On Monday, tenants at Bedford and Victoria stations stepped up the fight to hold their landlord accountable for years of property neglect and deferred maintenance.
They filed a class action trial in the United States District Court for Maryland. The named plaintiffs are five tenants who live in apartments in Bedford and Victoria Station and CASA of Maryland, Inc., a non-profit organization that has advocated for tenants and recently helped them file for rental housing assistance. as part of the Maryland ERA program.
Further, the lawsuit represents two categories: 1) current / former tenants of Bedford and Victoria stations over the past three years and 2) tenants of other owner-owned properties facing similar negligence.
The trial lists six defendants. As I noted in a previous article, it was difficult for tenants in Bedford and Victoria to identify who their landlord was. The list of accused illustrates why. The principal defendant is Arbor Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust incorporated in Maryland, but seven subsidiaries are named as co-defendants, including the two limited liability companies (LLC) which respectively own the Bedford and Victoria stations (Bedford United , LLC and Victoria United, LLC).
Many of the allegations in the lawsuit cover complaints that I have discussed in previous articles (see here and here). Lawsuit alleges homeowner created unsafe and unsanitary living conditions by refusing to deal with pest infestations, fix holes in ceilings and walls, stop pipe leaks, fix major appliances , regularly remove waste from the premises and ensure reliable heating and cooling.
However, the lawsuit also targets Arbor Realty’s business model. He alleges that Arbor Realty and its subsidiaries take disparate approaches to managing his portfolio. More precisely, it treats the so-called “harvest” and “added value” properties differently. In “harvest” properties, Arbor Realty increases rents year on year without making any corresponding investments in the property. The result is serial disinvestment and often dangerous living conditions. In “value-added” properties, Arbor increases rents year after year, but also makes basic investments.
The lawsuit alleges that these disparate approaches are “inexplicable for reasons other than race.” That is, the complainant tenants argue that Arbor chooses to buy and manage harvest properties specifically because they are in poor communities of color whose tenants literally have nowhere to go. given the severe shortage of affordable housing In the region. The suit notes that Bedford and Victoria stations have 0% non-Hispanic white residents. The lawsuit also alleges that there are disparate impacts on this forked business model for communities of color who rent from Arbor Realty. They live in unsanitary and dangerous living conditions, unlike tenants in “value-added” properties. The lawsuit concludes that these disparities (in terms of treatment and impact) constitute a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
Tenants have a tough road ahead of them. Fortunately, they have the support of key members of the Prince George Council. In the CASA press release announcing the lawsuit, two council members gave their public support: Deni Taveras (D-2), vice chairman of Prince George County Council, and Calvin Hawkins (at-Large), Chairman of Prince George County Council. In addition, State House delegate Wanika Fishers (D-47B), deputy majority leader, also offered her support.
While the lawsuit is ongoing, Prince George County Council and its associated agencies should use all available regulatory and legal tools at their disposal to hold Arbor Realty and its subsidiaries to account. The lawsuit will hopefully bring long-term justice, but tenants in Bedford and Victoria Stations also need immediate help.