Evicted: After three decades, GW sues 66-year-old to leave

Scip Barnhart’s eighth floor corner room is filled with paintings, sculptures and drawings from all over the world. Hundreds of books, some of them first-generation and in different languages, line his shelves, alongside decades-old vinyl records, pressed together in worn-down covers.

The art teacher, 66, will soon have to start boxing up the one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment in The West End that he has called home since 1981.

GW is suing him to leave.

“My room is my studio, I work here,” Barnhart said, glancing at the drawing table and filing drawers that dominate nearly half of his living room. “In general, it has been wonderful to be here.”

Barnhart is one of 15 non-students who live in University housing – tenants who were grandfathered in after GW purchased old apartment complexes to turn into residence halls. He was asked to vacate West End, which GW bought in 1999, as it prepares to build the massive residence hall commonly called the “superdorm.”

The Board of Trustees has allocated $2.5 million to design the project, which will merge West End, Schenley and Crawford halls.

About a year ago, Barnhart said, the University offered to shift him into another on-campus residence hall but keep his $709-a-month fixed rent. Unsatisfied with the idea of moving into a JBKO double – a much smaller than his West End room – and unsure why he was being asked to move, Barnhart decided to stay put.

He said he has been distrustful of the University since 2006, when his 27-year career as an adjunct professor ended after his division in the art department dissolved. Barnhart was vague about the dismissal, but said he was the only employee let go in the process.

On June 28, he found an eviction letter tacked to his front door.

GW will take Barnhart to court Sept. 5 to justify handing him a removal notice that did not disclose a reason.

Last year, the University earned an exemption from city rules that require landlords to give tenants a reason for eviction in The West End, because the building mainly houses students.

“All I’m doing is evoking my rights as a citizen. I have a right to contest,” Barnhart said, adding that he will also fight the fairness of the exemption.

The eviction notice stated that his “month to month lease is terminable on 30-day’s notice from the Landlord,” according to court documents.

“Because they are so powerful in the city, I believe, they can do what they want, so now I don’t have quite the bargaining power that I had as a tenant before,” Barnhart said, adding that he learned of the plan to build the new residence hall through a Hatchet article – not GW.

He is now pushing for the University to relocate him to a room at Columbia Plaza, the 2440 Virginia Ave. apartment complex that houses some graduate and law students. He called the potential room at JBKO a “dump.”

Barnhart enjoyed living with students for the last three decades, but said he is worried his belongings would get damaged if students accidentally tripped a residence hall’s sprinkler system.

“I’m around students all the time, and I don’t mind it at all. For the most part, students have been wonderful,” the part-time professor at Georgetown and American universities said. “One of my concerns is the value of everything that’s here, and I want to protect it.”

When asked about Barnhart’s claims that he was not told about the construction project, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard declined to comment, citing the University’s policy of not commenting on pending litigation.

Sherrard also declined to comment on the total number of tenants who were relocated in preparation for impending construction. Barnhart said he knew at least two other non-student residents who chose to relocate from The West End to JBKO when offered the option last year.

Dennis Taylor, general counsel in D.C.’s Office of the Tenant Advocate, said a judge would consider whether or not GW can legally remove Barnhart from his apartment.

“The Court will be looking for the legal sufficiency of that Notice,” Taylor said in an email, meaning the University will have to prove it has the authority to kick him out of his room. “If legal sufficiency is not found, no eviction will take place.”

Barnhart knows he will have to move from his home of 31 years. The only questions remaining are: to where and when?

“I’m an adjunct professor, I’m on social security and I don’t make a lot of money. Sometimes I make money printing for artists and sometimes I don’t,” he said. “That’s a very iffy market, so my finances are limited.”

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