The Eviction Process in Washington, DC: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants

By: Justin Ewaniszyk

Note: If you’re a landlord or tenant in Virginia, check out our Virginia blog post The Eviction Process in Virginia: A Guide for Landlords and Tenants.

In Washington DC, both Tenant and Landlords have certain rights and obligations that they should know about before and during the eviction process. Those rights are governed by D.C. Code §42–3505.01, and it’s important for both Landlords and Tenants to understand the eviction procedure or the court may not grant your request. In other words, a Landlord cannot simply change the locks, turn off the utilities, remove Tenant’s belongings, or physically remove Tenant from the property without proper cause, notice, and a court order evicting Tenant.[1] Similarly, a Tenant may not simply withhold rent.

Step 1: Provide Notice to Tenant(s)
There are many possible reasons to evict a Tenant, but the two most common reasons are: 1) failure to pay rent; and/or 2) failure to comply with the obligations under the lease.[2]  If a Landlord believes a Tenant has failed to pay rent, or violated a portion the lease, then Landlord must send Tenant a “Notice to Cure or Vacate.”[3] If Tenant does not correct the issue, if the issue is correctable, then Landlord may file for eviction. (Note: A Landlord may not evict a Tenant whose lease has expired, so long as that Tenant continues to pay rent.)

  • Failure to Pay Rent: If Tenant fails to pay rent, Tenant must be provided with a 30-day notice to pay the rent in full by Landlord, unless this right to notice was waived in the lease agreement. If Tenant fails to make the payment on or before the 30 days expire, Landlord may bring an eviction action in court.
  • Failure to Comply with Correctable Obligations under the Lease: If Tenant violates a portion of the lease agreement, Landlord must provide Tenant with a 30-day notice to fix the violation. The notice must adequately describe the violation and cannot be waived by Tenant in the lease agreement. If Tenant fails to fix the violation on or before the 30-days expire, Landlord may bring an eviction action in court.
  • Failure to Comply with Non-Correctable Obligation under the Lease: Since Tenant is unable to cure a lease violation and the violation is material to the lease, Landlord may initiate the eviction proceedings.[4]

Step 2: Service of Eviction
If Tenant fails to pay the overdue rent or correct the lease violation after the 30 days after the notice was sent, Landlord may file an eviction lawsuit in court. Landlord must then serve Tenant with a “Complaint” which specifies a time and date for the initial eviction hearing.[5] If Tenant fails to show up for the initial court date, and a judgement is rendered for Landlord, Landlord is required to file a “Notice to Tenant of Payment Required to Avoid Eviction” form with the court indicating the amount of money the judgement was entered for, which will then be sent to Tenant by the court.  Tenant is able to avoid the eviction if Tenant is able to pay the full amount owed at any time up until the U.S. Marshall arrives to remove Tenant.  The final notice that Tenant should receive is the official eviction notice called a “Writ of Eviction” and it is issued after the court has ordered a “judgement for possession” to Landlord. However, if Tenant and Landlord show up at the date and time specified in the “Complaint”, then the court will hear them both regarding the eviction.

Step 3: Court

  • Initial Hearing:
    1. Roll Call: At the initial hearing, which is dated in the complaint, the judge will call all the cases to make sure all parties are present. If a Tenant fails to show up at this initial hearing, the court will enter a default judgement for Landlord, which means Landlord is given possession of the property by the court. If Landlord fails to show up for the roll call, the court will dismiss the case, meaning that Landlord will have to refile the suit against Tenant if Landlord still wants an eviction.
    2. Opportunity to Settle: After the roll call, the judge will dismiss the room to give the parties an opportunity to settle. The parties, if they chose to settle may either: (a) agree to a “Consent Judgment,” which means that Landlord gets a financial judgment against Tenant, but not a judgment for possession, Landlord cannot use this to evict Tenant; or (b) sign a “Settlement Agreement,” which is a separate agreement between the parties to settle the issue, but does not result in a judgement for Landlord. Both options must be approved by the court when court resumes, and ensure that Tenant will pay the rent owed or correct the lease violation by an agreed upon date.
    3. Unable to Settle: If the parties are unable to settle the matter, the judge will then call forward the parties to decide if the case deserves a trial. If there is a genuine dispute about the facts of the case and Tenant requests a trial, it is likely that the judge will order a trial date for the parties to attend.
  • Trial: If the parties are unable to resolve the dispute and the judge believes a trial is appropriate, a trial date will be set and each party will have an opportunity to present their evidence (documents and verbal testimony) and the judge will resolve the dispute for the parties.
  • Judgment: If Tenant (a) doesn’t show up to initial hearing, thus giving a default judgement to the landlord, (b) breaks the consent agreement, or (c) loses at trial, then the court will enter a judgement for possession to Landlord, will issue a writ of eviction, and will enter a financial judgment against Tenant if appropriate.  After the judgement is made for Landlord, the actual process of removal will begin.

Step 4: Removal
If a judgement for possession is entered for Landlord, they must then file a “Writ of Restitution” or “Writ of Eviction” with the court at least 2 days after the judgement, which then becomes active 3 days after filing. Tenant will receive a copy of this writ which will indicate the first date which they may be evicted. This writ gives the right to Landlord, with assistance from the U.S. Marshall, the legal authority to remove Tenant and their possessions from the property. If the eviction is based on nonpayment of rent, Tenant can defeat the Writ of Eviction at any time prior to actual eviction by paying all owed debts to Landlord, including: back rent, current rent, court costs and fees. Assuming that Tenant is unable to pay the owed rent, or is being evicted for some reason other than their non-payment, Tenant will be required to leave the property upon arrival of the U.S. Marshall, who will supervise the eviction.

If you’re a landlord or tenant, please feel free to contact us for a consultation.

[1] D.C. Code §42–3505.01(a)
[2] D.C. Code §42–3505.01(a-b)
[3] D.C. Code §42–3505.01(b); § 42-3206 (The “Notice” must be served in both English and Spanish by: (1) personal service to Tenant; (2) service to someone that is over 16 years old and resides on the property; or (3) posting a notice on Tenant’s door, only after a “diligent effort” to achieve notice by personal service has failed twice, and must be accompanied by a mailed copy to Tenant within 3 calendar days of posting).
[4] See D.C. Code §42–3505.01(c) discussing illegal activity in the property.
[5] The “Complaint” must be served 7 days before the appearance date and may be served by (1) personal service to Tenant; (2) substituted service to someone specified to the court that is over 16 years old and resides on the property; (3) certified mail, as long as Tenant personally signs for the letter; or (3) posting a notice on Tenants door, only after a “diligent effort” to achieve notice by personal service has failed twice, and must be accompanied by a mailed copy to Tenant within 3 calendar days of posting

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About the Author

Steven Krieger and guests (lawyers and non-lawyers) will periodically post about topics relevant to his firm and practice areas. Your comments and feedback are always welcome. 

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