Since July, a city order has been in place mandating that residents of DC apartment buildings wear masks in common areas at all times. But residents of one luxury building, Novel South Capitol in Navy Yard, allege that their fellow tenants do not always comply. And in the process, residents on both sides of the issue have played out a microcosm of nationwide tensions over health, rules, and privilege, exemplifying how thorny it has been for Americans to share this country’s troubled airspace over the past Covid-contaminated year.
Washingtonian has reviewed photos, emails, and video laying out some of the claims, which involve folks who requested to stay anonymous to speak freely about their neighbors. A 38-year-old entrepreneur who lives in the two-tower building, which has a rooftop pool, a dog park, and one-bedrooms starting at $2,000 a month, says she originally loved living there so much that she re-upped her lease for an additional 15 months starting in March 2020. Then the pandemic struck. Since then, she says she’s dealt with residents and staff not wearing masks. Adding to the stress, she says both she and her live-in boyfriend are in Covid-19 high-risk categories.
The entrepreneur says she has seen maskless residents in the building gym, the lobby, the elevators, and the shared lounge areas, despite signs in common areas stating masks are required, as well as email communication from Novel South Capitol management reminding residents to mask up.
Recently, the entrepreneur says her partner went to the rooftop for a few minutes to get some air; on his way there, the entrepreneur says he came into contact with five people indoors not wearing masks. When the entrepreneur has asked fellow residents to wear masks, she says it hasn’t gone well: “[Once] somebody came to my floor on the elevator, was not wearing a mask, and invited me to get on with him,” she says. “I said, no, thank you, I’ll wait for the next one. But please put your mask on in the elevator. He kind of scoffed at me like I was the most ridiculous person, and then the door closed and he left.”
When the entrepreneur and her partner stopped by the package room earlier this month, she alleges they encountered a woman without a mask. When the entrepreneur asked the woman to put on a mask, she says the woman responded that she forgot it and that it was not a big deal.
She and a second Novel South Capitol resident suspect that Navy Yard’s reputation as a Republican safe space may be related to the lax mask-wearing they allege in the building. While DC is overwhelmingly blue, Navy Yard saw an almost eight percent increase in Trump voters in the 2020 election compared to 2016, according to a New York Times map of election results. And a 2018 Politico piece cited neighborhoods such as Navy Yard and the Wharf as preferred zones for pro-Trump staffers in an otherwise liberal DC.
“I do know there are a lot of Republican [Hill] staffers and some White House staffers pre-inauguration that lived in this building because of the proximity to the Capitol,” says the entrepreneur. “The only thing that I can think of is that there’s a significant percentage of residents who don’t believe in masks or are not wearing them to prove a point.”
The second resident, a 31-year-old freelancer, says the maskless people she encounters “are always white, they’re always pretty young.” She recalls one experience in particular with a group in the lobby: “I was just like, ‘You guys, put on a mask,’” she says, “and they were all just baffled.” The freelancer, a woman of color, says she felt like they were especially put out “that a brown person would talk to them and say that to them.”
The entrepreneur alleges that some building employees don’t follow the rules either. In February, she says she went to the lobby to grab a package and saw a concierge talking on speakerphone without a mask, behind plexiglass. “The conversation was about how no one could make her wear a mask because she’d spent too much money getting her teeth fixed,” says the entrepreneur. (The entrepreneur took a video of the concierge having this phone conversation, and supplied it to Washingtonian.)
A third resident, a 31-year-old lawyer, says that she has encountered maskless people in the building’s elevators multiple times.
While all three residents question how committed Novel’s management is to enforcing Covid rules, there’s only so much that apartments can do to penalize residents who insist on being jerks about masks or other safety measures. For one thing, buildings can’t evict people during the public health emergency. And although the mayor’s order on mask-wearing states that people who violate it can be referred to the DC Attorney General’s Office and fined up to $1,000, Novel’s general manager, Maty Wellerson, tells Washingtonian in an email that the building hasn’t had to go that far. Wellerson says she hasn’t dealt with repeat offenders, and residents caught maskless are usually “terribly apologetic.” In an email to the entrepreneur reviewed by Washingtonian, Wellerson wrote that the maskless concierge on speakerphone had been “addressed” and that she did “not foresee this to continue to be an issue.”
Novel, like other luxe apartment complexes across the city, has posted signs in communal areas instructing residents to mask up, and is limiting shared spaces, such as its fitness center and club rooms, to no more than 10 people at a time, all of whom must wear face masks. Building management also says face masks for residents are available at the front desk. Still, Devon McNally, a regional associate at Bozzuto, the company that manages Novel, says via email: “With a community of over 500 residents, it’s an impossible task to police everyone.”
So for now, residents like the entrepreneur feel like they have to do some of the enforcing themselves. Not only have these uncomfortable confrontations with her neighbors taken a toll, the entrepreneur says, but so has shouldering the responsibility of holding others and the building accountable. “I just generally felt terrible about myself, because it doesn’t feel good to be a narc,” she says. “It doesn’t feel good for me to have had these very nice relationships with everyone who works in the building, and then all of a sudden feel like I’m this annoyance or I’m this problem resident because I’m complaining regularly.”
The entrepreneur says she has filed a complaint about Novel South Capitol with the DC Attorney General’s office—which confirmed to Washingtonian that it had received a consumer complaint about the building and will investigate it.