Landlords: Evictions and Defenses
Authored By: D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center
- Read this in:
- Spanish / Español
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, 2016 and the lease period ends on December 31, 2016, the lease term will go month-to-month beginning January 1, 2017 - 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 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.
A blank notice with instructions is available here.
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 at least 18 years old 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 over the age of 16 who lives in the unit; or
Registered mail - Sending a copy to the tenant by registered mail. If you use registered mail, the tenant must sign for the notice him or herself and you must be able to obtain proof from the post office that the tenant actually signed for the notice; 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 by first-class mail 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) 442-9505. 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 maintaining 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.
All 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 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 by first-class mail 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.