Housing Conditions Handbook

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Tenant’s Guide to Housing Conditions Cases (Video Series)


Tenant's Guide to Housing Conditions Cases

Please Note!

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

This guide 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 DC 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 is Housing Conditions Court?

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

During the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Court began holding all Housing Conditions Court hearings remotely and has continued to do that. This means that you do not need to come to the courthouse to attend your hearing; you can attend your hearing by phone or by video conference (WebEx). The Court will give you instructions for how to participate in your remote hearing.

If you prefer to attend your hearing in person at the courthouse, just let the clerk or judge know ahead of time and they will tell you which courtroom to go to. Even if you attend your hearing in person, your landlord may still choose to participate by phone or video.

Unless the judge orders otherwise, 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 DC 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 DC 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 rental unit. If you can, tell your landlord about these problems in writing. Emails or text messages can be a good way to complain to your landlord about the problems in your rental unit. 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.

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 available in the packet that you can download at the top of this page. 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 the packet available at the top of this page) 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 below). 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. You may be able to participate in the hearing either remotely (by phone or WebEx) or in person 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 the packet available at the top of this page.

If you get one of the benefits listed on the fee waiver form, you should be able to file a case for free. Some examples of benefits that would count are:

  • 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 the benefits that make you automatically eligible for a fee waiver, you can still apply for a fee waiver. But you may need 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 below.

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 in the packet at the top of this page.

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.

Your fee waiver was approvedThe 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.

Note: When the Court serves your landlord, they will send your landlord a “Notice and Acknowledgement Form” that the landlord will need to fill out and return to confirm they received the summons and complaint. If a landlord does not fill out this form and does not show up to the first court date, you may need to try serving the landlord yourself. Ask the judge for more time to serve the landlord, then serve the landlord yourself using one or more of the options below.

If you didn't get a fee waiver, or if the Court was not able to serve your landlord for you, you can serve your landlord in one of two ways:

  • Option 1: Send the summons and complaint to the defendant (your landlord) 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 hearing. 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 or someone who works for them may come to 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 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 to be done. 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. This is often called a rent abatement. You can ask the judge for this at a status hearing, or you can file a motion in writing asking for this. If you file a motion with the court, you must mail a copy of it to the landlord.

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 DC 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 file attached at the top of the page to get the forms you need to file your case.