A judge in DC Superior Court ordered local fitness magnate Doug Jefferies to stop listing his spacious Dupont Circle townhouse on vacation-rental websites like Airbnb after numerous complaints that the Q Street, Northwest, residence was operating as an illegal hotel and entertainment venue.
The District government sued Jefferies, founder of Results Gym and Stroga yoga studio, in late April after frequent complaints from neighbors that groups who rented his 5,700-square-foot house used it for loud, heavily attended parties that often dragged into the late hours. The house played host to a May 7 corporate party with more than 400 guests that featured a performance by early-2000s rapper Ja Rule, attracting at least two visits from the Metropolitan Police Department. The suit was made public the following day, and the company that booked the house has said it was unaware of Jefferies’s legal entanglements.
In the 125-page lawsuit, the city contended that Jefferies was using his house as a residential housing business, public hall, boarding house, and bed and breakfast without the proper city-mandated licenses. Before yanking it down from Airbnb and similar sites, Jefferies charged $1,200 a night for the six-bedroom house, which includes a spacious game room, multiple roof decks, and a rooftop pool. He marketed it on vacation-rental sites as the “Celebrity House Hunter Mansion,” based off its appearance on the television series Celebrity House Hunting. In an interview with Washingtonian last week, Jefferies said he used revenue from renting the house as often as 15 times a month to finance an international-relief charity he runs.
Judge Maurice Ross ordered Jefferies to stop all business activity at the house, schedule an home inspection to determine whether the house is suitable for hosting group rentals, and if it is, limit groups to no more than eight individuals at a time. Jefferies must also pay $8,000 in fines and obtain the proper licenses if he wants to rent out his house again.
In a press release DC Attorney General Karl Racine mostly tows the line his office put out last week—that the case against Jefferies was about a single house that produced a raft of complaints from ticked-off neighbors. “Assuming Mr. Jefferies abides by the terms of the consent order, this agreement will bring an end to the dangerous, illegal, and troublesome use of this property to host large and noisy events,” Racine says.
But Racine’s statement continues with a potential hint for everyone else in the District who offers their home on Airbnb. “Today’s action sends a strong message to individuals who seek to unlawfully conduct lodging and entertainment businesses without proper licenses,” he says. “Such activity is illegal, is a nuisance to law-abiding residents, and will be investigated.”
This could put DC on track to follow the lead of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who said in October that 75 percent of New York City’s Airbnb properties were operating illegally.
“If complaints come to us about illegally operated businesses that endanger public safety and operate unlawfully, we’ll check into it and [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs] will check into it,” says Racine’s spokesman Rob Marus.
Airbnb says it offers regulatory guidance to its property owners in the District, where there are more than 1,000 listings.