Federal and State Lawsuits Fight ‘Slumlord’ Operating in Virginia
Friday, August 5th, 2022
The Virginia Poverty Law Center, Consumer Litigation Associates and Kelly Guzzo have filed federal and state lawsuits on behalf of tenants of the Seaview Apartments in Newport News.
The lawsuits name Seaview Apartments LLC and Ben Weinstein and his New Jersey-based company Blue Rise Group as defendants. Fifty-eight tenants are prosecuting their claims under the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act to require repairs necessary to make the 15-story apartment building safe and habitable. In a separate federal action, 19 named plaintiffs allege the residential facility is in violation of the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against disabled tenants including veterans and senior citizens with mobility issues, amputations, paralysis, heart problems, and other medical conditions.
The high-rise was condemned last month because of inoperable elevators and other dangerous, ongoing health, safety, and code violations.
“Ben Weinstein, hiding behind a corporate alias, meets the dictionary definition of slumlord,” said Laura Dobbs, a housing attorney with Virginia Poverty Law Center. “He uses various corporate shells to rent unsafe properties to poor people at apartment complexes around the East Coast.”
Between March 2021 and July 2022, Weinstein collected more than $482,000 in government money to cover the rents of many of his tenants.
The lawsuits are filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and Newport News Circuit Court. Both seek an injunction and damages for the people who have suffered.
Weinstein has refused previous orders from Newport News Circuit Court and the City of Newport News to repair the dangerous conditions, leaving the locality no choice but to condemn the building.
The displacement of tenants could have been avoided under a bill carried by Delegate Cia Price of Newport News in the 2022 General Assembly session. The legislation would have given localities the power to enforce health and safety provisions of the Virginia Residential Landlord Tenant Act. The bill passed both chambers with bi-partisan support but was vetoed by Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The Virginia Poverty Law Center (VPLC) is the state support center for all civil legal aid programs in Virginia. VPLC’s work breaks down systemic barriers that keep low-income Virginians in the cycle of poverty through advocacy, education, and litigation.