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Judgments, Writs, and Stopping Evictions - Information for Tenants

Authored By: D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center

Information

What is a “judgment for possession”?

A “judgment for possession” means your landlord won a case against the you and can file a writ of restitution.

What is a “writ of restitution”?

If you have received a writ of restitution, your landlord has a judgment for possession and you can be evicted. The writ of restitution tells the U.S. Marshals Service to schedule your eviction.

How can my landlord get a judgment for possession against me in Landlord and Tenant Court?

To get a judgment for possession, your landlord must sue you by filing a “Complaint for Possession of Real Estate” in Landlord and Tenant Court. If your landlord wins the case, your landlord will get a judgment for possession.

Your landlord could win the case at a hearing, such as the initial hearing or trial, or by getting a “default judgment” if you miss a Court hearing.

I missed my Court date and now a judgment is entered. What should I do?

Act quickly. Call the Landlord and Tenant Clerk’s Office at (202) 879-4879 between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM to find out if you're on the eviction list and check the eviction list published by the Office of the Tenant Advocate at https://ota.dc.gov/page/eviction-lists. If you are on the eviction list, go to Court immediately to ask for a “stay.” A stay puts the judgment on hold temporarily until the judge can decide whether to remove the judgment from your case. (See, “How do I get a stay of the writ of restitution?” below.)

To get the judgment removed from your case, you need to file a “Motion to Vacate Default Judgment”
with an “Answer.”

  • Motion to Vacate Default Judgment: explains why you missed your Court hearing
  • Answer: explains the legal reasons why you should win the case

Unless you have a stay, you can be evicted even if you file a Motion to Vacate Default Judgment.

There is a judgment against me, but I think the judge made a mistake. What can I do?

If the judge gave your landlord a judgment at your initial hearing, trial, or motion hearing, there are usually two things you can do if you think the judge made a mistake:

  • File a “Motion for Reconsideration” and ask the judge to change his or her own decision.
  • File an “Appeal” and ask the D.C. Court of Appeals to see whether the judge followed the law.

Unless you have a stay, you can be evicted even if you file a Motion for Reconsideration or an Appeal. (See, “How do I get a stay of the writ of restitution?” below.)

Motions for Reconsideration must be filed within 28 calendar days after the judgment. Appeals must be filed within 30 calendar days after the judgment, if the case was decided by an associate or senior judge. If the case was instead decided by a magistrate judge, there is a shorter, 14-day time period during which you can file a motion for review of the magistrate judge’s decision. Because of these two different time limits, it is important to note whether a magistrate judge decided your case.

How much time do I have until I’m evicted?

After a judgment for possession is entered, your landlord must file a writ of restitution in order to evict you. Your landlord must wait 2 days after the judgment is entered to file the writ. The U.S. Marshals Service can schedule your eviction as soon as 3 days after your landlord files the writ. Writs last for 75 days, and you can be evicted at any time within that period.

How do I know when I will be evicted?

Check with the Landlord and Tenant Court Clerk to see if a writ of restitution has been filed. You should receive a copy of the writ of restitution in the mail. The U.S. Marshals Service will schedule an eviction date and will mail a notice to you with the date. The landlord is also is required to notify the tenant of the eviction date at least 21 days in advance. If you receive a writ and do not know the scheduled date of the eviction, you can call the Landlord and Tenant Court Clerk at (202) 879-4879 between 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM to see if you are scheduled for eviction the next day. The clerks may not be able to tell you if the eviction is scheduled more than one day in the future, so you also can check the eviction list published by the Office of the Tenant Advocate at https://ota.dc.gov/page/eviction-lists to find out if an eviction date has been scheduled.

After there is a judgment, can I stop the eviction by paying the landlord everything I owe?

If the only reason your landlord sued you is because you owe rent, you can usually stop the eviction by paying your landlord everything you owe. This includes all of the rent approved by the judge, and Court costs, including the writ fee if a writ of restitution has been filed. You must pay any rent that has come due since the case began even if this money was not in the original complaint. You will need to pay with cash, money order, or certified check. Make sure you get a receipt that clearly states “Paid in Full” with a “$0 Balance.”

You usually cannot stop the eviction by paying the money you owe the landlord if there is a “non-redeemable judgment for possession” or you agreed to 1) “waive the right of redemption” or 2) move out. If the case against you is not about unpaid rent, then you usually cannot stop the eviction by paying all of the money you owe. For example, if you were sued because you had a dog when the lease forbids it, then you would not be able to stop the eviction by paying all of the rent.

How do I get a stay of the writ of restitution?

A stay puts a judgment on hold. You cannot be evicted while you have a stay. To get a stay, you must file an “Application for Stay of Execution of Writ of Restitution.” Your Application for Stay must be filed with the Clerk’s Office in Room 110 before 2:00 p.m. on the day that you want to see the judge. (If your eviction is scheduled for that day or the next day, you can file as late as 4:00 p.m.)

The Application for Stay must include the reasons why you should not be evicted, such as:

  • You are filing a Motion to Vacate Default Judgment, Motion for Reconsideration, or Appeal;
  • The landlord failed to properly provide you with notice of the eviction date at least 21 days in advance;
  • You have paid or can pay the landlord all of money that you owe the landlord; or
  • The landlord agreed not to evict you.

What will happen on the eviction date?

The U.S. Marshals Service will arrive at the property on the date of the eviction. The landlord must send a representative that day as well, along with a locksmith. The U.S. Marshals will observe as the locks to the rental unit are changed, and will deliver a paper to the landlord’s representative. At that time the eviction will be considered complete.

What happens to any belongings left in the unit after an eviction is completed?

If any of your belongings are left in the unit at the time of the eviction, the landlord must leave them in the unit for a period of seven days, not including Sundays and federal holidays. During that time, you have the right to access the unit for up to 16 hours over a two-day period, between the hours of 8:00 am and 6:00 pm. You must communicate with the landlord or a representative of the landlord to determine what days you can access the unit. If you request access to the unit on a Saturday, the landlord must make the unit available on that day.

If the landlord does not provide access to the unit as required by law, you can file an “Application for a Temporary Restraining Order” to require the landlord to provide you access, or to continue to hold your belongings in the unit until you can access them. The Landlord Tenant Resource Center in room 208 can help with this issue.

After the full seven days have passed (not including Sundays or federal holidays), any property left in the unit will be considered abandoned and the landlord can dispose if it however they choose.

What is a “money judgment?”

A money judgment is an order from a judge that the tenant pay the landlord a certain amount of money. A tenant can also get a money judgment against a landlord if the tenant wins a counterclaim. In Landlord and Tenant Court, money judgments can only be for back rent and Court costs. The person who wins the judgment can collect money from the person who lost the case by requiring that money be taken out of the other party’s paychecks or bank accounts to pay the judgment. The person who wins the judgment can put a lien on any real estate the other party owns.

What if I can’t afford to pay the money judgment?

In some cases, a person’s income is so low that the law does not allow the money to be taken to pay a judgment. Also, if the person’s only income comes sources like TANF (welfare) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), the money from those benefits cannot be taken to pay the judgment.

You can get a list of the types of protected income from the Landlord Tenant Resource Center. If your income is protected, you can file a motion with the Court to stop your wages or bank accounts from being garnished.

What are the filing fees? What if I can’t afford them?

Filing fees (unless waived by the Court) must be paid in cash, money order, or certified check:

  • Application for Stay of Execution of Writ of Restitution: no charge
  • Motion to Vacate Default Judgment: $10
  • Answer: no charge, unless requesting jury trial ($75) or counterclaim ($10)
  • Motion for Reconsideration: $10
  • Appeal: $100

If Court filing fees will be a hardship for you, you can file an “Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Costs or Fees.” You will appear in front of a judge, who will decide whether to grant your request. If the request is granted, you will be able to file papers with the Court without paying the filing fees.

 

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 any time 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 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

Finding Legal Help

Call the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network

202-780-2575

Open 9am to 4pm Monday through Thursday, and 9am to 1pm Fridays

 

Visit the Landlord Tenant Resource Center
District of Columbia Superior Court Building B, Room 223
510 4th Street, N.W.
Open Tuesdays, from 10am to 3pm (or when at maximum capacity)

Last Review and Update: May 16, 2019
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