You may have heard the following story featured in the Washington Post and WAMU 88.5 (NPR radio). A private developer from Virginia purchased dilapidated residential properties in the District of Columbia for renovation and resale. The developer submitted building plans to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and obtained approval, but deviated from the plans to save costs and increase profits. This included ignoring important fire safety requirements, such as sprinkler systems and fire barriers between floors. The developer renovated the properties using unlicensed contractors who performed sub-standard work in violation of the building code. To avoid detection by DCRA, the developer hired private, third-party inspectors to review and approve the construction. Then, the developer sold the properties to unsuspecting buyers under false pretenses by claiming the properties were “totally renovated” or “renovated from top to bottom.” Once the buyers began living in the properties, they slowly realized they were deceived and left with a property that violates the law and is not marketable without substantial repairs.
The developer engaged in this scheme with over 30 properties between 2012 and 2016, until lawyers, including MMC Attorney Michael Campbell, took action and shut down the developer. Michael Campbell, represented five victims in litigation against the developer, which included claims of breach of contract, fraud and violation of the Consumer Protection Procedures Act. Two of the cases were resolved to the satisfaction of the clients prior to trial, while a third case is still pending in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia.
After several home owners complained to DCRA, the Attorney General for the District of Columbia finally took action and sued the developer for ignoring stop work orders and repeated violations of building codes and consumer protection laws. After several months of litigation, the developer agreed to stop working in the District and pay $1.3M into a restitution fund for victims. According to Mr. Campbell, that amount is insufficient to compensate all the property owners who need to make their properties code compliant. As a result, more private litigation is necessary to fully compensate owners for their losses.
Miller, Miller & Canby has represented property owners in Montgomery County and the Washington DC area since its inception over 70 years ago. The firm’s attorneys bring their trial skills and deep knowledge of real property to this field of law, which many other practitioners tend to treat administratively. The extensive breadth of knowledge and experience of the firm’s real estate attorneys is evidenced by the wide variety of cases Miller, Miller & Canby trial attorneys have handled — both at trial and appellate levels.
Michael Campbell is a partner in the litigation group at Miller, Miller & Canby. In addition to trial and appellate advocacy, his practice focuses on real estate litigation and property tax assessment appeals. Please feel free to contact Mr. Campbell at 301.762.5212 or send him an email. For more information about the firm’s litigation practice and representative cases, click here.