Legal Aid is one step closer to obtaining relief for thousands of tenants in the District, thanks to a June 2015 ruling by Judge James Boasberg of the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.
In October 2014, Legal Aid – together with co-counsel Theodore Howard and Bonnie Thompson Wise at Wiley Rein – filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court, Lipscomb v. The Raddatz Law Firm, on behalf of four named individuals against a District-based law firm. 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 about the status of the tenants’ federally-subsidized rental properties, in violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
This practice is particularly concerning because more than 90% of tenants appearing in Landlord Tenant court are not represented by an attorney. The eviction complaint form used in Landlord Tenant court requires the landlord or its attorney to disclose whether the property at issue is subsidized. This alerts the judge that the tenant may have special defenses that the tenant may not be aware of or know how to raise. Consequently, it is imperative that eviction complaints truthfully and accurately disclose whether a property is subsidized.
On June 18, the court issued a ruling denying defendants’ motion to dismiss the tenants’ complaint and deciding several issues of first impression. It held that the FDCPA applies to the collection of unpaid rent and held that the law firm was acting as a debt collector when it brought eviction actions including claims for recovery of back rent. It also found that the plaintiffs stated a plausible claim upon which relief can be granted when they alleged that the false representations made by the law firm could prevent tenants or the court from recognizing the availability of special defenses which can dramatically change the outcome of the eviction case.
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.