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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Friday
Dec272013

An End of Year Checklist for DC Landlords: Things to Consider for 2014 and Beyond 

For DC landlords, the end of the year is a good time consider your status with DC government and any problems you are having with tenants, as well as updating and improving the systems that keep your business going. Going through the following checklist should give you some ideas of what to work on for 2014. 
1) Licensing. Do you hand your Basic Business License from DCRA?  Do you need a Certificate of Occupancy?  You should have a Rent Control Exemption or Registration Number from the Office of the Rent Administrator.  If your licensing isn't in order, enforcing your lease may be impossible and you could be fined. Make it a goal for the year and if you think you might have problems that would keep you from getting licensed, like ceiling height problems, zoning issues, or Housing Code violations, talk to an attorney before you start the process. 
2) Condition of the Property. If you haven't done a complete inspection within the last year schedule one with the tenant immediately. If you find problems with the property you can resolve them and if you find problems with the tenant you can decide how to proceed. 
3) Rent Level. If your licensing is in order and you've seen the property, start looking atcomparable properties in the area and see if you are charging market rents. If not, and you are exempt from rent control, start thinking about the pros and cons of a rent increase.  Are you making a profit?
4) The tenant. Is the lease up to date and if not, would the tenant be willing to sign a new lease? Do you feel comfortable with the tenant and are you happy to keep them around?  If not, rememberthat DC law does not allow you to end a tenancy because a lease ends. Do you need to discuss any issues with the tenant? 
5) The Lease and Application. If you are planning to get any new tenants for any of your properties this year, when was the last time your lease was updated?  Contact us if you think it's time for some changes or a new lease. 

 

6) Record Keeping. How is your system for recording when rent is paid, providing receipts to tenants when requested, and tracking all the expenses related to your property for tax and legal purposes?  What about keeping track of communication with the tenant?  The new year is a great time to start or commit to using a new system and there are lots of things out there to make these jobs earlier now.  

7. Delegation and/or Plans for Growth. This is a great time to decide if you want to hand things the financial management over to a CPA, the property management over to a firm, or keep doing everything yourself. Are your circumstances the same as they were a year ago or two years ago?  Are you more or less able to handle the day to day? Are you considering buying more property and expanding your business this year and if so what considerations go into that?  

Let us know if we can be of service during this process.  

Just knowing where you want to be in a year and having a sense of your budget, your profits, and your goals, will let you sleep better at night.  

 

 

Wednesday
Dec182013

Preparing for the Initial Hearing in a DC Nonpayment Case

One of the scariest parts of landlord & tenant court for most people is actually standing up in front the judge. A lot of things can happen and it moves very quickly. Here are a few tips for preparing to go to DC landlord & tenant court for any type of hearing. If you have a trial or other evidentiary hearing, you will likely need more preparation, this is intended to help get you up in front of the judge with confidence, not get you through an entire trial.

1) Bring your documents and bring a copy. For the initial hearing you need to have the summons and complaint you served on the tenant, the notice you served on the tenant, if that is applicable, the certificates of service for both, and the rent ledger or invoice. Bring a second copy of each document. Then if the judge wants to see the document, you can still have a copy in hand to look at. Keep them organized and looking nice.

2) Know the numbers. When did the tenant last pay rent? If there have been partial payments, when, and how did you apply them? What is the monthly rent? What is the total amount due in rent only? Remember to include the current month. What are the late fees allowed by the lease? What is the total amount due with rent and late fees? Judges get frustrated quickly if you don't know what's due and what you want. If you get the judgment because the tenant skips court you will have to know the numbers to fill out the redemption form.

3) Be prepared to discuss settlement with the tenant and maybe a mediator. Many cases can be resolved on the first court date. If you know what type of payment plan, if any, you would accept, you will be ready to talk and likely get out of court much faster. Don't sign anything you don't understand. I see horrible settlement agreements that are impossible to get out of after the fact.

4) Inspect the property before court and make any necessary repairs. Knowing the condition of the property allows you to respond to any tenant allegations that there are Housing Code violations. It won't get you out of a trial being set for another day if that's what the tenant wants, but it will save you time if you need to set a trial date.

5) Bring a book and a snack and be prepared to be in court for several hours. This is a long process, both in getting to court and each time you have to go.

This isn't fun or easy, but knowing what to bring and what to expect can help you feel less nervous.

Tuesday
Dec102013

What Happens When DC Landlord & Tenant Court is Closed for Snow

The DC Court System, including Landlord & Tenant Court have closed due to the snow emergency today, December 10, 2013.

Because of the number of courts in this area that isn't always easy to determine from local news announcements. The DC Court System makes their own determination about staying open or closed, so just because DC Government or the Federal Courts are closed doesn't mean our courts are. On a side note, the DC Housing Authority is an independent agency and also makes it's own determination, although they usually follow city government. The courts do not.

The best way to determine if DC Superior Court, and therefore Landlord & Tenant Court is closed, is to look at their website, www.dccourts.gov, or call the main information line at 202 879-1010. Usually if court is closed the announcement will be that the court is "Open on Emergency Schedule-Juvenile New Referrals; Adult Arraignments; preventive detention hearings will proceed. Jurors don't report." That can seem a little confusing but what it actually means is that the only things going on are arraignments, for both adults and juveniles, and children being taken into government care due to abuse or neglect.

If court is closed, like today, and you have a landlord/tenant case scheduled, you need to figure out the new court date. The clerks office is mainly closed when court is closed so you have to wait until court reopens and then be patient. The clerks office has all their normal work to do plus rescheduling all those hearings. New dates are usually mailed out but you can also check your case docket on the DC Court's Court Cases Online system to see if a new date has been set.

Until then, sit tight, enjoy the snow. Oh but don't forget to shovel the snow on the walks around your properties unless you've arranged to have the tenants do it. You don't want a DCRA fine to add to your frustration.

Saturday
Dec072013

Noise Complaints: When should a landlord get involved? 

Noise complaints are incredibly common in apartment living. I was recently interviewed for a Washington Post article regarding how tenants can deal with noise issues. You can read it here: http://m.washingtonpost.com/express/wp/2013/12/06/keep-it-down-will-ya/.

But what should landlords do when tenants complain about other tenants? Determining what's reasonable and what's not can be difficult. As the landlord you usually aren't around to hear the noisy TV at 3am or banging door every morning at 6am. These kinds of neighbor disputes are usually best left to the tenants.

If a tenant is having loud parties every weekend, having verbal fights with family members or friends that result in the police being called regularly, or holding band practice in their apartment every night, it's time to get involved.

If you suspect the noise is the result of domestic or child abuse, contact the police or Child and Family Services. If you suspect animal abuse or neglect contact the Washington Humane Society.

Assuming its something more annoying than dangerous, give a written warning, or a few, and try to discuss the issue with the tenant. Recommend the other tenants contact the police when the problems occur and get a report whenever possible.

If it can't be resolved make sure the tenants bothered by the noise understand that you will need their support to win a court case to evict the noisy tenant. If they don't want to get involved and no damage is being caused there isn't much you can do. If the other tenants are on board, consider having the tenant served with a notice to cure or quit.

This can be a technical legal process and any mistakes will destroy your case so get help of you are unsure about anything that needs to be done. I've talked previously about what a notice to quit must include so I won't rehash that here.

Often noise problems come and go. Tenants try to quiet down when told and then the noise level rises again over time. Keep an eye on things. You want your other tenants to be happy and comfortable.

But what if the noise is caused by you? What if you need to do construction in one unit and the tenants in other units are becoming unhappy? Remember that they may be unhappy for two reasons. First, the noise and disruption. Be sure your workers are being respectful, no playing music while they work, no yelling when they need something from outside. Remind them that they are working in an occupied property. Consider not starting any work until 9:30am and stopping at 4:30pm. That's more than DC law requires but it will show your extremely high level of concern for your tenants should the issue ever be raised in court. Most tenants won't be around to hear the noise so you will avoid many complaints. It might take you an extra day or two but you will gain good will with your tenants.

The second reason the tenants could be upset is that work is being done on another unit and they have things they think are undone in their units. It's usually cheaper to add on a couple small projects so if you are planning to renovate an empty unit, consider asking the other tenants before you start if they have any maintenance requests. Again, goodwill is worth a great deal in litigation you avoid later and rent you get paid on time.

 

 

Wednesday
Dec042013

Five steps DC landlords must take to have a tenant evicted after a judgment for nonpayment of rent

After the judgment for possession for nonpayment of rent is granted, many landlords feel a sense of relief. They have made it through the DC Landlord & Tenant Court process! Not so fast. In order to get the tenant out, the landlord must take several additional steps.

1) File a Notice to Tenant of Payment Required to Avoid Eviction, also called a Form 6, a redemption form, or a translux form. You only have five days after you get your judgment to file this form, so don't leave the courthouse without getting it done. When you pick up a copy of the form from the landlord & tenant clerk's office, ask how much the judge in L&T this week is permitting for late fees. Most judges limit late fees to ten dollars per month, a few don't allow any late fees. You need to know to avoid having to refile the form.

2) File a Servicemember's Affidavit, also called a Solder's and Sailor's Affidavit. Ask the clerk for a copy of the form when you hand in your Form 6 or when you file your case and get it done in advance and bring it to the first court date to file if you get a default. You must be able to say the tenant is not a member of the active duty military. If you have the tenant's Social Security Number, you can get a report from the Department of Defense database: https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/scra/. If not, you will have to look at the other ways you can prove the tenant isn't in military.

3) File your writ. The writ costs $213 currently to file. This charge can be added to the amount the tenant must pay to avoid being evicted. Count on spending some time in the Landlord & Tenant Clerk's Office filing the writ, they have to process it before you can go. Once you file the writ it will be forwarded to the Marshal's Office and they will contact you by phone at the number you list on the writ the day before the eviction. The Marshals website has great information about their eviction procedures here: http://www.usmarshals.gov/district/dc-sc/general/evictions.htm.

4) Hire an eviction crew. Once the writ is live you will be waiting for on the Marshal's Office to call you. You will need an eviction crew for the day of the eviction. When you are called the day before the eviction they will ask if you're ready, meaning you have a crew and you can be present. You want to be ready. The Marshals will come at or near the assigned time on the day of, assuming the weather hasn't drastically changed and evictions haven't had to be cancelled. They provide security only. Your crew removes all items of value, meaning everything other than trash and food. Because the eviction is only considered complete in DC when the last item is removed, you are not responsible for the tenants items after the eviction. They are often stolen, picked up with trash, etc. If the tenant is present they can obviously take any items they want but they can't interfere. Once the Marshals leave you can change locks and the eviction is over.

5) Wait. As I said, you must wait for the Marshals to call you. If the weather is cold or rainy that wait can be a long time. If your writ expires you will need to file an alias writ, giving the marshals another 75 days to complete the eviction.

These steps are not easy and just like every other part of the process in DC, a single mistake can get you sent back to square one, so be careful to follow all the rules and get help if you need it.

One more thing. Judgments for nonpayment are redeemable in DC, meaning the tenant can always pay and stay. If at any point in this process, including during the eviction, the tenant comes to you with ALL the money owed, including rent, any late fees permitted by the court, any court costs you listed on the Form 6, and the writ fee, if you have filed the writ, they get to stay. You cannot choose to refuse the money and evict the tenant unless you have a nonredeemable judgment. If you aren't sure, find out before you try to proceed.