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Expert Witnesses A Victory for Tenants?

The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia has received a grant to file more cases on behalf of tenants with mold or bedbug claims in Housing Conditions Court and to hire expert witnesses for those cases.  Housing Conditions Court has been a place where tenants can file a claim and the court is empowered send a housing inspector to verify that claim and monitor that repairs are completed.  As in landlord/tenant court itself, the litigation should be short and inexpensive, but it often isn’t. 

This latest development is being hailed as a victory for tenants.  In my opinion, it isn’t.  It will increase litigation costs and animosity, as each time a tenant has an expert the landlord will be forced to do the same.  Landlords and their attorneys will hire experts to protect against future civil litigation as much as to fight Housing Conditions cases. 

Moreover, if expert witnesses become a normal part of Housing Conditions Court, mainly the largest corporate landlords will be able to afford them, and they will be used to refute the testimony of housing inspectors as well as other experts.  Mold and bedbugs are serious hazards, but neither will be successfully remediated through more extensive litigation.  Landlords and tenants will have to work together and sometimes litigation will be required to force one side to do what is required of them under the law.  Judges, with the help of housing inspectors, are usually able properly evaluate the facts of cases.  When the facts are not apparent, it is unlikely warring experts will illuminate things.   I congratulate Legal Aid on their grant but I hope that they will consider the long-term and far-reaching consequences of increasing the costs of litigation for all parties in what should be an innovative and solution focused courtroom.           

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