Emilie Fairbanks, Esq.

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419 7th Street NW, Suite 405

Washington, DC 20004


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DCRA’s New and “Improved” Enforcement Process 

So DCRA has “streamlined” the inspection process they do after a tenant complains about housing code violations. As a landlord you no longer receive notice of the violation, time to correct, and then reinspection to determine if you’ve completed the repairs. Now, the inspection leads directly to issuing a fine and there is no reinspection. You are referred to the Office of Administrative Hearings for a hearing. 

This is now an adversarial process. Landlords will need to do a much better job of documenting repairs because there is no follow up before an OAH hearing and fines are automatic. Instead of creating a working relationship with landlords, inspectors and tenants to get things fixed, landlords must now treat notices of violation like a government subpoena, obtain counsel and treat inspectors as the equivalent of police officers. 

The environment at DCRA has changed. Be aware. 


Settling With Your DC Tenant

I know. You don’t want to settle. You just want to go to court and get them out of your property. I get it. I want that too. But this is real life. DC landlord tenant court can take a LONG time. Most cases settle. It’s actually in the landlord’s interest to resolve the case most of the time. 

Why? Time. As I said, court takes time. You can often be in court for months before you get an eviction. But there are other reasons. Working out an agreement for the tenant to pay you the back rent gets you the money you’re owed and stops the court proceedings. Let’s say the tenant owes you $3000, three months rent at $1000 per month. If you agree to let her pay you over three months you get $2000 per month, the monthly rent and a back payment of $1000 towards the arrearage. I know you are concerned that the tenant won’t pay. About half my job is going into court to tell the judge the tenant violated an agreement and I need a judgment. BUT THEN WHY MAKE THE AGREEMENT? To save you time and potentially get you some of the back rent. Let’s say the tenant makes the first two payments of $1000, the first month of rent after the agreement and the first back payment, but then misses payment number three. Then I file a motion for judgment. At that time the entire amount becomes due. You get a writ. You can still evict the tenant if they don’t pay or they can pay everything before the eviction.

Can this take time too? Yes. It can. Right now things are moving quickly. Directly after the shutdown they were not. But you’ve avoided a costly trial. You have some money in your pocket. And you can go forward. 


DCRA Starts Issuing Electronic Notices of Violations

DCRA will start issuing landlords electronic notices of violation beginning May 1, 2019. Update your contact information so you continue to get any notices as soon as they are issued by going to dcra.dc.gov/updatecontactinfo.

DCRA can issue a notice of violation even if you haven’t done anything wrong. Getting that notice and being able to immediately remedy the problem or fight the violation is vital to maintaining your license and avoiding fines. 


The Resource Center: Is it for everyone?

I was in court today waiting for a case to be called and I watched a case where neither party had a lawyer. The judge referred the tenant to the Resource Center, recommending she speak to the attorneys about her next steps. The landlord had made a few errors in her complaint and could have used some help also. But the judge didn’t recommend she go to the Resourse Center.  In fact, the judge said specifically that there were lawyers there to assist tenants. So the landlord might have reasonably assumed there was no help for her. 

 Did the judge make an error? Or was she just relying on what she knows, that the Resourse Center mainly helps tenants? After all, tenants can get free representation and landlords can only get advice. Might she have even seen what I’ve seen, that some landlords receive bad or incorrect advice there? There is no way to know. 

 In my opinion, landlords trying to do it themselves should be able to rely on the Resource Center for basic guidance on filling out forms and understanding the process. Lawyers who volunteer at the Resource center should be able to provide that advice competently. In order to do that the supervisors need to understand the law for landlords, including licensing and outside regulations, and partner with attorneys who primarily represent landlords to get training and find out where they can refer low income landlords. 

Making the court more user friendly for all parties is one of the primary reasons these self help centers exist. DC Landlord Tenant Court is anything but user friendly for landlords. Landlords are not just investors or large companies or people with multiple properties. They are homeowners who lose their job and try to make the mortgage by renting out a room. They are families trying to keep a generations held family home in DC by renting it out. They are young families who can only afford to live in the city because of the basement apartment in their home. Some of them can afford to hire an attorney if something goes wrong and some can’t. They should all have access to basic assistance navigating the court system. 



DC Puts Strict Limits on Short Term Rentals 

Airbnb is no more in DC. As of October 2019. DC City Council was busy today. They passed a law essentially banning Airbnb and other short term rental in DC. Or did they? Owners can rent out a room in their home or a basement unit for up to 90 days a year and must now register with DCRA. The Council is giving DCRA time to come up with a license for short term rentals, as one currently doesn’t exist. DC wants to preserve affordable housing units while owners want the freedom to rent their home on a short term basis. In DC that can be even more important given that anyone who moves in as a tenant can literally stay forever if they keep paying rent and don’t violate the lease. So if you aren’t up for dealing with DC landlord tenant laws this was another option. The fact that the owners had no licenses was simply ignored by DCRA, a fact acknowledged in the testimony to the Council. So if you currently list your unit on Airbnb or another short term rental site is it time to panic? I’d say no. It’s time to make sure you can pay your mortgage without that income. But Airbnb has sued Boston over a similar law and has been trying referendums in other areas. Nothing is a done deal when the law doesn’t go into effect for almost a year. But you may want to consider looking at whether Airbnb is going to be around in DC long term. Because the answer as of today is no. If you want to discuss your options for renting your property longer term or how this law impacts you contact us.