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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. 


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