Housing Conditions Handbook

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Housing Conditions Cases During COVID-19 

This packet tells you how Housing Conditions Court usually works. But, during COVID-19, there are a few big differences: 

  1. You can file your court papers by email. You can file in person, as explained on page 5. But, you can also file by email. Email your court papers, along with any photos or videos of the conditions, to  civilefilings@dcsc.gov. You can also leave paper copies of the documents in the drop box on the first floor of Moultrie Courthouse, 500 Indiana Avenue NW 
  2. All hearings are now virtual. The Court isn't having in-person hearings for safety reasons. So, every hearing in your case will be held as a video/telephone conference that you can join using a computer or phone. If you do not have access to a computer or if you cannot join the hearing by video, you can still call in and take part by phone. The Court will give you information on how to join the virtual hearing before your hearing. 
  3. All housing inspections are also virtual unless you ask for an in-person inspection. The housing inspector assigned to the Court may need to inspect your home. If she does, you or someone in your household will need to use FaceTime or Google Duo to show her the conditions in your home. If you want them to come to your home in person, ask the judge for an in-person inspection. 

Otherwise, the information included in this packet is mostly the same. All of the documents you may need are included here. If you have questions, call the Court Clerk at (202) 879-1133. 

Good luck!

 

Tenant's Guide to Housing Conditions Cases


Please Note!

This packet tells you how you can sue your landlords to make repairs in D.C. Superior Court.

This packet does not contain legal advice.

This guide contains legal information. Legal information is background about your rights. Legal advice is advice from a lawyer about what to do in your own specific situation.

Legal Aid is not your lawyer in your housing conditions matter. To find out about help that may be available, please contact the D.C. Bar Legal Information Helpline at (202) 626-3499 or go to www.LawHelp.org/DC.
 


 

What's in this Packet?

This packet tells you how to sue your landlord if they won't make repairs.

  • Pages 1-2 tell you about Housing Conditions Court.
  • Pages 3-5 tell you how to file a case.
  • Pages 6-7 tell you what happens after you file your case.
  • After that, this packet has forms you can use to file your case.

What is Housing Conditions Court?

Housing Conditions Court lets you sue your landlord to fix housing code violations. It's part of the D.C. Superior Court.

In-person hearings are held in Building B at 510 4th Street NW in Courtroom 52 on the second floor (near the Judiciary Square metro station). All hearings in Housing Conditions Court are scheduled for Tuesdays.

Should I File a Housing Conditions Court Case?

File a case if you want to sue your landlord for not making needed repairs or not taking other steps to fix housing code violations (like rodent or bug infestations). The judge can order your landlord to make repairs. The judge should make sure that the landlord makes all needed repairs.

A Housing Conditions case is just about repairs. The judge will not decide:

  • Anything about eviction, unpaid rent, or possible lease violations. If your landlord wants to evict you, they have to file a different kind of case.
  • Whether your landlord owes you money.

If I File a Case, Will My Landlord Try and Evict Me?

It's illegal for a landlord to try to evict you just because you complained about problems in your home or filed a Housing Conditions case. But, suing your landlord might make them more likely to try to evict you if you are behind in your rent. If you're worried that your landlord might try to evict you, call:

  • Legal Aid at 202-628-1161; or
  • The Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network (LTLAN) at 202-780-2575.

If My Landlord Filed an Eviction Case Against Me, Can I Still File a Housing Conditions Case?

No. If your landlord already sued you in Landlord and Tenant Court for not paying your rent, you can't file a Housing Conditions case. But, you can bring up the housing code violations as a "defense" or "counterclaim" against your landlord.

If you're sued for eviction, call Legal Aid at 202-628-1161 or the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network (LTLAN) at 202-780-2575.

Do I Need a Lawyer to File a Housing Conditions Case?

No. Lots of tenants go to these hearings without a lawyer. You will be able to make your case, even without a lawyer.

What Should I Do Before I File a Case?

  1. If you can, take pictures of all the problems in your apartment. Make sure to save these pictures.
  2. Make sure your landlord knows about all the problems in your apartment. If you can, complain about these problems in writing. Emails or text messages can be a good way to complain to your landlord about the problems in your apartment. Make sure to save these emails and texts.

I Want to File a Housing Conditions Case. Who Do I Sue?

You can sue the person or company you usually contact when you want repairs made. You can also sue the person or company that you pay your rent to. You can sue the property management company, the owner, or both.

Even if you only sue the owner, tell the property management company (if you have one) about the case and the first hearing date.

What Forms Do I Need to Fill Out to File a Case?

You have to file three forms. All of these forms are attached at the end of this packet. Know that any document you file with the Court could end up being public.

  1. Fee Waiver Application (if you 're asking the Court to waive your fees). File this form first so you don't have to pay to file the other forms. The Court calls this form an "Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Costs, Fees, or Security."
  2. Summons. This form tells the person or company you're suing that you've filed a case against them. It tells them when the first court date is.

    If you sue both the owner and the property manager, fill out a summons for each of them. But it's ok to sue just the owner or just the property manager. You don't need to sue them both.

    Don't fill out the court date on the summons. The clerk will fill it in for you after you file your case.
  3. Complaint. This form tells the person or company you're suing why you're suing them. It has checkboxes for common problems and space for you to fill in the details.

What If The Housing Conditions Are an Emergency?

If the conditions in your home are so bad that you can't wait for the first hearing date, ask for a Temporary Restraining Order (a "TRO" for short). A TRO is an emergency order that requires the landlord to make repairs before your first court date.

Conditions that might cause a judge to order a TRO are things like:

  • No heat in winter;
  • No utilities that the landlord must give you;
  • Major water leaks; or
  • Other serious and life-threatening violations.

To ask for a TRO: Fill out the TRO application (the last form in this packet) along with all the other forms. Follow the instructions on page 5 to file these forms.

You do have to try to let the landlord know about the hearing. One way to do this is by serving your landlord with the court papers (learn more about serving your landlord on the next page). If you don't have time to serve the landlord before the hearing, complete a "Certificate of Notice" instead. Ask for a copy of this from the clerk in Room 4220.

What happens after you file for a TRO: The hearing on the TRO will be scheduled with Judge-in-Chambers in Room 4220 (4th Floor) of the Moultrie Courthouse.

Does It Cost Money to File a Housing Conditions Case?

It depends. Filing a Housing Conditions case costs $15. But, you can ask for a fee waiver to file for free. The fee waiver form is included in this packet.

If you get one of these benefits, you should be able to file a case for free:

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Program on Work, Employment, and Responsibility (POWER)
  • Medicaid
  • DC Healthcare Alliance
  • Interim Disability Assistance (IDA)
  • General Assistance for Children (GAC)

If you don't get any of these benefits, you can still apply fora fee waiver. But you have to give more information about your income, expenses, and family members. Then, the court will decide if you have to pay the $15 and any other costs.

A fee waiver can be helpful because it means the Court can help you with serving the landlord. Learn about serving your landlord on the next page.

How Do I File My Case?

Step 1: Fill out the Complaint, Summons, and Fee Waiver (plus the TRO form if it's an emergency). All of these forms are at the end of this packet.

Step 2: Go to the Moultrie Courthouse, 500 Indiana Avenue NW.

Step 3: If you're filing a fee waiver, take it to Room 4220 (4th Floor). Tell the clerks you're filing a housing conditions case and that you have a fee waiver application. Once the judge approves your fee waiver, you can go to step 4.

Step 4: File the summons and complaint (and a TRO application, if you're filing one) at the Civil Clerk's Office, Room 5000 (5th Floor). This office is open Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.. The clerk can answer logistical questions, but they can't give you legal advice about how to argue your case. The clerk will write your first hearing date on the summons and complaint

What Do I Do with the Forms After I File Them?

Before your case can begin, you have to "serve" your landlord. "Serving" someone means giving them a copy of the summons and complaint.

If... Then...
Your fee waiver was approved

The Court will serve your landlord. Give the Court the address for everyone you're suing. If the Court doesn't serve your landlord, you need to serve them. See below.

You did not get a fee waiver.

You have to serve your landlord. See below.

If you didn't get a fee waiver, you can serve your landlord in one of two ways:

  • Option 1: Send the summons and complaint to the defendant by certified mail with a return receipt requested.
  • Option 2: Ask someone else to give your landlord the summons and complaint in person. You're not allowed to do this yourself: You can ask a friend or a family member as long as they're over 18 and don't live with you. This person should serve the papers at least 8 days before your first hearing.

At least 3 days before your hearing, file an "affidavit of service" with the clerk's office. This is a paper that says how and when the defendant was served. Get this form from the court clerk's office. Whoever served the complaint needs to fill it out.

If you couldn't serve your landlord before your court date, you should still show up. Explain the situation to the judge. Ask for more time. The judge will likely set a new hearing in a few weeks. If you got a fee waiver, tell the judge. Make sure the Court has the right address for your landlord.

What Should I Expect at My First Hearing?

What you'll do:

You'll tell the judge what needs to be fixed. Be ready to talk about:

  • All the repairs you need in your home right now. Don't talk about the things your landlord already fixed.
  • How your landlord knows or should know about the repair needs. (For example, did you tell your landlord in writing about the problem? When?)

Try not to talk about issues between you and your landlord that don't have anything to do with repairs. The judge will only want to hear about current housing code violations.

Sometimes, the judge won't want to hear about each problem and will want you and your landlord to quickly agree on a date for a home inspection instead.

What the judge will do:

The judge will schedule a time for a housing inspector to go to your home. A housing inspector will be in the courtroom. Be ready to tell the judge what days and times you are available for the inspector to come to your home. Your landlord (or the landlord's lawyer) will also come to your home for the inspection. The judge will try to schedule the inspection as soon as possible.

The judge will schedule a "status hearing" (to check on the repairs) about a month after your first hearing. Be ready to tell the judge what days you can come back to court for a status hearing.

How Should I Prepare for the Home Inspection?

Make sure you can be home during the inspection. Before the inspection, you should:

  • Clean your home. The inspector can cite you for poor housekeeping or unsafe use of extension cords.
  • Move things out of the way to help the inspector see what repairs are needed.

Point out areas and problems the inspector may not have noticed. If the inspector doesn't see the problems, they may tell the judge that there aren't any problems. Your landlord, the landlord's lawyer, or both will likely be in your home for the inspection.

The housing inspector will write a report based on her inspection and email it to you, the landlord, and the judge. The report will say will list all violations that the inspector saw and recommend what the landlord must do to fix each one.

What Are Status Hearings?

You will have status hearings once every few weeks until all of the repairs are made. You and your landlord will tell the judge about the progress of repairs and what still needs repair. At the end of each hearing, the Judge will set a date for the next one.

If you need to reschedule a status hearing, call the Court Clerk at (202) 879-1133 as soon as possible. Explain you can't make it to your status hearing. Ask to reschedule.

If you don't go to the status hearing, the judge might dismiss your case.

What Should I Bring to the Status Hearings?

If you have pictures of the problems in your home, bring those with you. Also bring any emails or texts you sent your landlord about the problems in your home.

If your hearing happens online or on the phone, you can try to email any relevant pictures, emails, or texts to the inspector, the judge's clerk, and to the landlord. It is a good idea to ask for the email addresses for all these people at the first hearing.

What If the Judge Ordered My Landlord to Make Repairs, But My Landlord Isn't Making Them?

If the Judge ordered the landlord to make repairs and the landlord hasn't done so, you can ask the Judge to reduce your rent while your landlord makes the repairs, or for some other penalty. You can ask the judge this at a status hearing.

Should I Stop Paying Rent if My Landlord Isn't Making Repairs?

If your home isn't being kept up to the standards required by the housing code, you might have the right to reduce the amount of rent you pay until repairs are made. But, if you don't pay all your rent to your landlord, it's possible your landlord may try to evict you. If you're sued for eviction, call Legal Aid at 202-628-1161 or the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network (LTLAN) at 202 -780-2575.

If you decide to holdback some of your rent payments until repairs are finished, make sure to save that money so you can pay to stop an eviction if necessary.

All of the Repairs Are Done. What Should I Do?

Once all repairs are made, ask for the case to be dismissed at the next status hearing.


Good luck! Click on the attached file to get the forms you need to file your case.