Legal Aid and the law firm of Wiley Rein LLP announced today in a joint press release that they have filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court on behalf of four named individuals against a D.C.-based law firm that represents large residential property owners in landlord-tenant matters.
The lawsuit alleges that The Raddatz Law Firm P.L.L.C. and its attorneys engage in the unlawful practice of filing complaints on behalf of landlords in D.C. Superior Court that contain false information with respect to the status of the tenants’ federally-subsidized rental properties, in violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
“The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act forbids lawyers in the business of debt collection from using misrepresentation or sharp litigation tactics to collect debts,” said Heather Latino, supervising attorney of Legal Aid’s Consumer Law Unit. “The Raddatz Law Firm is engaging in unlawful, abusive practices that can harm vulnerable consumers—in this case, their clients’ tenants.”
In November 2013, the named plaintiffs were each served with an eviction complaint filed by attorneys from the Raddatz Firm on behalf of Capitol Gateway. On each of these complaints, the Raddatz Firm represented that their rent was not subsidized, even though it was. This misrepresentation is of critical importance, as tenants residing in subsidized rental properties can assert defenses to eviction that are not available to tenants residing in non-subsidized rental housing.
“I think it’s wrong for lawyers to lie under oath, just to collect a debt,” stated Plaintiff Kimberly McLaughlin. “We expect lawyers to tell the truth, not to lie.”
Legal Aid’s independent investigation into the practices of the Raddatz Firm revealed that the named Plaintiffs’ experiences are not unique: Out of approximately 218 landlord-tenant complaints since January 2012 that the firm has filed on behalf of three large residential properties where an overwhelming number of the units are subject to a subsidy of some kind, only four stated that the rent for the property in question was subsidized. While the named Plaintiffs were represented by Legal Aid lawyers and able to obtain favorable settlements in their cases, most tenants in Landlord-Tenant Court are not so fortunate. Roughly 90% to 95% of tenants do not have counsel, and must navigate the process largely on their own. For those unrepresented tenants, the false statements in these complaints could have disastrous consequences.
The lawsuit seeks to enjoin the Raddatz Firm and its attorneys from continuing to misrepresent the subsidy status of tenants’ rental housing in current and future cases in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the D.C. Superior Court. It also seeks the award of statutory fees to the named Plaintiffs and members of the proposed class.