Washington DC

Frequently Asked Questions by Landlords

Authored By: D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center
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Table of Contents

 

1. Responsibilities of Landlords

2. Raising the Rent

3. Security Deposits

4. Evictions Generally

5. Going to Court on an Eviction Case

6. Answers and Other Responses by Tenants

7. Tenants' Defenses

8. Protective Orders and Court Fees

9. Settlements

10. Judgments, Writs, and the Eviction Process

 

Responsibilities of Landlords

 

Before I become a landlord, do I need to have a license? Am I required to register my property with the District?

 

Yes, in the District of Columbia, if you are renting out residential property, even if it is only a single room in your home, you are required to do the following before you begin renting out your property:

  • Obtain a certificate of occupancy unless the property you are renting out is an apartment, cooperative unit, or condominium that is located in a building that already has a certificate of occupancy for the whole building or the rental property is an entire single-family home
  • Obtain a housing business license
  • File a registration or claim of exemption from the Rent Stabilization Program (rent control)

If you are already renting property and have not met these requirements, you are breaking the law. You may want to talk to a lawyer before you attempt to register your property to see if you can avoid incurring penalties when you register. There is more information below on how to complete these steps. For a summary of the licensing and registration requirements, click here.

 

How do I know if the property is under rent control?

 

The Rent Stabilization Program (rent control) applies to all residential rental units unless you have an exemption from the program. You are entitled to claim an exemption from rent control for a rental unit if:

  • If you personally own (not through a business), either alone or with four or fewer other people (not businesses), four or fewer rental units and you have filed a claim of exemption; or
  • You are receiving a local or federal rent subsidy or mortgage subsidy for the unit; or
  • The rental unit has a building permit that was issued after December 31, 1975, or has an initial certificate of occupancy issued after January 1, 1980, as long as the construction of this new building did not require demolition of a rent-controlled building with the same or greater number of units
  • The entire building in which the unit is located was continuously vacant since January 1, 1985, provided that, upon re-rental, the building is in compliance with the D.C. Housing Regulations.

Even if you are entitled to an exemption as a "small landlord" who owns four or few rental units, you must file paperwork to get an exemption number in order to be able to raise the rent and conduct business as a landlord. Landlords who qualify for the other exemptions also may file paperwork to get an exemption number.

 

Some types of units are excluded from rent control entirely. These include: hospitals, nursing homes, dormitories, rental units operated by foreign governments, and certain units operated by non-profit organizations that provide social services to residents.

 

Where do I file a registration statement or claim of exemption from the Rent Stabilization Program (rent control)?

 

You should contact the Rental Accommodation Division of the Department of Housing and Community Development. The phone number is (202) 442-9505 and the office is located at 1800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20020.

 

How do I get a Certificate of Occupancy?

 

Contact the Building and Land Administration of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. The phone number is (202) 442-4400. You will need to submit an application, a pre-occupancy data sheet, and a $33.00 application fee. An additional fee of at least $42.00 is required when you pick up the Certificate of Occupancy. In most cases, an inspection of the property is required prior to the issuance of the Certificate of Occupancy. There is additional information on the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs website.

 

How do I get a housing business license?

 

The licensing process depends on the type of property you are renting:

  • One family rental units: single-family homes, town homes, duplexes, individual condominium units, or individual rooms
  • Two family rental units: a building that contains two separate units, such as a house with an English basement apartment
  • Apartment house: a dwelling that contains three or more units

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is responsible for granting business licenses. Click here to access the application materials online. From the list of business types, select "One Family Rental," "Two Family Rental," or "Apartment House."

 

Who is responsible for making repairs to the unit?

 

The landlord is responsible for repairs, including those caused by normal wear and tear, except if the tenant or the tenant's guests caused the problems. If there are substantial housing code violations in the rental unit, the tenant may not be required to pay the rent or to pay the full rent, and you may be subject to civil and criminal liability for violating the housing code.

 

The tenant is responsible for keeping the unit clean and for using the fixtures and appliances properly. The tenant is also prohibited from destroying or damaging the unit, appliances, fixtures, and equipment intentionally or by serious neglect.

These are some of the potential consequences of failing to correct housing code violations:

  • The tenant can request a housing inspector visit the property and make a report of all the housing code violations. To schedule an appointment, cll (202) 442-4400. The inspector will send a copy of the inspection report to you and instruct you to make repairs within a certain amount of time. If repairs are not made on time, you may be fined.
  • The tenant can file a case on the Housing Conditions Calendar, in the Civil Actions Branch of the Superior Court, requesting that the Court order you to make repairs. A tenant cannot get a refund of rent in this court, but a tenant can file a separate case in Small Claims Court for up to $5000. Click here for more information.
  • The tenant can file a regular case in the Civil Actions Branch requesting that you make repairs and requesting a refund in rent because the tenant paid too much for the rental during periods when housing code violations existed. (If the lawsuit only seeks money, and not an order to make repairs, the tenant must request more than $5000 or the case must be filed in Small Claims Court.)
  • If the housing code violations are severe (for example, no heat in winter), the tenant can immediately file in the Civil Actions Branch of Superior Court a Temporary Restraining Order to get the heat restored, as part of a case on the Housing Conditions Calendar or a regular civil action.
  • If the housing code violations are less severe, the tenant can file a Tenant Petition with the Rental Accomodations Division (RAD). This agency allows tenants to bring actions against their landlords. The rules and procedures are very informal and landlords and tenants usually do not need lawyers to proceed.
  • The tenant can stop paying the rent. Because only landlords can bring an action in Landlord Tenant Court, the only way for tenants to get in front of a judge in this Court is to withhold their rent and wait to be sued by their landlords. Once you are in Landlord Tenant Court, the tenant can ask the judge to order you to make the repairs. The tenant may be able to get a reduction in the rent he or she owes.
  • The tenant can bring an action in Small Claims Court. If a tenant thinks that you should reimburse him or her for money the tenant spent fixing problems in the rental unit or that you owe the tenant money since the tenant paid too much for the rental during periods when housing code violations existed, the tenant can bring an action in Small Claims Court up to $5000.

How do I request a housing inspection?

 

If you want to request that a housing inspector visit the property, either to have proof that the repairs have been made or are not needed or because the tenant is violating the housing code, you can request a housing inspection. To schedule an appointment, call (202) 442-4400. It is best that you are present during the inspection to point out to the inspector all the violations or repairs.

 

 

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Raising the Rent

 

Can I raise the rent?

 

You cannot raise the rent if you and the tenant have agreed, usually in a written lease, on a certain amount. Usually, you and the tenant will agree on a certain amount for a specific period of time. Once that time period ends, you can raise your rent with 30 (thirty) days written notice. If you and the tenant never agreed on a specific period of time, you can usually raise the rent with 30 (thirty) days written notice.

 

If you are allowed to raise the rent, then how much and how often you can raise the rent depends on whether the unit is subject to rent control. If the unit is exempt from rent control, then you can raise the rent by any amount at any time, as long as you are not raising the rent for an illegal reason, such as to retaliate against the tenant for taking some lawful action like reporting housing code violations or requesting repairs. You must give the tenant at least 30 days written notice before the date on which you want the rent increase to take effect.

 

If the unit is subject to rent control, then you can raise the rent if:

  • The last increase in rent was at least 12 months ago (unless the unit is vacant)
  • The unit is properly registered with the RAD
  • The rental unit and the housing accommodation's common elements are in substantial compliance with housing regulations
  • You give a 30-day written notice of any increase in rent

In general, you can only raise the rent in a rent-controlled unit by a certain percentage each year. That percentage cannot be more than 10% and the exact amount that you can raise the rent each year is determined by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and is based on the Consumer Price Index. You should contact the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at (202) 442-4610 to find out how much you can raise the rent.

 

If your rental property is not returning at least a 12% rate of return, you can ask the Rent Administrator to allow you to raise the rent by more than the amount approved by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, instead of making the regular annual rent increase. To do this, you must file a "Hardship Petition," showing the equity you have in the property, the operating expenses, how much rent you are collecting, and other financial information.You should contact the Department of Housing and Community Development at (202) 442-9505 to find out how to file a Hardship Petition.

 

Finally, if you are making certain types of capital improvements to the building, you can apply for permission to raise the rent to help pay for the improvements. You will need permission from the Rent Administrator to raise the rent for this reason. Contactthe Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at (202) 442-4400.

 

 

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Security Deposits

 

What amount can I charge for a security deposit?

 

You may not charge more than the amount of one month's rent, and it may be charged only once.

 

Am I required to hold the money in a special account?

 

You must hold the deposit in an interest bearing account in a financial institution in the District of Columbia. The account must be for the sole purpose of holding security deposits. You can use the same account for more than one building. If the tenant rents the unit for at least twelve months, you are required to pay the tenant the interest accruing on the security deposit, subject to any lawful deductions. The interest rate is adjusted every six months (on January 1st and July 1st) to the statement savings rate at the bank where the account is held.

 

After the tenant vacates a rental unit, how much time do I have to return the deposit?

 

You have 45 days to either return the deposit with interest due, or notify the tenant in writing of your intention to withhold the deposit and apply it toward the cost of expenses properly incurred. Interest must be paid only on termination of tenancies of one year or more.

What can I use the deposit for?

In general, a landlord can use a security deposit to make sure the tenant has met his or her obligations under the lease. The landlord is required to state in writing what a deposit can be used for, either in a written lease or in a written receipt for the security deposit. You can, for example, state that a deposit can be used to pay for damage to the rental unit or if the tenant moves out while owing you money for rent.

You are responsible for paying for repairs to your rental unit, as long as the problems weren't caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests. If the tenant or the tenant's guests damaged the rental unit, even accidentally or by neglect, then the tenant is responsible for paying for the repairs. You are responsible for paying for normal maintenance and repairing damage that was not caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests.

What happens if I decide to keep some or all of the security deposit?

 

If you withhold the security deposit to defray the cost of expenses properly incurred, notice must be provided to the tenant in writing, delivered personally or by certified mail. Within 30 days after giving this notice, you must provide the tenant with an itemized statement of the repairs and other uses to which the monies were applied, with the cost of each item.

 

What action can the tenant take against me if I withhold a security deposit?

 

The tenant may file a lawsuit, usually in Small Claims Court, to try and compel you to return the proper amount. If you lose the case, a money judgment may be entered against you in the amount of the security deposit plus any damages.

 

Can I be penalized for not returning the deposit and/or for failure to provide notice?

 

If you do not return the deposit or provide the proper notices, and the tenant sues you for the unreturned portion of the deposit, you must prove that the tenant is not entitled to full return of the deposit and interest.

 

What action can I take to recover for damage to an apartment greater than the amount of the security deposit?

You may file a lawsuit, usually in Small Claims Court, to try and obtain a judgment for the amount of damages that are greater than the amount of the security deposit.

 

 

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Evictions Generally

 

How do I evict my tenant?

 

Self-help eviction is illegal in D.C. In D.C., you must file a lawsuit against your tenant and receive a "judgment for possession" to evict the tenant. After you have a judgment for possession, you must coordinate the eviction through the U.S. Marshals Service.It is illegal to remove the tenant's property, change the locks, turn off the heat, water, or other services or do anything else to force the tenant out except scheduling an eviction through the U.S. Marshals Service.

 

If you evict a tenant without a judgment for possession or without using the U.S. Marshals Service, you may be responsible for paying the tenant for property damage plus money damages for breaking the law. The Court may also order you to let the tenant return to the property until you have followed the Court process to remove the tenant legally.

 

I do not like my tenant. Do I need a legal reason to evict him or her?

 

Yes. In D.C., you cannot evict your tenant just because you do not like him or her. You must have at least one legal reason in order to lawfully evict a tenant. The most common legal reasons include not paying the rent and violating another part of the lease (for example, keeping a dog when the lease forbids it).

 

What are the legal reasons I can use to evict a tenant?

 

To legally evict a tenant you must be able to prove to the Court that at least one (1) of the following reasons is true:

  • The tenant didn't pay the rent;
  • The tenant or an occupant violated some other part of the lease (for example, keeping a dog when the lease forbids it or having people living in the unit when they are not allowed to be there) or the housing code (for example, by damaging the property or not keeping it clean);
  • The tenant or an occupant violated the law within the property;
  • The tenant or an occupant is maintaining a drug-haven within the property;
  • You want to take back the property for your immediate and personal use;
  • You intend to renovate the property and cannot safely do so with the tenant living there;
  • You intend to demolish the property;
  • The property has to be substantially rehabilitated or renovated; or
  • The property is no longer going to be used as rental housing.

 

Can I evict the tenant when the lease period ends?

 

No. In D.C., once the lease period ends, the lease automatically goes month-to-month. All the other parts of the lease remain the same (including the rent amount, unless you give the tenant written notice).

 

For example, if you signed a one (1) year lease on January 1, 2010 and the lease period ends on December 31, 2010, the lease term will go month-to-month beginning January 1, 2011 - EVEN IF you don't agree to renew the lease with the tenant. In other words, you cannot evict the tenant when the lease period ends unless you have another legal reason.

 

I did not sign a written lease with my tenant or my lease is "month-to-month." Can I evict the tenant?

 

Not unless there is some other legal reason to evict the tenant. You can only evict the tenant if you have a legal reason to do so, even if there is no written lease or the tenant is on a month-to-month lease.

 

I want to file a lawsuit to evict my tenant. Is a 30-day notice required before I can file the lawsuit?

 

In D.C., the first legal notice that a landlord is required to give a tenant before filing an eviction lawsuit is called either a "Notice to Quit," "Notice to Quit or Vacate," "Notice to Cure or Vacate" or "Notice to Correct or Vacate." This notice is required before you can legally evict a tenant for any reason other than nonpayment of rent or because the tenant is maintaining a drug haven. In most cases, a 30-day notice is required, but in some types of cases, a landlord is required to give the tenant as much as 90, 120, or 180-days notice and a chance to move out of the property before an eviction lawsuit can be filed.

 

If you are seeking to evict a tenant because the tenant is maintaining a drug-haven, you do not need to give the tenant this notice.

 

If you are seeking to evict a tenant because the tenant did not pay the rent, you may not need to send this notice. Read the lease to see whether the tenant has agreed to give up the right to receive this notice before being sued for eviction. The lease may have some language like, "This lease will act as Tenant's notice to quit or vacate thereby waiving any requirement that Landlord serve Tenant with further notice before eviction."

  • If the lease has this language, you are not required to give the tenant a notice to quit if the eviction is based on nonpayment of rent. The tenant can only agree to give up the right to receive this notice in a nonpayment of rent case.
  • If the lease does not have similar language, then the tenant has not agreed to give up the right to receive this notice and you must send the tenant a notice to quit.
  • If you are not sure whether your tenant has given up the right to receive a notice to quit for nonpayment of rent, you should speak to a lawyer.

Remember, even though this notice tells the tenant that they must vacate the property, you cannot force the tenant to leave until you have received a judgment for possession from the Court.

 

Are there certain requirements for a "Notice to Quit," "Notice to Quit or Vacate," or "Notice to Cure or Vacate" for lease violation(s)?

 

Yes. The requirements for these notices are very strict. You must send the tenant a proper notice to be able to go forward with an eviction proceeding. Otherwise, the case could be dismissed in Court. The requirements include:

  • Giving the tenant very specific information about how s/he violated the lease or the housing code;
  • Giving the tenant very specific information about how to fix the violation(s);
  • Giving the tenant at least 30 days to fix the violation(s); and
  • That the notice be written in both English and Spanish.

Blank notices and help filling them out are available at the:

 

Landlord Tenant Resource Center

D.C. Superior Court Building B

510 4th Street, N.W., Room #115

9:15 AM - 12:00 Noon

 

Do I have to serve the "Notice to Quit," "Notice to Quit or Vacate," or "Notice to Cure or Vacate" on the tenant in a certain way?

 

Yes. You can give or send the notice to the tenant yourself or you can have someone else who is over the age of 18 do this for you. You can do this by:

  • Personal service - Handing a copy of the notice directly to the tenant;
  • Substituted service - Handing a copy of the notice to a person of proper age who is at the property; or
  • Certified mail - Sending a copy to the tenant by certified mail but the tenant must personally sign for the letter; or
  • Posting and mailing - After two (2) attempts to personally serve the tenant, you can tape, nail or attach a copy of the notice to the tenant's door. Another copy must be mailed to the tenant within three (3) calendar days of the posting to the tenant's door.

Except in nonpayment of rent cases, you must also send a copy of the notice to the Rent Administrator within 5 calendar days after serving the tenant at the Housing Regulation Administration, 1800 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, SE, Washington, D.C. 20020. The phone number is (202) 442-4610. If your tenant is receiving rent assistance from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, you must send a copy of the notice to the D.C. Housing Authority, 1133 North Capitol Street, NE Washington, DC 20002.

 

I gave my tenant a "Notice to Quit," "Notice to Quit or Vacate," or "Notice to Cure or Vacate," but s/he did not move out. What can I do now?

 

After you give the tenant a notice to "Notice to Quit," "Notice to Quit or Vacate" or "Notice to Cure or Vacate," you must wait until the time in the notice runs out.

 

If your notice was about nonpayment of rent and the tenant did not bring the rental account completely current (either during the time in the notice or even at some time after that), then you can file a Complaint for Possession of Real Estate in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of D.C. Superior Court to request a judgment for possession.

 

If your notice was about a violation of a written lease or the housing code, and the tenant did not fix the problem within the time in the notice, even if s/he fixed it after the time in the notice, then you can file a Complaint for Possession of Real Estate in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of D.C. Superior Court to request a judgment for possession.

 

Are there certain requirements for a "Complaint?"

 

Yes. You must use a standard Court form that must be properly completed for the case to go forward. You must:

  • Use the right form for the type of case you are bringing. There are three forms for residential landlords.
  • Form 1A is for landlords who are evicting the tenant because the tenant is behind in rent.
  • Form 1B is for landlords who are evicting a tenant after serving a notice to correct/vacate tenants who are maintaing a drug haven, and certain other reasons.
  • Form 1C is for landlords who are evicting the tenant because the tenant is behind in rent and for some other reason.
  • Fill out a summons, using Form 1S.
  • List the tenant's name and address correctly (including apartment or room number, in any) and the quadrant (NE, NW, SE, or SW);
  • Specifically state the reason(s) why you are suing the tenant for eviction; and
  • Sue for possession, not just money.
  • Have your signature notarized.
  • Attach any documents that are required by the form, such as a copy of the Notice to Correct or Vacate an affidavit of service for the Notice.

The filing fee for the complaint is $15.00.

You must file the complaint in the Landlord and Tenant Branch Clerk's Office, which is located in Room 110 in D.C. Superior Court Building B, 510 4th Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001.

The forms and instructions for completing each form are available here.

 

When will I go to Court?

When you go to Court to file the complaint, the Clerk will assign an initial hearing date that is at least three weeks from the day you file the complaint. If you are filing a drug-haven case, an earlier date might be assigned.

 

Do I have to serve the tenant with the "Complaint" in a certain way?

 

Yes. You cannot give or send you a copy of the Complaint directly. Another person (the "process server") who is at least 18 years old must serve the tenant. You can serve the tenant by:

  • Personal service - Directly handing a copy of the complaint to the tenant;
  • Substituted service - Directly handing a copy of the complaint to a person over the age of 16 who lives in the home; or
  • Posting and mailing - After two (2) attempts to personally serve the tenant, the process server can tape, nail, or attach a copy of the Complaint to the tenant's door. Another copy must be mailed to the tenant within three (3) calendar days of posting it on the door.

The Court's instructions for serving the complaint are located here.

 

If your tenant is receiving rent assistance from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, you must send a copy of the complaint to the D.C. Housing Authority, 1133 North Capitol Street, NE Washington, DC 20002.

 

After your process server has served the complaint, you or your process server must file an Affidavit of Service with the Clerk explaining exactly how the process server gave the complaint to the tenant. The affidavit must be filed at least five business days before the initial hearing in the case.

 

 

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Going to Court on an Eviction Case

 

I filed a Complaint to have the tenant evicted. What happens when I go to Court?

 

Make sure you arrive and are seated in the Courtroom by 9:00 AM. The judge will explain how the process works and what help may be available. If you do not speak English or are deaf or hard of hearing, make sure you tell the Courtroom Clerk before the announcement begins.

 

Then, the Clerk will read the names of all parties who are scheduled to appear. You must answer "here" or "present" and state your name when your name is called. Make sure you can hear the Clerk clearly. If you cannot hear, raise your hand and let the Clerk know. If you miss your name and fail to answer, your case may be dismissed. If the defendant does not answer when the case is called, you can ask the Clerk to enter a "default" against the tenant.

 

If you do not hear your name during the roll call or you are late arriving to Court and aren't sure if your name was called, you should speak to the Clerk in the courtroom after the roll call is over and make sure that the Clerk knows that you are present.

 

Once the Clerk completes roll call, you can decide to do one or more of the following:

  • Settle the case with the tenant or the tenant's lawyer.
  • Ask the judge to grant a judgment in your case. If you have a legal reason for seeking the tenant's eviction and the tenant does not have a defense to your claim, the judge can enter judgment for possession and, if you are entitled to one, a judgment for the rent owed to you, immediately at the initial hearing. If the tenant has a defense, the case probably will be set for a trial on a different day.
  • "Mediate" your case through a Court-appointed mediator. A mediator will talk to both sides and try to help settle the case. However, you do not have to settle the case, and you should speak to a lawyer if you do not understand any part of the mediation or what is being said to you by the mediator.
  • Ask for a protective order or reserve your rights to a protective order if the tenant asks for a continuance or a trial. If you "reserve your rights," then when a protective order is entered, it can be retroactive to the day you first requested it.

Either you or the tenant (or tenant's attorney) may ask for a "Protective Order" that requires the tenant to deposit all future rent into the Court registry. See the section titled "Protective Orders" for more information.

For more information about what happens on your first day in court, click here.



What happens if I can't appear in Court on my scheduled day?

You should immediately call the Clerk of the Court at (202) 879-4879 explain why you cannot appear. Ask the Clerk for his or her name and write it down. You also should immediately call your tenant or the tenant's attorney to tell him or her you cannot appear. If you have time to come to Court on another day before your Court day, you can file a notice with the Court explaining that you cannot come to Court and requesting a new date. If the Clerk does not give you another date to appear in Court, get to Court as soon as possible and find out what happened. Even if you call the Court, the judge may still dismiss your case. If your case is dismissed because you are not there, it is called a "dismissal for want of prosecution," and you can usually file a motion to re-open the case or file a new case.

 

What happens if the tenant does not come to Court?

 

If the tenant does not come to Court on the initial hearing date, you can usually have a "default" entered against the tenant during the morning roll call. In most cases, a default means that a judgment for possession will be entered after you file paperwork with the Court proving that the defendant is not in the military. In some cases, you are also required to present proof (called "ex parte" proof) of your case to the Court before you can get a judgment for possession, even if the tenant does not come to Court or if the tenant came to Court but left or did not come back to Court for a continued hearing. If proof is required, the judge might set another Court date about two weeks after your first one. If the tenant does not come to Court, the Clerk will usually tell you if you need to appear in front of the judge after roll call. If you aren't sure, you can ask the Clerk after the roll call is over what you should do next.

 

What happens if the tenant pays all of the rent before we go to Court?

 

If you are suing the tenant for eviction because the tenant owed you rent and the tenant pays all of the rent and late fees before the case goes to Court and brings the account completely current at any point after you file the case, then you are required to dismiss the case. If the tenant stops paying rent again, even if it is the very next month, then you can start the eviction process over again. The tenant is not required to pay court costs if the tenant pays before a judgment is entered, even if your lease allows it. (Tenants are never required to pay legal fees even if your lease allows it, unless a judge orders it.)

 

 

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Answers and Other Responses by Tenants

 

The tenant filed an Answer. What is an "Answer?"

 

An Answer puts in writing the defenses the tenant intends to raise at trial. If the tenant wants to countersue you, his or her answer can include a "Counterclaim," "Recoupment" and/or "Set-Off." If the tenant wants to request a jury trial (instead of a "bench trial" before a judge), the answer can include a "jury demand."

 

Does the tenant have to file an Answer?

 

Filing an Answer is not required in Landlord Tenant Court unless the tenant wants to file a "Counterclaim," "Recoupment" and/or "Set-Off," or the tenant wants to request a jury trial (instead of a "bench trial" before a judge).

 

What is a "Counterclaim?"

 

If you are suing the tenant for eviction because the tenant didn't pay the rent, the tenant can file a "Counterclaim" against you, claiming that the he or she paid you too much in rent because of major housing code violations and asking the Court to award a refund of rent and enter a money judgment against you for the amount owed. The tenant can claim a refund either for the period he or she has lived in the rental unit or 3 (three) years, whichever is shorter. Usually, tenants file Counterclaims only when housing conditions of the rental unit have been really bad for a long period of time. It costs $10 to file a Counterclaim unless the Court excuses the tenant from paying the fee.

 

If you did not personally serve the tenant with the Complaint, you cannot get a money judgment against the tenant except if the tenant files a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff. So, even if you do not have personal service, you can request a money judgment against a tenant if the tenant files a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff.

 

What is a "Recoupment?"

 

If you are suing the tenant for eviction because the tenant didn't pay the rent, the tenant can file a "Recoupment," claiming that the he or she paid you too much in rent because of major housing code violations and asking the Court to award a refund of rent. A Recoupment asks that the amount of this "overpayment" be deducted from what the tenant owes you. The tenant can claim this deduction for the entire period he or she has lived in the rental unit, even if he or she has lived in the rental unit for more than three (3) years. Usually, tenants file a Recoupment only when housing conditions of the rental unit have been really bad for a long period of time. There is no charge to file a Recoupment.

 

If you did not personally serve the tenant with the Complaint, you cannot get a money judgment against the tenant except if the tenant files a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff. So, even if you do not have personal service, you can request a money judgment against a tenant if the tenant files a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff.

 

What is a "Set-Off?"

 

If you are suing the tenant for eviction because the tenant didn't pay the rent, the tenant can file a "Set-Off" claiming that he or she made repairs or purchased supplies to keep the rental unit up to "code." This may include buying a new stove or replacing the toilet after you failed to do so even though the tenant asked you many times to make the repairs. A Set-Off asks that the amount that the tenant paid for repairs and purchases be deducted from what he or she owes you. The tenant can claim these expenses either for the period he or she has lived in the rental unit or 3 (three) years, whichever is shorter. There is no charge to file a Set-Off.

 

If you did not personally serve the tenant with the Complaint, you cannot get a money judgment against the tenant except if the tenant files a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff. So, even if you do not have personal service, you can request a money judgment against a tenant if the tenant files a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff.

For more information about Answers, Recoupments, Setoffs, and Counterclaims, click here.

 

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Tenants' Defenses

 

What are some defenses to a nonpayment of rent case that the tenant might raise?

 

Sometimes tenants are unable to pay their rent because they've become unemployed or had to pay unexpected medical expenses due to an illness. The fact that the tenant does not have the money to pay the rent is not a legal defense to an eviction action.

 

However, the tenant may be able to raise legal defenses that can help him or her avoid eviction, even if that is not the primary reason the tenant initially withheld the rent. Some legal defenses include:

  • Housing Code Violations- There were serious problems in the tenant's rental unit during the period the tenant didn't pay rent that the landlord knew about or should have known about, but refused or failed to fix, and which were not caused by the tenant or the tenant's family or guests, including serious problems with the heat, hot water, kitchen appliances, bathroom fixtures, leaks, insects and rodents, floors, walls and more.
  • Incorrect Amount- The tenant does not owe the amount of money his or her landlord says because the landlord is suing the tenant for money the tenant has already paid.
  • Illegal Rent Level- The tenant does not owe the amount of money the landlord says because the landlord is charging the tenant an illegal rent level.
  • "Notice to Quit"
    • The tenant did not give up his or her right to receive a Notice to Quit and the tenant did not receive a Notice to Quit before being sued for eviction and served with a Complaint; or
    • The tenant did receive a Notice to Quit before being sued for eviction and served with a Complaint, but the Notice was defective:
      • The tenant does not owe the amount of money the landlord says; or
      • the Notice to Quit does not tell the tenant how much money he or she owes; or
      • the Notice to Quit gave the tenant fewer days than required in his or her lease or by law; or
      • the landlord did not provide the tenant with a copy of the Notice to Quit correctly; or
      • the tenant paid all the money required under the Notice to Quit.
  • Complaint- The landlord did not provide the tenant with a copy of the Complaint correctly.

 

What are defenses to a "Notice to Quit" case for lease violation(s)?

 

If the tenant is being sued for eviction for some other reason than nonpayment of rent, the tenant is entitled to receive a "Notice to Quit" or "Notice to Cure or Vacate." The following are some legal defenses the tenant may be able to raise:

  • The tenant did not receive a Notice to Quit telling him or her why the landlord wants to evict the tenant.
  • The tenant did receive a Notice to Quit telling him or her why the landlord wants to evict the tenant, but:
    • the statements in the Notice are not true; or
    • The tenant fixed the problem(s) before the time on the Notice ran out; or
    • what the landlord is complaining about in the Notice does not violate the lease or the housing code; or
    • There is no written lease; or
    • the landlord did not provide the tenant with a copy of the Notice correctly; or
    • the Notice did not tell the tenant what he or she did wrong and why the landlord wants to evict the tenant; or
    • the Notice did not tell the tenant how to fix the problem(s); or
    • the Notice gave the tenant less than 30 days to fix the problem(s); or
    • the Notice was not written in both English and Spanish; or
    • the landlord accepted rent after the tenant received the Notice.
  • Complaint - The landlord did not provide the tenant with a copy of the Complaint correctly.
  • Retaliation - The real reason the landlord wants to evict the tenant is because
    • The tenant complained about problems in the residence to the landlord; or
    • The tenant complained about problems in the residence to a government agency or a housing inspector; or
    • The tenant is helping or organizing other tenants to improve the conditions in their residences and/or the building complex.
  • Discrimination - The landlord is engaging in discrimination prohibited by District of Columbia and/or federal law.
    • The real reason that the landlord wants to evict the tenant is because of the tenant's: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income (including reliance on a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher), or place of residence or business.
    • The landlord is treating the tenant differently than other tenants because of the tenant's: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, familial status, family responsibilities, disability, matriculation, political affiliation, source of income, or place of residence or business.
    • The tenant is a person with a disability and the landlord is trying to evict him or her even though the tenant is entitled to a reasonable change (or accommodation) to a policy, procedure, lease term, or the building itself so that the tenant can have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy his or her residence. (An example of this defense is if a person needs a service animal, such as a dog that alerts a tenant who is deaf to the sounds of a door bell, phone calls, or a smoke detector. In such a case, a landlord is required to make an exception to a "no-pets" policy and cannot evict the tenant for having a dog.)
    • The landlord is trying to evict the tenant because of the number of people living in the home, the tenant has at least one child living with him or her, and the number of people living in the home is not more than (a) in an efficiency apartment, 2, or (b) in an apartment with one or more bedrooms, 2 times the number of bedrooms plus one.

 

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Protective Orders and Court Fees

 

What is a "Protective Order?"

 

Either you or your tenant (or tenant's attorney) may ask that a "Protective Order" be set which requires that the tenant deposit all future rent into the Court registry. The tenant is not required to deposit his or her unpaid rent into the Court Registry under a Protective Order.

 

How much is the tenant required to pay?

 

The tenant is usually required to pay the full amount of the monthly rent each month until the case is over. If the protective order is entered after the beginning of the month, the judge may only make the tenant pay for part of that month.

 

If there are major housing code violations in the apartment, the tenant can ask the judge to set the protective order at a lower amount because the apartment is not worth the full rent. The judge may set a separate hearing, called a "Bell" hearing to determine how much rent the tenant should have to pay during the case. If your case is set for a Bell hearing, you will need to be prepared to show the Judge that there aren't problems in the apartment, by telling the judge about the condition of the apartment or bringing pictures or witnesses with you to Court. If there are problems in the apartment but the tenant never told you about them or you fixed the problems in a reasonable time, you can explain that to the judge, too.

 

Even if the tenant is allowed to pay less than the full amount of the monthly rent, at the end of the case, a judge or jury will make a final decision about how much rent the tenant should have paid during the case. If the judge or jury decides that the protective order was too low, the tenant may have to pay the balance to avoid eviction. If the judge or jury decides that the protective order was too high, the money may be credited to the tenant's rental account or refunded to the tenant.

 

What if the tenant does not pay the "Protective Order?"

 

If the tenant does not make a protective order payment or does not make the payment on time, you can file a motion asking the Court to enter a judgment for possession against the tenant.

 

In most cases, however, if the tenant asks for a little additional time to pay the protective order before you file your motion or if the tenant comes to the hearing on your motion and has the money and is ready to pay, the judge will usually let the tenant pay late.

For more information about protective orders, click here.

 

What happens if I can't afford to pay any Court fees?

If you cannot afford to pay costs or fees relating to your Landlord Tenant case, you can file an "Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Costs, Fees, or Security" commonly referred to as an "IFP" or "In Forma Pauperis." You will be required to complete the court's form and swear to information about your financial affairs. Once you complete the Application and Affidavit, you will appear in front of the judge who will decide whether to grant your request.

 

 

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Settlements

 

What should I know about settling my case with the tenant?

 

One option you have after you sue your tenant for eviction is to settle your case with the tenant or tenant's attorney. You are not required to settle your case and you should not be pressured into doing so. You also probably don't want to agree to terms you cannot meet.

 

I have agreed to settle the case with the tenant. How can I put the terms of the settlement in writing?

  • Judgment for Possession by Consent / Form 4A

Most landlords require tenants who want to settle their cases to use a form called "Judgment for Possession by Consent" or "Form 4A." You can obtain a copy of the form here. This form immediately enters a judgment for possession against the tenant once it is signed by both parties and approved by the "Interview & Judgment Clerk." Again, a judgment for possession means that you have the right to evict the tenant, However, the judgment is postponed or "stayed" and you agree not to evict the tenant as long as the tenant follows the agreement.

 

Usually, these agreements set payment plans that allow the tenant to pay the back rent over a period of time. However, the tenant must pay the full amounts listed in the agreement on time. If the tenant does not pay the full amount or if he or she is even a day late, you can evict the tenant. Sometimes, landlords will agree to repair housing code violations according to a certain schedule listed in the agreement. An addendum to Form 4A where the parties can list a schedule of repairs is available here. However, even if you fail to fix these housing code violations in the time agreed, the tenant is still required to pay the full amount listed in the agreement on time or face eviction.

 

If you do not make the repairs you have agreed to in a Form 4A, the tenant can file a "Notice to Show Cause" and ask the judge to order you to complete the repairs or to fine you or reduce the tenant's future rent.

 

  • Settlement Agreement / Form 4B

You and your tenant also can enter into a "Settlement Agreement" or "Form 4B" that sets a payment plan, but does NOT automatically enter a "judgment for possession." A copy of Form 4B is available here. If the tenant fails to follow the agreement, you will need to file a "Motion for Judgment," and you both will have a chance to appear in front of the judge to explain your side.

 

You and the tenant can agree that you will make certain repairs as part of a Form 4B. An addendum for listing a schedule of repairs is available here.

 

  • Other Agreements

You and your tenant can also come to some other type of agreement, either on your own or with the help of a Court-appointed mediator. The Court provides blank forms called "praecipes" (pronounced "press-uh-pees") that you can use to write up any other type of agreement you reach with the tenant. Be sure that any agreement is filed with the Court. Some types of agreements must be approved by the judge before they are filed.

 

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Judgments, Writs, and the Eviction Process

 

I have a judgment for possession. How long will it take until the tenant is evicted?

 

After you get a judgment for possession, you must wait two full business days before you can file a Writ of Restitution. A Writ of Restitution is a document that authorizes the U.S. Marshals Service to schedule an eviction of the tenant.

 

After the Writ of Restitution is filed, the Clerk's Office sends the writ to the U.S. Marshals Service. The U.S. Marshals Service sends a copy of the writ to the tenant. The U.S. Marshals Service will call you to schedule the eviction. The soonest an eviction can take place is on the fourth business day after the writ is filed. The writ is valid for 75 days. If the tenant is not evicted in the 75 days, then you will have to file a new (or "alias") writ.

 

Remember, it is illegal for you to evict the tenant except by scheduling an eviction through the U.S. Marshals Service. The U.S. Marshals must be present during the eviction.

 

What happens if the tenant tries to pay me all of the money that is owed after I have a judgment but before an eviction occurs?

 

If you sued the tenant for eviction based on nonpayment of rent, the tenant has a right to "redeem" or save his or her right to stay in the property by paying you all of the money that the tenant owes you as of the day the payment is made. You might hear the judge call the amount of money the tenant owes the "Trans-Lux" amount, which is a shorthand way of saying the amount of money the tenant owes you in order to bring the account current.

 

If the tenant brings his or her account completely current as of the day on which the payment is made, including all rent, court costs, and any Court-approved late fees that are owed as of that day, then you are not allowed to go forward with the eviction. You are allowed to require the tenant to pay rent that has come due since the judgment was entered and the cost of a Writ of Restitution.

 

The tenant has the right to redeem his or her tenancy even if you did not ask for the money in the case and even if you started the case by giving the tenant a 30-day notice. The only thing that matters is that the reason for the eviction is that the tenant failed to pay rent.

 

If the tenant stops paying rent again, even if it is the very next month, you can start the eviction process over again. You do not have a right to refuse payment in full by cash, money order, or certified funds. If you accept partial payments from the tenant, you should make sure that you give the tenant a receipt showing the balance due so that the tenant does not think that the partial payment will stop the eviction.

 

I have a judgment for possession of the property, but how do I get the back rent the tenant owes me?

 

You can ask the judge to give you a "money judgment," in the amount of the rent the tenant owes you. A money judgment means that the tenant is legally required to pay you that amount of money plus interest. If the tenant does not pay you, you can have money withheld from the tenant's wages or bank accounts to pay the debt. This is called "garnishing" the tenant's wages or bank accounts.

 

If you want a money judgment, you must ask for it on the Complaint that you file against the tenant, and you must state the amount of money that is owed to you as of the date that you swear to the complaint. The judge can only enter a money judgment against the tenant if the Complaint and Summons were served on the tenant by handing it to the tenant directly or if the tenant filed a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff against you.

 

If you cannot get a money judgment in Landlord and Tenant Court or the tenant owes you more money than what you could collect in the Landlord and Tenant Court, you can usually file a separate case in the Smalls Claims Court (if the amount is $5000.00 or less) or in the Civil Actions Branch (if the amount is more than $5000.00). If the case is about rent, the case must be filed within three (3) years of the due date for the rent that was not paid.

 

How do I enforce a money judgment and make the tenant pay me?

 

If the defendant does not pay you voluntarily, you must wait ten (10) business days after the entry of a money judgment before you can take steps to garnish the tenant's wages or bank accounts. If the judgment remains unpaid after ten days, then you can take steps to execute the money judgment. If you want to garnish the tenant's wages, you can file a "Writ of Attachment on a Judgment." If you want to garnish the tenant's bank accounts, you can file a "Writ of Attachment on Wages, Salary and Commissions." There is a $10 filing fee for each writ, and you must serve the Writ by process server on the tenant's employer or bank.

 

I don't know where the tenant works or where the tenant has bank accounts. How do I collect a money judgment?

 

You can schedule an oral examination by requesting a subpoena from the Clerk and paying a $10 fee. At an oral exam, you can question the tenant under oath about where he or she works and where he or she has bank accounts or other assets. You can also require the tenant to bring documents that show where the tenant's income comes from or is kept (tax returns, bank statements, pay statements, etc.). You must have a process server serve the tenant with the subpoena. The subpoena should say what documents you want the tenant to bring to Court.

 

Are there any types of income that are protected from collection?

 

In some cases, even if you have a money judgment against the tenant, you may be forbidden by law to take the tenant's money if it comes from certain sources. Protected sources of income include:

  • Social Security
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  • Veterans' Benefits
  • Federal Civil Service Retirement benefits
  • Federal Civil Service Survivor Annuities
  • Disability benefits
  • Public assistance / TANF benefits
  • Unemployment benefits
  • Payments under retirement, pension and annuity plans*
  • Alimony, support or separate maintenance*
  • Worker's compensation
  • Payments awarded by a court in a civil or criminal case*
  • Railroad Retirement Act benefits
  • Annuities to Survivors of Federal Judges
  • Longshore and Harborworkers' Compensation Act Benefits
  • Seaman's or Master's or Fisherman's wages
  • Black Lung benefits

*Limitations may apply.

 

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