Students kicked out of an off-campus townhouse last month because of safety concerns have continually re-entered their former home, prompting GW and area residents to work together to ensure they stay out.
After complaints from GW and area residents, inspectors from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs last month visited the house at 1016 22nd St. and discovered safety violations. The residents were evicted from their house Oct. 26, but evidence indicates they have returned numerous times.
GW is working with community members to make sure the house stays empty.
Michael Akin, GW’s director of D.C. and Foggy Bottom/West End Affairs, said DCRA inspectors found pizza boxes and other evidence indicating people had been in the house. MPD was called two or three times last weekend because people were inside the property.
Those who re-entered the house could face a $500 fine for violating a closed building citation. Akin said the students were re-entering in the evenings with kegs and pizza “just to kind of go because it’s an empty house.” He said his office was working with the DCRA, City Council member Jack Evans’ office and the Metropolitan Police to address the situation.
“The word went out that if anyone went in that property, they need to be issued a citation,” Akin said.
University officials initially became involved with the townhouse in July when neighbors complained about excessive noise and trash. By September, the complaints had turned into concerns that the house was dangerously overcrowded and the students faced a fire risk. In October, a Georgetown student died in a townhouse fire on Prospect Street.
“I was a college student once too, so I understand what students do, but I lived in a dorm or a frat house on campus,” said John Lane, who lives across the street from the townhouse. “But when the student got killed in Georgetown, we came together and said, ‘Listen, this has gotten bigger than just some nuisance.'”
DCRA officials could not be reached for comment, but Lane cited a garage and basement turned into living quarters, beds placed against emergency exits, bars on windows that could not break off in the event of a fire and faulty electrical wiring as evidence of dangerous conditions.
Lane said the students continued to return to the house several times despite a sign posted on the door warning people to stay out. He said MPD officers came by the house on Sunday to tell the students to leave.
“I think the kids miss the point, that this landlord is taking them for a ride,” Lane said. “Their rent is huge, and they have no rights.”
Lane added, “It’s time for them to band together and say, ‘We’re not going to let you take advantage of us. Just because were not permanent residents, we’re not going to live like animals.'”
Akin said his office is trying to contact the people who run the townhouse to ask them to make sure the students stop re-entering the building.
“We’ll be sending a letter to the landlord in California, and we’re also going to send a letter to the local property manager … saying we wrote to you before about safety issues, they shut the building down, yet students are still going in,” he said. “As landlord and property manager, you have a responsibility for making sure this doesn’t happen.”
Lane said GW has been helpful by holding meetings for area residents, bringing in legal counsel, helping to write letters and sending University Police near the house.
Akin emphasized that he blames the landlord for the problems with the townhouse, not the students. Six current students and two former students lived in the house. Three students identified in an October Washington Post article – Josh Hersch, Richard Oberman and Mike Simpson – could not be reached for comment.
“We don’t want this to be seen as the students’ fault,” Akin said. “It’s not their fault they’re in a dangerous house. If you are in a dangerous house and have an absentee landlord, let us know so we can take action.”
Akin said he believes it is appropriate for his office to become involved with students living off-campus.
“The argument that it doesn’t directly affect the University doesn’t fly,” he said. “If one of our students dies in a house fire from unsafe conditions, that’s a University issue. When community residents are worried their house might go up in flames because the house next door is dangerous, and they know it’s students, that’s a University issue.”
Lane agreed, and said GW must make sure its students living in the community are acting responsibly.
He said, “I get up between 5 and 6 a.m., and when I see eight GW students in the street playing Frisbee … drunk out of their minds, I think GW has a role to play.”