Sixty-eight residents of an apartment building in Crystal City were told this week that they have 14 days to leave due to damage from a fire in the boiler room last month.
One resident tells ARLnow the news leaves affected tenants scrambling for last-minute housing options. He says those told to vacate include an octogenarian who has lived in her apartment for three decades and “is unsure of where to go.”
“To say that this has caused turmoil and distress would be an understatement,” the resident said. “Finding alternative housing, coordinating a move, and dealing with the various challenges that come with such a sudden eviction is a monumental task in itself.”
On Aug. 21, a fire broke out in the boiler room of the southern wing of the Crystal Plaza Apartments at 2111 Richmond Hwy. Industrial hygienists, air quality specialists and engineers, among other specialists, assessed the impacts to every apartment, according to a letter shared with ARLnow.
They determined some apartments need new flooring, cabinetry, walls and systems to remove all residual soot and other pollutants — work that would require tenants to vacate, the letter said. The notice gave them 14 days, the minimum required by Virginia law, to leave.
The notices were dated Sept. 14, after owner Dweck Properties learned from an industrial hygienist that these apartments would need a more comprehensive assessment and, possibly, extensive remediation work, a Dweck spokesperson tells ARLnow.
These additional assessments are contingent on apartments being vacant, the spokesperson added. They would determine the scope and cost of work as well as how long it could take.
“This notice was needed to ensure we could access units for repair if required,” the spokesperson said. “We are now working with each resident on their transition — identifying alternative apartments, understanding each of their timing needs, and assisting them in any way we can.”
Before this notice, the resident says a community-wide notice went out a few days after the inspections, describing which apartments suffered the most damage and required immediate work.
“Our apartment was not included in this list,” the resident said. “It is essential to emphasize that since the fire, we had received no communication or updates regarding our situation.”
The Dweck spokesperson did not say whether residents also received the community-wide notice.
In its letter, Dweck was apologetic and offered to cover $2,000 in moving expenses per unit.
“The fire incident has had a wide-ranging impact, and we are so very sorry for the disruption it has caused,” the letter said.
Since the letters went out, Dweck tells ARLnow it has taken more steps to ease these transitions. In meetings convened Monday and Tuesday, Dweck told residents it would also cover insurance deductibles up to $500 and reimburse residents for rent paid from the time of the incident to the time they move out.
“While some of this work requires units to be vacant, our inspection team is revisiting all of these 68 apartments this week to see if there is any possibility of performing remediation while the apartments are occupied — in apartments that potentially require less work,” the company spokesperson said.
Work in each apartment could take 1-6 weeks, we’re told, meaning some might relocate temporarily. Dweck says it is working to relocate 17 residents to the north tower of Crystal Plaza or another property it owns in the area.
“We will keep our residents informed of the remediation timeframe, so if they elect to move out just for that interim, they will have first rights to re-lease their apartment at their same lease terms,” the spokesperson said.
Adele McClure, who is running to represent the new Virginia House of Delegates district that includes Crystal City, says she plans to review Virginia state law and see how it can be amended to “more fairly balance the needs of renters and landlords in these difficult situations.”
“Two weeks is an inadequate amount of time to expect abruptly displaced people to find new housing arrangements, pack up everything they own, and relocate,” she told ARLnow. “Not only is it unreasonable to expect people to find new accommodations within that window, it also ignores real-world considerations for these families including limited housing options in a market where rent costs rank among the nation’s most expensive. “
McClure said she has been in contact with Arlington County and legal aid organizations to see what services are available and how the needs of these families can best be addressed.
For its part, Arlington County says it has been in touch with the landlord “to discuss how they’re handling the situation.”
“The County may be able to provide limited financial assistance to eligible households (e.g., if they are at or below 50% AMI and their apartment unit is at or below Fair Market Rent),” Dept. of Community Housing, Planning and Development spokeswoman Erika Moore said. “Households who think they may be eligible for assistance can call 703-228-1300.”
McClure says she is hosting a Tenant Town Hall with Arlington renters to “discuss ways to further improve renters’ rights and protections long-term across Virginia.” The town hall being held this Thursday at 5:30 p.m. at the Aurora Hills Community Center (735 18th Street S.) and was planned before the fire and the evictions, McClure noted.
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