Emilie Fairbanks, Esq.

202 681 4694 office

202 688 1864 fax

419 7th Street NW, Suite 405

Washington, DC 20004

info@efairbankslaw.com

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Check out our latest blog posts!

Friday
Jun122015

Urban Turf's Essential Guide to Being an Amateur Landlord in DC

Urban Turf, an endlessly useful blog if you are a DC landlord, published an updated Essential Guide to being an Amateur Landlord in DC. The guide takes you through steps like getting a licence, talking to a lawyer about your lease, and screening your tenants. Give it a read and check out their blog for updates on DC rental and real estate issues. 

Wednesday
Jan282015

DHCD to Hold Program on Notices to Vacate

This looks like a good program for small and individual landlords. See the DHCD website for more information on all their educational programs at: http://dhcd.dc.gov

 

Wednesday
Jan282015

What's a DC Landlord with a Bad Lease to Do? 

What if you didn't consult an attorney before you signed a lease with a tenant? What if you decided to write sometime up yourself or you got a lease that looked ok but now doesn't seem to cover much of anything? DC law is hard on landlords who make a mistake with leases in the beginning of a tenancy. So what are your options?
You can't force the tenant to sign a new lease in DC. Even when the term of the old lease is up. Unfair? Yes. But I can't change that for you. So let's talk about what you can do. You and the tenant can agree to sign a new lease. Why would a tenant do that? Usually because there's something in it for her too. If the tenant wants to add another roommate or be allowed to keep their pet ferret and the old lease says no, perhaps they would be willing to renegotiate. Or perhaps you've sent them a notice that the rent is going up and they would like to negotiate a smaller increase. The tenant may object to another year lease because they don't want to stay a year but nothing stops you from signing a new month to month lease. 
Be creative. Negotiate with your tenant. But be certain this time you get the lease you want. That might mean talking to a lawyer or doing a lot of reading. Read my article on Four Things Every DC Landlord Should Have in a Residential Lease for some pointers. Either way, don't get stuck with another lease that isn't everything you need it to be. 
One more thing. Make sure you business license and rent control exemption or registration are in order. If not you could have the best lease in the world. You won't be able to enforce most of it. 

What if you didn't consult an attorney before you signed a lease with a tenant? What if you decided to write sometime up yourself or you got a lease that looked ok but now doesn't seem to cover much of anything? DC law is hard on landlords who make a mistake with leases in the beginning of a tenancy. So what are your options?
You can't force the tenant to sign a new lease in DC. Even when the term of the old lease is up. Unfair? Yes. But I can't change that for you. So let's talk about what you can do. You and the tenant can agree to sign a new lease. Why would a tenant do that? Usually because there's something in it for her too. If the tenant wants to add another roommate or be allowed to keep their pet ferret and the old lease says no, perhaps they would be willing to renegotiate. Or perhaps you've sent them a notice that the rent is going up and they would like to negotiate a smaller increase. The tenant may object to another year lease because they don't want to stay a year but nothing stops you from signing a new month to month lease. 
Be creative. Negotiate with your tenant. But be certain this time you get the lease you want. That might mean talking to a lawyer or doing a lot of reading. Read my article on Four Things Every DC Landlord Should Have in a Residential Lease for some pointers. Either way, don't get stuck with another lease that isn't everything you need it to be. 
One more thing. Make sure you business license and rent control exemption or registration are in order. If not you could have the best lease in the world. You won't be able to enforce most of it. 

Wednesday
Nov262014

Handling Thanksgiving: Advice for DC Landlords 

For individual DC landlords, the first snow of the year, cold weather, and a holiday weekend can be a recipe for disaster. But it doesn't have to be. If you are leaving a basement apartment or house with a tenant in DC for the weekend while you travel for Thanksgiving, avoid that late night cell phone call. Just remember to take care of a few chores in advance:
1) Test your furnace or boiler and change filters as necessary. If you haven't had it serviced yet this year consider dong that next week but make sure the heat is working and appropriately set if the thermostat is under your control. DCRA requires you keep the temperature at least 68 degrees between 6:30am and 11pm and at least 65 degrees the rest of the time. 
2) Make sure you know who's shoveling the snow and treating any ice on sidewalks. If it's a single family home, that could be the tenant. If not, you need to take care of it. If you know the tenant won't do it, don't get a fine from the city and anger your neighbors, take care of the situation them talk to the tenant. 
3) Give the tenants an emergency number for you or your property manager if they don't currently have one. Holiday weekends are notorious for plumbing problems, kitchen fires, and other emergencies. DC Housing code requires you have smoke detectors and provide a fire extinguisher, if you haven't done so, do it now. 
For an individual DC landlord, avoiding legal problems isn't just about having a strong lease or being properly licensed. Maintaining a good relationship with your tenant is crucial. It might not keep you out of court every time but it just might. 
Happy Thanksgiving! 

 

Friday
Sep262014

Frequently Asked Questions About DC Landlord & Tenant Protective Orders 

Protective orders are frequently misunderstood but an extremely important tool for DC landlords fighting to get possession of their property from a tenant not paying the rent. Here I'll review some frequently asked questions and common misconceptions about protective orders and give landlords some tips to use them effectively. 
1) What is a protective order? 
A protective order requires your tenant to pay the rent, or a portion of the rent, into the court registry until trial. It protects the landlord from the tenant becoming farther behind in rent while the case winds it's way through the court system.
2) How do I make my tenant pay a protective order? 
Ask the judge! If the tenant wants a trial or even a continuance you should request a protective order. The judge may decide to reserve you rights to the protective order and not make a decision that day, especially if the case is only bring briefly continued, but asking will make sure you can get the protective order to go back to the first day you made the request. 
3) Can I get a protective order in any DC Landlord & Tenant case? 
No, only in nonpayment of rent cases or cases consolidated with a nonpayment case. If your tenant has violated the lease in some other way and you gave them a notice for having a dog or not keeping the apartment clean you can't get a protective order. This gets legally tricky so consult a lawyer if you have a nonpayment case and a lease violation case. 
4) Can I get a protective order for the back rent? 
Nope. Protective orders in DC Landlord & Tenant cases are "forward looking."  This means the Landlord & Tenant judge can only order the tenant to pay future rent into the court registry in DC. For example if the initial court date is October 15th the judge can order the tenant to pay half of October rent into the registry and all rent for any future months until the case is resolved. Even if the tenant hasn't paid rent for six months before the landlord comes to court, the judge cannot order that rent be paid into the registry. Decisions about that rent are made at trial. 
5)  My tenant (or her lawyer) asked for a Bell hearing. What's that? 
I've discussed Bell hearings more in depth here: http://goo.gl/nSqj9p. For now, I'll just cover the topic briefly. A Bell hearing allows the tenant to claim she shouldn't have to pay the full rent into the registry because of DC Housing Code violations in the property. If a tenant asks for a Bell hearing make sure you get a time to inspect the property, make any repairs before the hearing, and document the repairs. If the landlord can show their are no DC Housing Code violations at the time of the Bell hearing they can get the full protective order. If there are some problems the judge may reduce the amount. 
6) How do I know if the protective order is being paid? 
The landlord needs to check the court docket to see if the protective order has been paid. You can go to the DC Landlord & Tenant clerk's office and ask or you can check the docket online at www.dccourts.gov/cco. You need to have your case number or you can search by name. Check the day after the payment is due to see if it was paid. Usually the payment is due once a month and you should check every month. 
7)   My tenant didn't pay her protective order. What should I do now?
File a motion for sanctions. The judge might strike the tenant's answer, counterclaim, or jury demand or grant another sanction. They might move up the trial date, if possible. Usually the judge won't give you a default judgment for a tenant not paying the protective order, the rules discourage that, but the other sanctions they can give will move your case forward. Sometimes a tenant will pay before the motion is heard. A judge will almost never give a sanction in that case. That's ok, you got the tenant to put that money in the registry and when the case ends you will be much better off having it. 
8)  What happens to the money in the registry? When do I get my rent? 
Unless you can show a serious hardship, which is very difficult, the money stays in the court registry until the case is over. The judge will release it to the winning party at the end. If the landlord proves the tenant owed that money in rent, the money will be released to you. The DC Court Finance office will send you a check. Cases can go on a long time so surviving without your rent can be difficult but having the tenant paying it into the court at least provides you some protection you will get it eventually. 
DC Landlord & Tenant Court can be frustrating and complicated. If you need help please don't hesitate to contact us