Frequently Asked Questions By Tenants
Authored By: DC Bar Pro Bono Center
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(Click on a topic from the list below to go directly to the questions that relate to that topic. After each topic, you can click "Back to Top" to return to this list.)
1. General Information About Evictions
2. Notice of Court Proceedings
3. Going to Court
4. Answers and Other Responses
5. Protective Orders and Court Fees
9. Judgments, Writs and the Eviction Process
10. Housing Code Violations and Security Deposits
Is it legal for my landlord to evict me without bringing me to Court first?
- In D.C., your landlord cannot evict you without bringing you to Court and receiving a "judgment for possession." If your landlord evicts you without a judgment for possession, s/he may be responsible for paying you for your property damage plus money damages for breaking the law.
- If your landlord has threatened to evict you without bringing you to Court and receiving a judgment for possession, click here for a letter you can send to your landlord advising him or her that the eviction is illegal.
- You can also speak with one of the following agencies to get help with an illegal eviction:
Office of the Tenant Advocate
2000 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Landlord Tenant Resource Center
Landlord Tenant Court Building (Building B)
510 4th Street, N.W., Room #115
9:15 AM - 12:00 Noon
Please note that due to a high demand for services, it may be necessary for the resource center to limit the number of customers it sees each day and close intake before 12 p.m. Even if intake is closed early, all customers who have court dates that day or emergency matters (for example, a live writ, lock-out, or no heat) will be seen if they sign in before 12 p.m.
D.C. Law Students In Court
615 H Street, N.W., Suite 500
Call for hours: (202) 638-4798
Do U.S. Marshals have to be present during an eviction?
- Yes. U.S. Marshals MUST be present during an eviction. Otherwise, it is illegal and your landlord may be responsible for paying you for your property damage plus money damages for breaking the law.
My landlord doesn't like me. Does he need a legal reason to evict me?
- Yes. In D.C., your landlord cannot evict you just because s/he wants to or because s/he doesn't like you. Your landlord must have at least one legal reason in order to lawfully evict you. The most common legal reasons include not paying your rent and violating another part of your lease (for example, keeping a dog when the lease forbids it).
What are the legal reasons my landlord can use to evict me?
For your landlord to legally evict, s/he must prove to the Court that at least one (1) of the following reasons is true:
- You didn't pay your rent;
- You or an occupant violated some other part of your 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);
- You or an occupant violated the law within the property;
- You or an occupant are maintaining a drug-haven within the property;
- The landlord/owner wants to take back the property for his or her immediate and personal use;
- The landlord/owner intends to renovate the property and cannot safely do so with you living there;
- The landlord/owner intends 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 my landlord evict me when my lease period ends?
- No. In D.C., once your lease period ends, the lease automatically goes month-to-month. All the other parts of your lease remain the same (including the rent amount, unless you receive 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, your lease term will go month-to-month beginning January 1, 2011 - EVEN if your landlord doesn't agree to renew your lease. In other words, your landlord cannot evict you when your lease period ends unless s/he has another reason.
Can my landlord raise my rent?
- Your landlord cannot raise your rent if you both have agreed, usually in a written lease, on a certain amount. Usually you and your landlord agree on a certain amount for a specific period of time. Once that time period ends, your landlord is able to raise your rent with 30 (thirty) days written notice. If you and your landlord never agreed on a specific period of time, your landlord is able to raise your rent at anytime with 30 (thirty) days written notice.
If your landlord is allowed to raise the rent, then how much and how often the rent can be raised depends on whether the unit is subject to rent control. If the unit is exempt from rent control, then the landlord can raise the rent by any amount any time, as long as the landlord is not raising the rent for an illegal reason, such as to retaliate against a tenant for taking some lawful action like reporting housing code violations or requesting repairs. The landlord must give the tenant at least 30 days written notice before the date on which the rent increase is to take effect.
If the unit is subject to rent control, then the landlord 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
- The landlord gives a 30-day written notice of any increase in rent
- In general, the landlord 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 the landlord can raise the rent each year is determined by the Department of Housing and Community Development and is based on the Consumer Price Index. You should contact the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at (202) 442-9505 to find out how much the landlord can raise the rent.
- If the rental property is not returning at least a 12% rate of return for the landlord, the landlord can ask the Rent Administrator to allow a larger rent increase than would normally be allowed To do this, the landlord must file a "Hardship Petition." If your landlord files a Hardship Petition, you may want to talk to a lawyer to see if the petition is valid.
- Finally, if the landlord is making certain types of capital improvements to the building, the landlord can apply for permission to raise the rent to help pay for the improvements. The landlord needs permission from the Rent Administrator to raise the rent for this reason. If you get a notice that your landlord is raising the rent to pay for capital improvements, you may want to talk to a lawyer to see if the notice is valid.
2. NOTICE OF COURT PROCEEDINGS
Should I receive any notices before my landlord evicts me?
- Yes. You should receive 2, possibly 4, notices before your landlord evicts you.
1. Notice to Quit
The first notice is called either a "Notice to Quit," "Notice to Quit or Vacate," "Notice to Cure or Vacate" or "Notice to Correct or Vacate." Your landlord MUST send you this notice before s/he can legally evict you for any reason other than nonpayment of rent or because you are maintaining a drug haven.
If you are being evicted because your landlord believes that you are maintaining a drug-haven, your landlord does not need to send you this notice.
If you are being evicted because you didn't pay your rent, your landlord may not need to send you this notice. Read your lease to see whether you have agreed to give up your right to receive this notice before being sued for eviction. Your 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 your lease has this language, your landlord is not required to send you the notice to quit.
If your lease does not have similar language, then you have not agreed to give up your right to receive this notice and your landlord must send you the notice to quit. You can only agree to give up your right to receive this notice in a nonpayment of rent case. Your landlord MUST send you a notice for all other reasons for eviction.
* Remember, even though this notice tells you that you have to leave your home, your landlord cannot force you to leave until s/he has received a judgment for possession from the Court.
The second notice is called a "Complaint." Your landlord MUST send you a Complaint which notifies you of the official Court case, why you are being sued for eviction and the first date and time you must appear in Court.
3. Notice to Tenant of Payment Required to Avoid Eviction
If you are being evicted because you didn't pay your rent AND you were not in Court when a judgment was entered against you, your landlord is required to file a form with the Court explaining how much rent, late fees, and other costs you owe. The Court is required to send a copy of this form to you.
4. Writ of Restitution
The final notice is called a "Writ of Restitution." This is the official eviction notice that you should receive after your landlord has a "judgment for possession" issued by the Court. If this is the first notice you receive, you should try to speak with an attorney as soon as possible.
Must my landlord serve me the "Notice to Quit," "Notice to Quit or Vacate" or "Notice to Cure or Vacate" in a certain way?
Yes. Your landlord can give or send the notice to you him or herself. You can be served either by:
- Personal service - You are directly handed a copy of the notice;
- Substituted service - Someone of a proper age may be handed a copy of the notice for you; or
- Certified mail - Sending a copy to you as long as you personally sign for the letter; or
- Posting and mailing - After two (2) attempts to personally serve you, our landlord can tape, nail or attach a copy of the notice to your door. Another copy must be mailed to you within three (3) calendar days of the posting to your door.
- Except in nonpayment of rent cases, the notice also must be sent to the Rent Administrator within five (5) days after it is given to you
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. Your landlord must send you a proper notice to be able to go forward with an eviction proceeding. Otherwise, the case should be dismissed in Court. The requirements include:
- Giving you very specific information about how you violated your lease or the housing code;
- Giving you very specific information about how to fix the violation(s);
- Giving you at least 30 days to fix the violation(s); and
- That the notice be written in both English and Spanish.
Are there certain requirements for a "Complaint?"
Yes. Landlords use a standard Court form that must be properly completed for the case to go forward. The landlord must:
- List your name and address correctly (including apartment or room number, if you have one);
- Specifically state (or attach a notice) the reason(s) you are being sued for eviction; and
- Sue you for possession, not just money.
Must my landlord serve me the "Complaint" in a certain way?
Yes. Your landlord 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" you. You can be served either by:
- Personal service - You are directly handed a copy of the Complaint;
- Substituted service - Someone over the age of 16 who lives in your home may be handed a copy of the Complaint; or
- Posting and mailing - After two (2) attempts to personally serve you, the process server can tape, nail or attach a copy of the Complaint to your door. Another copy must be mailed to you within three (3) calendar days of the posting to your door.
3. GOING TO COURT
What happens if I can't appear in Court on my scheduled day?
- You immediately should call the Clerk of the Court at (202) 879-4879 and explain why you cannot appear. Ask the Clerk for his or her name and write it down.
- You also should call immediately your landlord or landlord'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 give your landlord a judgment for possession. This is called a "default judgment."
What happens on my first day in 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 or litigants 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, a "default judgment" may be entered against you.
- 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 your landlord or landlord's attorney;
- Ask for a two (2) week continuance to speak to a lawyer about possible defenses and/or to file a written "Answer" to the Complaint. It is important that you "reserve all rights" when asking for a continuance. If you don't "reserve all rights," you may lose some rights, including your right to ask for a jury trial.
- Ask for a "bench trial" before a judge so you can prove your defenses. The trial probably will be set for a date between 2 (two) weeks and 2 (two) months from when requested.
- File an "Answer," though you are usually not required to do so in Landlord Tenant Court. An Answer puts in writing the defenses you intend to raise at trial.
- "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.
- Either you or your landlord (or landlord's attorney) may ask that a "Protective Order" be set which requires that you deposit all future rent into the Court registry. See the section titled "Protective Orders" for more information.
For more information about your first day in court, click here.
4. ANSWERS AND OTHER RESPONSES
What is an "Answer?"
- An Answer puts in writing the defenses you intend to raise at trial. If you want to countersue your landlord, your answer can include a "Counterclaim," "Recoupment" and/or "Set-Off." If you want to request a jury trial (instead of a "bench trial" before a judge) your answer can include a "jury demand."
Do I have to file an Answer?
- Filing an Answer is not required in Landlord Tenant Court unless you want to file a "Counterclaim," "Recoupment" and/or "Set-Off," or if you want to request a jury trial (instead of a "bench trial" before a judge).
What is a "Counterclaim?"
- If you are being sued for eviction because you didn't pay your rent, you can file a "Counterclaim" claiming that you have paid your landlord too much in rent because of major housing code violations and you want a refund. You can claim a refund either for the period you have 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 you from paying the fee.
- IMPORTANT: If you were not personally served with a copy of the Complaint, filing a Counterclaim may not be the right decision for you. Your landlord may be able to get a money judgment against you (in addition to judgment for possession) if you lose. You should speak to a lawyer before deciding whether to file a Counterclaim.
What is a "Recoupment?"
- If you are being sued for eviction because you didn't pay your rent, you can file a "Recoupment" claiming that you have paid your landlord too much in rent because of major housing code violations. A Recoupment asks that the amount of this "overpayment" be deducted from what you owe the landlord. You can claim this deduction for the entire period you have lived in the rental unit, even if you have 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.
- IMPORTANT: If you were not personally served with a copy of the Complaint, filing a Recoupment may not be the right decision for you. Your landlord may be able to get a money judgment against you (in addition to judgment for possession) if you lose. You should speak to a lawyer before deciding whether to file a Recoupment.
What is a "Set-Off?"
- If you are being sued for eviction because you didn't pay your rent, you can file a "Set-Off" claiming that you have 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 the landlord failed to do so even though you asked many times. A Set-Off asks that the amount you paid for repairs and purchases be deducted from what you owe the landlord. You can claim these expenses either for the period you have lived in the rental unit or 3 (three) years, whichever is shorter. There is no charge to file a Set-Off.
- IMPORTANT: If you were not personally served with a copy of the Complaint, filing a Set-Off may not be the right decision for you. Your landlord may be able to get a money judgment against you (in addition to judgment for possession) if you lose. You should speak to a lawyer before deciding whether to file a Set-Off.
For more information about filing Answers, Recoupments, Setoffs, and Counterclaims, click here.
5. PROTECTIVE ORDERS AND COURT FEES
What is a "Protective Order?"
- Either you or your landlord (or landlord's attorney) may ask that a "Protective Order" be set which requires that you deposit all future rent into the Court registry. You are not required to deposit your unpaid back rent (or the amount your landlord claims is unpaid) into the Court Registry under a Protective Order. Protective Orders can be paid with cash or money orders. You must pay your Protective Order on time or risk eviction.
How much will I be required to pay?
- You are usually required to pay the full amount of your 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 you pay for part of that month.
- If there are major housing code violations in your apartment, you can ask the judge to set the protective order at a lower amount because your apartment is not worth the full rent. The judge may set a separate hearing, called a "Bell" hearing to determine how much rent you 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 are problems in your apartment, by telling the judge about the problem or bringing pictures or witness with you to Court. You will also need to convince the judge that the landlord knows about the problems and hasn't fixed them.
- You can also request a hearing if there is a disagreement about how much rent you should have to pay if you have a voucher that covers some or all of your rent. You can tell the judge if the landlord is asking for a protective order that is higher than your share of the rent.
- If the judge orders you to pay less than the full amount of monthly rent, it is a good idea to save the rest of the money if you can. At the end of the case, a judge or jury will make a final decision about how much rent you should have paid during the case. If the judge or jury decides that your protective order was too low, you may have to pay the balance to avoid eviction. If the judge or jury decides that your protective order was too high, the money will be credited to your rental account or refunded to you.
- Even if you pay the full amount of rent for a protective order, you may be able to get some of the money back at the end of the case if there were major housing code violations in your apartment during the case. If the judge decides that your protective order was too high, because of the housing code violations, the extra money will be credited to your rental account or refunded to you.
What if I am unable to pay my "Protective Order?"
- It depends. If you believe you will have the money to pay your "Protective Order" shortly after it is due, you either can file a "Motion to Extend Time to Make Protective Order Payment" to inform the Court that you need a bit more time to pay, or you can bring the money to Court once you have it all.
- If you do not believe you will ever have the money to pay your Protective Order, it may be in your best interest to keep quiet and not alert the Court or your landlord. It is likely your landlord will file a "Motion to Strike Pleadings" which could result in your eviction.
- You should speak to a lawyer immediately if you think you may not have the money to pay your Protective Order on time.
For more information about protective orders, click here.
What happens if I can't afford to pay any Court fees?
- Most of what you do in Landlord Tenant Court should not cost anything. For example, there is no fee to file an Answer, settle or mediate your case, or have a "bench trial" in front of a judge. However, there are some actions that you may consider which do require the payment of costs or fees: for example, filing a Counterclaim and requesting a jury trial.
- 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 an "Affidavit" swearing to 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.
What should I know about settling my case with the landlord?
- One option you have after being sued for eviction is to settle your case with your landlord or landlord'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.
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." This form immediately enters a judgment for possession against you once it is signed by you and approved by the "Interview & Judgment Clerk." Again, a judgment for possession means that your landlord has the right to evict you, However, the judgment is postponed or "stayed" and you will not be evicted as long as you follow the agreement. Click here for a Form 4A that you can print, complete, and file with the Court.
Usually, these agreements set payment plans that allow you to pay your back rent over a period of time. However, you MUST pay the FULL amounts listed in the agreement ON TIME. If you do not pay the full amount or if you are even a day late, the landlord can evict you. Sometimes, landlords will agree to repair housing code violations according to a certain schedule listed in the agreement. However, even if the landlord fails to fix these housing code violations in the time agreed, you are still required to pay the FULL amount listed in the agreement ON TIME or face eviction.
Click here for an attachment that you can print, complete, and file with the Court along with a Form 4A, if you choose to sign one. You can use this attachment to list the repairs your landlord is required to make.
Settlement Agreement / Form 4B
You and your landlord also can enter into a "Settlement Agreement" or "Form 4B" that sets a payment plan, but does NOT automatically enter a "judgment for possession." If you fail to follow the agreement, your landlord 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 your landlord 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 writ up any other type of agreement you reach with your landlord. Be sure that any agreement is filed with the Court. Some types of agreements must be approved by the judge before they are filed.
For more information about settling your case, click here.
What are defenses to a nonpayment of rent case?
- 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 you don't have the money to pay your rent is not a legal defense to an eviction action.
- However, you still may be able to raise legal defenses which can help you avoid eviction, even though they are not the primary reason you initially withheld your rent. If you do not raise some defense, it is likely a judgment for possession will be entered against you.
Some legal defenses include:
- Housing Code Violations - There were serious problems in my rental unit during the period I 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 me or my 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 - I do not owe the amount of money my landlord says because my landlord is suing me for money I already paid.
- Illegal Rent Level - I do not owe the amount of money my landlord says because my landlord is charging me an illegal rent level.
"Notice to Quit" or "Notice to Cure or Vacate"
- I did not give up my right to receive a Notice to Quit and I did not receive a Notice to Quit before being sued for eviction and served with a Complaint; or
I did receive a Notice to Quit before being sued for eviction and served with a Complaint, but the Notice was defective:
- I do not owe the amount of money my landlord says; or
- the Notice to Quit does not tell me how much money I owe; or
- the Notice to Quit gave me fewer days than required in my lease or by law; or
- my landlord did not provide me with a copy of the Notice to Quit correctly; or
- I paid all the money required under the Notice to Quit.
- Complaint - My landlord did not provide me with a copy of the Complaint correctly.
What are defenses to a "Notice to Quit" case for lease violation(s)?
- If you are being sued for eviction for some other reason than nonpayment of rent, you are entitled to receive a "Notice to Quit" or "Notice to Correct or Vacate." If you do not raise some defense, it is likely a judgment for possession will be entered against you.
The following are some legal defenses you may be able to raise:
- I did not receive a Notice to Quit telling me why my landlord wants to evict me.
I did receive a Notice to Quit telling me why my landlord wants to evict me, but:
- the statements in the Notice are not true; or
- I 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 my lease or the housing code; or
- I do not have a written lease; or
- my landlord did not provide me with a copy of the Notice correctly; or
- the Notice did not tell me what I did wrong and why the landlord wants to evict me; or
- the Notice did not tell me how to fix the problem(s); or
- the Notice gave me less than 30 days to fix the problem(s); or
- the Notice was not written in both English and Spanish; or
- my landlord accepted my rent after I received the Notice.
- Complaint - My landlord did not provide me with a copy of the Complaint correctly.
Retaliation - The real reason my landlord wants to evict me is because
- I complained about problems in my residence to the landlord; and/or
- I complained about problems in my residence to a government agency or a housing inspector; and/or
- I am helping or organizing other tenants to improve the conditions in their residences and/or the building complex.
Discrimination - My landlord is engaging in discrimination prohibited by District of Columbia and/or federal law.
- The real reason that my landlord wants to evict me is because of my (list only those items that apply): 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.
- My landlord is treating me differently than other tenants because of my 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.
- I am a person with a disability and my landlord is trying to evict me even though I am entitled to a reasonable change (or accommodation) to a policy, procedure, lease term, or the building itself so that I can have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy my 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.)
- My landlord is trying to evict me because of the number of people living in my home, I have at least one child living with me, and the number of people living in my home is not more than, (in an efficiency apartment 2 persons) or (in an apartment with one or more bedrooms, 2 times the number of bedrooms plus one).
Should I request a bench or jury trial?
Whether to request a bench trial in front of a judge or a jury trial (in front of 6 jurors) is a complicated issue and you may want to speak to a lawyer before deciding. However, some of the considerations include:
- A bench trial usually is scheduled within about 2 (two) weeks to 2 (two) months from when requested. A jury trial usually is scheduled within about nine (9) to ten (10) months from when requested. (Either way, it is likely that you will have to continue to pay your rent while you are waiting for your trial.)
- A bench trial doesn't cost anything. A jury trial costs $75.00 unless you can get the fee waived by the Court.
- A bench trial usually does not require additional Court appearances until the day of trial. A jury trial requires several more Court appearances, including a Settlement Conference and a Pre-Trial Hearing.
- A bench trial is less formal and usually can be conducted without a lawyer. A jury trial is much more complicated and requires that you have some legal knowledge.
How do I prepare for trial?
- A trial is your chance to prove your side of the case to the judge or jury. You should come to Court prepared and organized on the day of trial. Sometimes it is best to tell you story in the order in which it happened. It is best to only tell the judge or jury the facts that directly relate to the case. So, for example, if you are being sued for nonpayment of rent, you may not need to tell the judge or jury that you and your landlord don't get along or that you really think you're being sued because too many people live in your rental unit.
- Your landlord will have the chance to tell the judge or jury why you are being sued for eviction. Your landlord probably will present documents, like your lease, and ask that they be "moved into evidence." You have the right to review the documents to make sure they are real (not made-up just for the purpose of trial) and correct (not changed or altered). Your landlord also will present testimony about why you are being sued for eviction. You have the right to "cross-examine" any of the witnesses and ask them questions - either to show they are not telling the truth or to bring out more facts that help your case.
- You then will have a chance to testify if you choose. It may help you to practice before trial exactly what you want to say and in what order you want to say it. Your landlord or landlord's attorney will have a chance to cross-examine you - asking you questions to either show you are not telling the truth or to bring out more facts that help to prove the landlord's case. You also can ask other people to testify as witnesses (for example, neighbors or a housing inspector) if they can tell the judge or jury facts that relate to your case. If you want to require certain witnesses to testify, you can subpoena them. And, you also can present documents (for example, rent checks that prove your landlord cashed them), copies of letters you wrote to the landlord, and pictures (for example, of housing code violations). There are special rules that you must follow to prove the documents, pictures and/or reports are real before you can get them into evidence. (For example, if you would like to present housing inspection reports, you will have to subpoena the housing inspector.) You should speak to a lawyer about how to do this.
- Both you and your landlord will have a chance at the end to briefly restate all the facts that were presented. The judge or jury then will decide your case.
Do I need a lawyer?
- Although it may be best to have a lawyer defend you in Landlord Tenant Court, you may be able to get through the case on your own. However, if at any stage you do not understand your options or how you should proceed, you should talk to a lawyer. Also, if you are interested in filing a Counterclaim, Recoupment or Set-Off, or if you are interested in requesting a jury trial, you should talk to a lawyer beforehand. Free legal information is available in Landlord Tenant Court either through the Landlord Tenant Resource Center or D.C. Law Students In Court. Also, there are several other legal service agencies that provide free legal information, advice and/or representation. For a list, go to the "Find Legal Help" tab above.
For more information about trials, click here.
9. JUDGMENTS, WRITS AND THE EVICTION PROCESS
I never received notice of my case and now a judgment is entered. What should I do?
- Call the Landlord Tenant Court Clerk at (202) 879-4879 between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM to find out whether you're currently on the eviction list. Whether you're on the list or not, immediately go to Landlord Tenant Court and file the papers to stop the eviction from going forward.
If a judgment is entered against me, how much time do I have until I'm evicted?
- Once a judgment for possession is entered against you, your landlord will need to complete a "Writ of Restitution" to evict you. Your landlord must wait 2 business days after the judgment is entered to complete the Writ. The Writ will become "live" or active 3 days after it is filed. Writs last for 75 days, so you can be evicted anytime within that period.
How do I know if I'm on the eviction list?
- Before you are legally evicted, your landlord must serve you a Complaint and get a "judgment for possession" issued by the Court. Once the judgment is entered, your landlord will need to complete a "Writ of Restitution," which is the official paper that tells the U.S. Marshals Service to schedule your eviction. Once you receive the Writ, you should call the Landlord Tenant Court Clerk every day at (202) 879-4879 between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM to find out whether you're on the eviction list for the next day.
Is there anything I can do to stop an eviction once I receive a Writ of Restitution?
- It depends. If you are being sued for nonpayment of rent and no other reason and you have not given up this right in an agreement, you have the right to stop an eviction up until the eviction actually occurs by paying all the money the landlord claims you owe. This includes all the rent, late fees and court costs. You probably will need to pay this amount either in cash or by money order. Make sure you get a receipt that clearly states "Paid In Full" with a "$0 Balance." It is advisable to come to Court and show the judge your receipt so your case file can be marked that you have paid in full.
- If you are being sued for another type of lease violation (for example, keeping a dog when the lease forbids it) or for some other reason, like the owner intends to take the property back for personal use, you may not be able to stop the eviction once you receive a Writ if the landlord went through the proper Court proceedings and you had notice and a chance to participate.
What is a money judgment?
- If you owe the landlord rent, the landlord can obtain a judgment against you for the amount of rent you owe. The landlord is only entitled to request a money judgment against you if the Complaint and Summons were served on you by handing it to you directly or if you filed a Counterclaim, Recoupment, or Setoff against the landlord.
- A money judgment means that you are legally required to pay the landlord that amount of money plus interest. If you do not pay the landlord, the landlord can have money withheld from your wages or bank accounts to pay the debt. This is called "garnishing" your wages or bank accounts.
- The landlord is required to wait ten (10) business days after a money judgment is entered before he or she can take steps to garnish your wages or bank accounts.
- Even if your landlord is unable to obtain a money judgment in Landlord and Tenant Court, your landlord might be able to sue you in Small Claims Court or the Civil Actions Branch if you owe rent and do not pay it.
Is there anything I can do to stop the landlord from taking money out of my wages or bank accounts?
- If you think that a money judgment should not have been entered against you, you should speak to a lawyer about how to have the judgment set aside.
- In some cases, even if a money judgment is entered against you, the landlord is forbidden by law to take your money if it comes from certain sources. If you believe that your income is protected from garnishment, you should tell your landlord that immediately. You can also file a motion with the Court asking the Court to stop the landlord from taking your money. You should act as quickly as possible to file a motion with the Court. You may want to speak to an attorney about how to do this.
Protected sources of income:
- 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.
For more information about judgments and stopping evictions, click here.
10. HOUSING CODE VIOLATIONS AND SECURITY DEPOSITS
How do I get my landlord to fix problems or housing code violations in my rental unit?
Notify your landlord of the problems in writing. Keep a copy of every notice you send. Also, keep a journal of any conversations you have with your management company or landlord about housing code violations. Note the date and time and to whom you spoke. If your landlord still refuses to fix the problems you have several options:
- Request a housing inspector visit the property and make a report of all the housing code violations. 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. The inspector will send a copy of the inspection report to your landlord and instruct the landlord to make repairs within a certain amount of time. You can file a case on the Housing Conditions Calendar, in the Civil Actions Branch of Superior Court, requesting that the Court order the landlord to make repairs. You cannot get a refund of rent in this court, but you can file a separate case in Small Claims Court for up to $5000. Click here for more information.
- You can file a regular case in the Civil Actions Branch, requesting that the Court order the landlord make repairs andrequesting 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, the tenant must request more than $5000 or the case must be filed in the Small Claims Court.)
- If the housing code violations are severe (for example, no heat in winter), you 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, you can file a Tenant Petition with the Rental Accommodations Division (RAD). This agency allows tenants to bring actions against their landlords. The rules and procedures are very informal and tenants usually do not need lawyers to proceed. However, if the landlord does not do what is ordered, the agency has limited power to enforce its own orders.
- You can stop paying your 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, you can ask the judge to order the landlord to make the repairs. You also may be able to get a reduction in the rent you owe. If you do withhold your rent, notify your landlord that you are going to stop paying rent because of the housing code violations. Make sure you save all your rent because you may have to pay some or all of it back in order to avoid eviction.
- Bring an action in Small Claims Court. If you think your landlord should reimburse you for money you spent fixing problems in your rental unit or that your landlord owes you money since you paid too much for your rental during periods when housing code violations existed, you can bring an action in Small Claims Court up to $5000.
- Free legal services are available to help you enforce your rights under the housing code. Either visit the Landlord Tenant Resource Center or one of the other legal services agencies. Go to the "Find Legal Help" tab above.
How do I report housing code violations?
- Request a housing inspector visit the property and make a report of all the housing code violations. 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.
How do I get my security deposit back?
- Your landlord has forty-five (45) days from when you move to either send you your security deposit in full (including any interest) or to notify you of any reason(s) s/he intends to keep part or all of your security deposit. If you receive notice that your landlord intends to keep part of your security deposit, your landlord then has thirty (30) days from the date of the notice to send you the balance. If you do not receive anything from your landlord within the forty-five (45) day period after you move, you probably will have to bring an action in Small Claims Court.
- For more information, see Frequently Asked Questions About Security Deposits for Residential Rentals.