I am asked the same questions over and over. Here are some of the questions I get asked most often. I hope the answers help you but your case probably has unique questions, so if you need more help, call or email my office to make an appointment for a consultation.
Question: My tenant's lease expires next month. Can I evict them if they don't move at the end of the lease?
Answer: No, a tenant has no legal obligation to move when their lease ends. Residential leases automatically become month-to-month in DC, regardless of what the lease says, and a tenant can stay as long as they don't stop paying the rent or violate the lease. The landlord can usually increase the rent after the initial lease term ends, by how much depends on whether the landlord is subject to or registered as exempt from rent control. There are a few other reasons a tenant can be forced to move but in general, tenants can stay in the property indefinitely.
Question: Do I really need to be licensed to be a landlord in DC?
Answer: Yes. Without a Basic Business Licence, a Certificate of Occupancy for multi-unit properties, and a Rent Control Registration or Exemption Number, it is extremely difficult to enforce your lease because for most notices to tenants you need to provide a copy to the Office of the Rent Administrator. If you fail to do so, your notice won't be enforceable. You can't get a stamped notice unless you have a registration or exemption number. You could also be subject to fines by the DC Government if you get caught with an unregistered unit.
Question: When I take my tenant to court, will they have to pay all their rent into escrow?
Answer: If the tenant wants a trial, you will be entitled to a protective order, and the tenant will have to pay at least a portion of the rent going forward into the court registry. Protective orders are only going forward from the initial hearing date or when you ask for them, and a tenant can ask that the amount be less than the actual rent amount due to alleged Housing Code violations. Usually at that point the court will hold a hearing called a Bell hearing to set the amount of the protective order but sometimes the judge will try to find an amount the parties can agree upon. Protective orders only apply to nonpayment of rent cases, so if your tenant stops paying rent during a case for another lease violation or other notice, you won't have a lot of options.
Question: Why did the judge reduce my late fees? The lease allows me to charge $75 per month and the judge reduced the late fees to $10 per month.
Answer: There isn't any rule the judges are following when they lower the amount of the late fees but most do. Many states have a statutory amount of late fees permitted, often 5%, DC has no law on what late fees are allowed so judges are "using their discretion" when they reduce the late fees you agreed on with the tenant. Ten dollars is customary in DC but there isn't a legal reason for it.
Question: What do I need to bring to court?
Answer: Bring a copy of your tenant's lease, rent ledger or an accounting of what the tenant owes, a copy of the summons and complaint you filed so if the judge asks you about it you can follow along, a copy of any notice you served, and a copy of the affidavit of service for both the summons and complaint and the notice. Other records, like repair records, may be needed for trial but these are the minimum documents you will want for any court appearance. Court goes quickly so the more organized and prepared you are, the more likely you are to be successful. Judges don't want to hear that you don't know exactly how much the tenant owes or that you aren't sure what you sued for.
Question: Why is this taking so long?
Answer: Unfortunately, the DC landlord & tenant process can take a long time. If you don't have a waiver of notice to quit, or you're suing the tenant for something other than nonpayment, you have to start with serving a thirty day notice, which takes about fourty days, because the process server needs time to serve the notice. Then you have to file the case and the court date will usually be another month from the day you file. If the tenant appears in court on the court date and requests a continuance, they will get a two week continuance. Often the case gets continued again if the tenant requests. If the case is then set for trial that will be another month to six weeks away. If the tenant requests a jury trial, the case will be sent to the civil division and the process takes close to a year. Once you get a judgment, whether from a default or after a jury trial, you will need to file a writ and wait, at least a couple of weeks, often a couple of months, for the Marshals to get to your writ. If the tenant pays everything that's due at any point, the case is over, but they can stop paying again the next month and you'll have to start over.
Question: What's a waiver of notice to quit?
Answer: A waiver of notice to quit refers to a waiver contained in a lease that waives the tenant's right to receive a thirty day notice when they fail to pay rent. If your lease has a waiver, you can file a nonpayment case without serving the tenant with a notice first. If you aren't sure have an attorney review the lease for you.
Question: Do the Marshals evict the tenant?
Answer: No, the Marshals provide security and make sure the eviction is conducted legally. The landlord is responsible for hiring an eviction crew to actually carry out the tenant's belongings and for being present at the eviction to supervise the crew, provide information to the Marshals, and accept payments from the tenant if the tenant shows up and wants to pay to stop the eviction. The Marshals will call the landlord the day before the eviction and ask the landlord if they are ready. Be ready.
Question: Do you like being a DC landlord tenant lawyer?
Answer: Yes! I love my job.