Screengrab via video by Christine Corbin
Earlier this month, a D.C. tenant named Christine Corbin approached her assistant property manager to discuss notices about forming a tenant association in her apartment building that residents said were being taken down. Moments later, the assistant property manager, a man identified by Corbin in a video as Dexter Clements grabbed a can of pepper spray, stood up and appeared to spray it in her face as she screamed, according to video of the incident that Corbin shot on her cell phone.
“I’m not sure you likely did, but if you took the signs down about us forming a tenant association, that’s illegal,” Corbin tells Clements in the video. Clements then tells Corbin he already received her email and asks her to leave the office. “You already emailed us, so you can just leave the office,” Clements says on the video.Corbin then says, “Just so you know, this is Dexter Clements, and he is the most unpleasant officer–” at which point Clements stands up and thrusts something in Corbin’s face. Corbin screams, says “I just got pepper sprayed,” and adds that she will call the police. She was treated and released at a hospital emergency room, she told NBC Washington.
The Metropolitan Police Department told Motherboard by email that “This case was investigated by MPD detectives. The detectives applied for an arrest warrant.” A request for comment from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia on the status of the arrest warrant was not returned. Pepper spray can be legally used in D.C, but only in self-defense of a person or their property.
Tenants say that it’s just the latest incident in a string of problems with the building that goes back years. Tenants say their building manager, Urban Investment Partners, or UIP, has sometimes not responded quickly to ongoing maintenance requests. Issues reported by tenants include heat and hot water issues, broken elevators and broken air conditioners, according to a list of tenant complaints compiled by a tenant and viewed by Motherboard. UIP did not return multiple requests for comment from Motherboard regarding the pepper spray incident or specific issues raised by tenants.UIP did release a statement to NBC Washington acknowledging the incident, however, saying, “We are sorry to learn of the episode at one of our properties today and we are cooperating with authorities investigating. There has been, and is planned, noticed work ongoing at the property, to update the plumbing system. All residents have been noticed and have been cooperating.”Corbin told Motherboard that fliers had been posted by another tenant who was trying to organize the tenant association to respond to ongoing complaints. Talks of forming a tenant association became more urgent when there was an emergency water shutoff in the building as part of ongoing repairs, Corbin said. Kylee Smith, a tenant in the building who spoke to Motherboard, said that the fliers were taken down, but tenants did not see who removed them: “No resident physically saw a UIP individual physically remove the sign, but a tenant of this building who has gone through what we have gone through would not remove the signs in my belief.”
Corbin went into the office to speak with Clements about the notices being taken down and began recording the heated exchange on her cell phone. “He just snapped,” Corbin told Motherboard. “He turned the lever on the pepper spray and I felt the liquid in both eyes and that was it.” She says UIP has not reached out to her to communicate about the incident, and other tenants say they have not received any information from UIP on the incident or whether Clements has been fired. Clements has not been seen in the building since the pepper spray incident, tenants said. Corbin said that she filed a police report.Corbin spoke to local reporters later the same day that she was sprayed with pepper spray. She said she only did so in the hopes that it would bring light to the ongoing conditions in her building. “If this incident draws attention to UIP and their horrible, horrible practices, that's a good thing,” she told Motherboard.Smith said that she learned about the plan to form a tenant association the day of the pepper spray attack and helped to post more fliers. She said those fliers had also been taken down, but again, she’s unsure by whom.UIP positions itself as an exceptionally tenant-friendly management firm. Its website says that “UIP’s central focus is on working with Tenants in DC to help them take advantage of their statutory rights, which also offers opportunity for strong, risk adjusted investment returns.” But the company also boasts about having low operating expenses. The company says it has “deep insights into ‘what Residents really want,’ our ability to reduce operating expenses to 25% of rental income, and an ability to generate record-breaking condominium sales figures.”The company boasts its “unrivaled” expertise in the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act, a 1980 law that grants tenants right of first refusal to purchase their apartments when they go up for sale, and acknowledges that the law allows tenants to form into associations.“UIP helps tenants design a plan, undertake necessary renovations and either, maintain the building as a rental property or convert to condominium. Since inception, UIP has partnered with over 43 tenant associations, to achieve exceptional results for both our Residents and investors.”