On Monday, July 4th, the National Law Journal ran an article about the D.C. Superior Court’s Housing Conditions Calendar in which Legal Aid’s Housing Unit Supervising Attorney, Julie Becker, was quoted. This new housing conditions calendar, which began hearing disputes last spring, was established at the Court’s initiative, as a result of years of advocacy by Legal Aid and other stakeholders.
In 2008, following a series of articles in the Washington Post about the District’s failure to enforce the housing code, Julie and other advocates spearheaded efforts to persuade the D.C. Council to enact a law permitting tenants to bring repair claims in Landlord-Tenant Court. The effort sought an important change for D.C. residents; at the time, and for as far back as anyone could remember, tenants lacked any quick, inexpensive, or easy forum for resolving housing code complaints against their landlords. The only meaningful way for a tenant to take legal action against the landlord regarding repairs was to withhold rent and be sued for eviction. This was a risky strategy that put the tenant’s home immediately and unnecessarily at risk, especially if the conditions were dire and/or posed a serious threat to the tenant’s health or safety.
A consensus developed that this situation was unfair and unacceptable. Ultimately, to its credit, the D.C. Superior Court took the effort upon itself, and in April 2010, the Housing Conditions Court opened for business. Legal Aid, the Access to Justice Commission, and numerous other stakeholders, including landlords’ attorneys, worked with the Court to implement procedures for the new calendar.
Since then, Legal Aid has litigated numerous cases in that court. Presiding Judge of the Civil Division Melvin Wright is to be commended for devoting countless hours to implementing the new calendar – and presiding over all of its cases.