times, undeterred by the squad car he sometimes parks in front of his own home, two doors down.
Green's badge only fuels Rose's outrage. "You're going to fine and jail other people when you're breaking the laws yourself?" she says. With the help of a lawyer from Zacchaeus Free Legal Clinic, Rose has sued Green in civil court and defended herself against a suit he filed in Landlord and Tenant Court.
Compared with most other places, D.C. has strong laws to protect tenants from bad landlords. But unlike most landlords, the vast majority of tenants who get hauled into Landlord and Tenant Court do not have lawyers. They often don't know what their options are. Terrified of getting evicted, they usually surrender to their landlords without much of a legal fight.
Rose is the exception, so far. Even though she has yet to emerge victorious by any stretch of the imagination, she has managed to find a lawyer and escape permanent eviction. She has found the will to do sustained battle with her landlord, even though he happens to police the neighborhood where she lives.
"If you make it harder for me, I'm going to have to make it harder for you," Rose warned Green on Nov. 1, 1998, at approximately 5:30 p.m., according to her typed transcript of the conversation. She has refused multiple low-four-figure settlement offers from Green's attorney, she says. When Green tried to make repairs on her unit the day after a visit from a housing inspector, she told him he'd have to come back at another time--she was going to court for a hearing in their landlord-tenant case. (Despite repeated phone calls and a visit to his house, Green would not comment for this story.)
"I am so stressed out by all of this," Rose says. Yet she seems to become more fearless by the day. Since September, Rose has been paying rent to a court escrow account while she awaits resolution of the case. But for most of her stay, she has refused to give money to Green or anyone else: "When I had the money to pay him, I wouldn't."
It's not clear who is the biggest loser thus far: Rose, who continues to live in deplorable conditions, or Green, who faces a legal onslaught from an unprofitable tenant he can't seem to get rid of.
Green, 28, owns five buildings in the District, according to the D.C. Recorder of Deeds office and city tax records. Some of his tenants say they're happy. Others--particularly current and former tenants at 1337 Harvard St.--say Green has neglected and endangered them.
Although not all of Green's properties are as beat-up as Rose's unit, they all appear to violate city housing regulations. By law, landlords must register with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) in order to collect rent. But Green is not registered as a rental agent for any of his properties, according to DCRA records. There are also no certificates of occupancy on record in Green's name. And he doesn't have the housing business license that's required for the larger Harvard Street property.
"That property is not in compliance," says a DCRA employee who checked the records for Green's name and came up with a blank, again and again.
Another tenant in a different building owned by Green on Harvard Street says she hasn't had any problems--but she moved in just a month ago. The people who used to live there--five members of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps--moved out in August after a year of frustration. Dawn Longenecker, one of the group's support staffers, says Green "left something to be desired." After hassling him to fix leaks in the roof and restart the heat after a several-day hiatus, she says, "We just got tired of nagging him."
Two of the other properties under Green's name are located on Capitol Hill. DCRA cited one of those properties on Monday for excessive trash and weeds but found no other violations. And at least one tenant there says she hasn't had any problems. But although deed and tax records indicate that Green's father, Gregory Green, transferred those properties to his son three years ago, the elder Green says he still owns them and looks after the tenants' needs.
Rose's apartment, on the other hand, is classic slumlord material. She keeps the place neat and covers up holes in the walls with pictures and newspaper articles, but it's a losing battle. Billowing tarpaulin is tacked over four broken windowpanes. There are large, jagged holes gouged in the floor, and paint is peeling from the ceiling. Plants are growing in the bathroom--up through a hole next to the rusty shower stall.
Rose says she has seen sparks fly out of the electric sockets and felt a rat shimmy by her foot in the kitchen in the dead of night. The oven has never worked, she says, and the faint smell of gas pervades her apartment. Sometimes she has water and electricity, and other times she doesn't, she says.
"For four winters, I never had any heat. I could have died," Rose wrote Green in an angry Nov. 8 letter. "You shut off my water for eight months. And shut off my electricity for seven months. And dumped garbage waist-high the length of my walkway for several months."
In response to inquiries from the Washington City Paper, a housing inspector from DCRA visited Rose's apartment on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The inspector, Ronald Butler, cited Green for broken windows, leaky pipes, and the absence of a smoke detector, among other problems. On Friday, Nov. 26, Rose found a plastic bag containing a smoke detector hanging from her doorknob. But she also got another visit from the DCRA inspector, coming to condemn her apartment.
Butler posted a notice that the apartment is uninhabitable, meaning that it is up to Green to help Rose relocate or legally evict her from the unit. And that means more bureaucracy, more court dates--if Green doesn't get Rose out of the unit, for example, an administrative judge will decide whether to impose a $500 fine on him. "In essence, he rented a unit that's not habitable, according to District law, so he's required to do whatever it takes to get the tenant out of there," says Donald Varner, Butler's supervisor at DCRA. Butler says no one was home to let him inspect the other Harvard Street apartments.
Green subsequently appeared at DCRA to tell his side of the story, Varner says. "There's a fight between the landlord and the tenant," Varner says. Green explained that he was already working through Landlord and Tenant Court to evict Rose. From Green's perspective, Rose has put him in a Catch-22--she refuses to leave, but he can't go into the apartment to fix the problems because she has filed a stay-away order in court barring him from the property. He can, however, send workers into the unit in his stead--which his lawyer says he plans to do.
Green's dad says his son initially took Rose in as an act of kindness. "This was a temporary thing; she was supposed to stay there for the winter," says the elder Green, a retired cop who used to own the property in question before he sold it to his son. He claims that Rose never gave his son any rent money: "The problem is, he's been too nice to this lady."
In a case the younger Green filed against Rose in Landlord and Tenant Court on July 7, he claims Rose is a "squatter." Rose's attorney says she can't be a squatter--she has paid rent, so she is a tenant. But Green is seeking to have her thrown off the property--something he tried to do by himself earlier this year, Rose says. On April 27, according to Rose's civil suit against Green, he hired workers to enter her apartment while she was out and take most of her belongings away. They took everything from clothes to photo albums to her toothbrush, she alleges in her suit. She managed to salvage a few items from the truck before it pulled away, but she says she has never seen most of her things again.
Under D.C. law, landlords must receive court approval to evict tenants, and they must carry out evictions with the assistance of the U.S. Marshal Service--not their own hired hands. Rose's suit seeks $300,000 for her trouble. (The civil suit has since been dismissed because Green was not properly served; Rose's attorney, Vytas V. Vergeer, says he intends to refile the suit within the
The elder Green says his son has been pouring money into the Harvard Street building in recent months, renovating the other three units and repairing the heat. "I know that he has spent thousands and thousands of dollars on this place," he says.
And a fair number of folks who rent from Green agree with their landlord that he's the innocent victim and Rose is simply bent on his destruction. Emily Gibson, a tenant in one of the other Harvard Street units since last July, says she has had problems--but Green has fixed them all, promptly. "He works with us really well," she says.
Despite all his hard work, Green could very well end up losing the place, his father says, predicting that his son may run out of money and declare bankruptcy in the future: "At a certain point, he won't be able to do it."
Whoever wins in court, Green will surely rue the day he let Rose move in to a substandard apartment. "I feel like my power is in staying," Rose says. "Do your best not to portray me as some poor victim." CP