Emilie Fairbanks, Esq.

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Check out our latest blog posts!


What if the Tenant Doesn’t Pay the Protective Order?

When you file a nonpayment case the tenant can demand a trial. That could be a jury trial or a bench trial. Either way the time it takes to have your case heard could stretch out several months. A protective order requires the tenant to pay the rent into the court registry until the trial. Tenants often request that the protective order be less than the monthly rent. If they do a Bell hearing will be held. I’ve talked previously about how to handle Bell hearings. But once you the landlord gets a protective order requiring the tenant to pay the rent into court registry, they need to watch the court docket to make sure the tenant is actually making the payments. If the tenant doesn’t make the payments the landlord can file a motion to enforce the protective order. If the payments aren’t made the court can sanction the tenant by striking the jury demand or moving up the court date. While landlords won’t win every motion for sanctions it is always worth filing. Making sure the tenant is making those payments means the rent will be in the registry when the case ends and the landlord won’t lose several additional months of rent if the tenant moves out and doesn’t pay. So keep an eye on the protective order! But how do I know if it’s being paid? Check the court docket. Putnot on your calendar and check it every month. Getting it is just the first step. You are responsible for enforcing it. 


Licencing for DC Landlords

Small landlords in DC have, in theory, fewer requirements than large landlords for administrative and licencing procedures. If you’ve ever tried to get your single family home or basement apartment licensed as a legal rental in DC you know that’s an utterly ridiculous statement. The hellish nightmare you went through trying to obey DC law for your single rental unit likely felt like a Kafka novel or perhaps like you’d accidentally time traveled to a Soviet republic. 

If you had to deal with trying to get your rental to pass inspection for a tenant with a DC Housing voucher you likely already changed your name and moved to a country without an extradition treaty with the US. I’ll deal with that in another post. Not the extradition part. You need a different lawyer if you actually did that. Don’t do that. It was a joke. 

However it is entirely possible to become a legal, licensed, rent control exempt small landlord in DC. Even if you already have a tenant living in your unit. If you have a tenant living in the unit talk to a lawyer before you start this process. It can be more complex than a blog post can address. But it’s still entirely possible. And beneficial. Don’t hide out from it. You want to be a licensed landlord. Why? Ok for now trust me. I’ll address that in another post too. 

So what are the steps you need to take? First, you need a business license. You might be thinking well now is a good time to get that LLC set up so I can protect myself from liability. STOP! If you own the property in your personal name do not set up an LLC or any other entity unless you speak with a landlord tenant attorney first. The consequences could be giving up your right to be exempt from rent control. Whew. The good news is you can get your business license online in a matter of minutes. The bad news is the property still has to be inspected. So you won’t actually have the lien s finalized until DCRA comes and inspects your property. That can be good. You will know you are in compliance with the DC Housing code. But if you have any repairs to make now is the time. Let’s assume that gets done. 

If you have a single family home or a condo you don’t need a Certificate of Occupancy. If you have more than one unit, you do. So if you have a house with a basement apartment and you are rent both, you do. If you have a duplex you do. That is a separate process with DCRA. It’s pretty painless once you pass the inspection. Of course there is a charge. 

Now that you have those you can get the rent control exemption form. That is the part you really WANT to do. It’s the part that allows you to raise rent, give the tenant notices, and enforce your lease. But it has to be filed in person, so that’s annoying. 

If you need guidance with any part of this process or if you get struck in a loop of failing the inspection or any other part of filing this paperwork please contact us to arrange a consultation. 


New DC Eviction Procedures 

The US Marshals are radically changing the procedure for evictions in DC. They say the new procedures will begin this summer, but we don’t have a firm start date yet. But so far this is what we know. 


Tenants will be notified of their eviction date in advance. Instead of receiving a 75 day period during which they can be evicted, tenants will get the date their eviction is scheduled two weeks in advance, by mail and online. This will almost certainly create litigation over whether tenants received that two week notice properly. We will have to see how judges treat these claims, although usually claims that things weren’t received from the court or the Marshals are treated as less credible than if a tenant says they didn’t get notice from the landlord. The larger problem is that the Marshals have yet to address what happens when an eviction has to be rescheduled for weather. If the tenant again must receive two weeks notice the landlord could lose additional months of rent because of this requirement. On the other hand tenants have often gotten writs stayed on the day of the eviction because they claim they just need a couple more days and they had no idea they were about to be evicted. That claim becomes more difficult to make under these rules. 


Landlords will no longer be required to put tenants belongings out on the street. The locks can be changed and that is the only action the Marshals will consider an eviction. They are saying that this follows the procedure in other states. However, other states have laws about what landlords must do with the tenants belongings. Without other rules it’s unclear what the landlord’s responsibilities are. It’s possible tenants could sue over what happens to their belongings. Tenants advocacy groups have encouraged that landlords put items in storage. Some states have laws requiring storage for certain periods of time. But DC doesn’t. Without a law saying storage is required for a specific period of time and who needs to pay for storage the Marshals Office is creating a huge problem with no solution. The Marshals specifically aren’t saying landlords can’t put items out on the street but now if a landlord does so there could be liability if the items are stolen or destroyed. Unfortunately no one knows.


What Isn’t Changing

Everything you need to do to get a legal eviction isn’t changing. You still have to go to court, get a judgment, file all the same paperwork, and pay all the same fees. Locking your tenant out without legal process will still result in a wrongful eviction claim and a ton of trouble. 


Undoubtedly there will be plenty of people ready to hand out advice on what you “should” do under these new rules. The fact is no one really knows. Unless DC City Council decides to pass a law about what should happen to tenants belongings, it’s not clear. The circumstances of each case may be different but as we learn what judges find palatable that will guide what becomes the new acceptable process in DC. But that will take some time. Buckle up. It may be a rough summer. 


Magistrate Judges in DC Landlord Tenant Court

As of January 1, 2018 a couple types of DC landlord and tenant cases will be potentially heard in front of Magistrate Judges instead of Associate Judges. First, all cases before Housing Conditions Court will be heard by a Magistrate Judge. Second, cases in landlord and tenant court will be heard by a Magistrate Judge on Fridays.

So what, you might ask? A judge is a judge. Not exactly. To have your case heard before a Magistrate Judge all parties have to agree and sign a paper saying they agree. In Housing Conditions Court that’s no big deal. There is rarely any money at stake and the court is focused on finding solutions to problems between landlords and tenants, not punishing anyone. However, for eviction cases the potential for problems is serious. Eviction cases are taken very seriously by the Court of Appeals. Any appearance that there has been any irregularity could be a problem. It is much easier is question the authority of a Magistrate Judge. The Magistrate Judges are completely capable but they have less authority. So there is some risk with allowing your eviction case to go forward before a Magistrate Judge. It’s a hard choice and one that will likely be strategic and different in different cases. If we can help you sort out how to proceed with your case contact us.  


Nightmare DC Tenants 

Recently we discussed difficult tenants. I suggested some of those tenant behaviors could be fixed by changes in your behavior. Now let’s talk about an entirely different topic. Nightmare tenants. These tenants aren’t the tenants who just stop paying or call too much or don’t tell you about problems. These tenants are a DC speciality. They are professionals. They know the law. They are playing a game. And the law is on their side. These tenants want to go to court. They want to sue you and they fully expect to be sued by you. It’s a hobby for them. The good news is they are rare. Most bad tenants aren’t out to get you they are out to protect themselves. These tenants are indeed, out to get you. How will you know you have a nightmare tenant? 


  1.  They have been evicted before, or sued for eviction before, often on a regular basis. When they get sued they fight, countersue, and make eerily similar claims against many different landlords. This is why tenant screening is so important. Viewing someone’s court history can tell you so much. If they have been evicted before the situation might be something you are willing to overlook, perhaps it was twenty years ago and they have a clean rental history after that. But a pattern of evictions over time is different and troubling. 
  2. They are always the victim. Whatever the situation, you’ve wronged them, their prior landlord wronged them, their boss wronged them, you get the idea. This comes up if the rent isn’t paid or you need access for repairs. They are never available to let you in because of a series of unending disasters in their life, always caused by another. Or they can’t pay rent because of the horribly unfair actions of bosses, the government, creditors, etc. But this is where tenant screening comes in as well. Perhaps you found they recently lost a job and therefore don’t meet your income requirement but they assure you they will have another job soon. Do they  also come with a story about how the boss fired them for no reason at all? Do they have another story about their miserable divorce and their last landlord who didn’t return the security deposit? All of those things could be entirely true. But would you tell your sob story to a prospective landlord? The constant victim can’t help it. And they are a bad news tenant. Because you are about to be the next perpetrator in their story. 
  3. They ask for things and then get furious when you provide them. They complain about roaches. You send an exterminator. They are just enraged you didn’t accommodate their schedule to have the exterminator come after 7pm. So you pay extra and have them come between 7pm and 9pm. The tenant is even more furious they came so late and she had to wait. You can’t win. Each offense gets you texts, letters, or emails threatening legal action and explaining your crimes in great detail. If you ask what the tenant would like you to do you often get....crickets. Nothing. There is no solution because the anger was the goal. 


If you recognize this tenant you are probably feeling angry, desperate, and a little crazy. Maybe my discussion of tenant screening makes you want to throw your computer into the sea. Heck of a lot of good that advice does now! I get it. But you aren’t alone and there are strategies to move you forward. However, many of these tenants know the law. They didn’t get this far not knowing their rights. So you must act with caution. You cannot respond in kind or try to quickly fix your problem with advice you got on the internet. Each nightmare tenant situation is unique. Don’t hide from it. But contact a lawyer with expertise in DC landlord and tenant matters so you can get your life back sooner than later. This isn’t a DIY moment. On this blog I often suggest many steps you can take to handle your own landlord tenant problem. My goal is to empower you to solve easy problems on your own and come to us for the hard stuff. This is the hard stuff. So find a qualified attorney. If you want to consult with us contact our office to schedule a consultation. But consult with someone.