Emilie Fairbanks, Esq.

202 681 4694 office

202 688 1864 fax

419 7th Street NW, Suite 405

Washington, DC 20004


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DC Landlord & Tenant Service of Process

If there is one issue I see pro se landlords have their cases dismissed on over and over, it's issues with service of process. The rules can be a little complex but usually the problems arise when the landlord wants to save the cost of a process server. Remember the following tips and you will have a better chance of not having to start over for improper service.

1) Don't serve anything yourself and don't have any interested party serve anything for you. The process server must be a person not involved in your case.

2) Your server must make diligent efforts to serve the tenant in person before posting and mailing are acceptable. That usually means two attempts, one in the morning and one in the evening, on different days. But personal service is best so if you know when the tenant is home, tell your server and make life easy for them.

3) Details are important. If the process server leaves the notice or complaint with someone they must describe that person, as well as the address where they took it. If they posted it they must describe the door and the hallway, such as "second door on left after coming in glass entry doors, door painted white with the numbers 123 in gold paint." A photo of the posted notice is a plus. The affidavit must be notarized and filed with the court before the initial hearing or your court date could be delayed.

4) A thirty day notice for anything other than nonpayment of rent must also be served on the Office of the Rent Administrator within five days of serving the tenant. These notices require special language about that service, which I'm not covering here.

5) Give yourself enough time. A thirty day notice handed to the process sever can't be filed on in Landlord & Tenant court on the thirtieth day, you need to look at the service date. The summons and complaint also must be served timely or your case will be delayed or dismissed.

6) Always bring a copy of the notarized affidavit to the initial hearing. If the court doesn't have it for some reason it will save you time.

Proper service of process is the first obstacle you must overcome to getting your tenant evicted. Even if the tenant comes to court, if service was improper your case can be dismissed. If your tenant isn't paying you that isn't time you can afford to lose.


What's a DC Landlord with a live writ to do?

It's that time of year, cold days, random snow, and sometimes even rain. It's a rare day that meets the weather requirements for US Marshals to oversee evictions in the District of Columbia. The past couple of years we skipped right from Christmas to spring. This year the never ending winter means if you have a live writ of restitution, you need to know the rules and be prepared to wait. So what do you need to know?
1) Evictions are not conducted in DC if there is a greater than fifty percent chance of rain or, the forecast calls for temperatures below 32 degrees over the next twenty-four hours.
2) Your writ is only good for seventy-five days. After that, you need to file an alias writ. The cost is $18. Don't forget to add that to what the tenant must pay to avoid eviction. File your alias writ promptly to avoid the problems that come with number 3....
2) Your judgment for possession is only good for ninety days. After that you need to renew it. That's a fairly easy process but it does require an additional trip to DC landlord & tenant court. Judges understand that the process has been slowed by the weather but don't sit on your expired judgment for several months and expect a judge to allow you to move forward. At that point the judge might make you start all over, a costly process, so keep on top things. Money judgments are different and aren't being addressed here.
3) Be ready for nice weather. The Marshals often try to clear their backlog quickly if they get some warm weather so stay prepared, know what your tenant owes, and stay in touch with your eviction crew company.
4) Even if your tenant owes a substantial amount, you might get paid and not have to evict because it's tax time. As refunds come in, tenants may have the ability to pay off a large translux amount and become current. Can they stay current? If not you would need file a new nonpayment case, but with warmer weather ahead it may be easier to move forward.
The bottom line: hang in there. If you pay your mortgage with the rent this can be an extreme hardship but unfortunately one the DC City Council has decided you must bear.


DC DHCD Program for Small Landlords Next Week

The DC Department of Housing and Community Development is offering a program on the "First Year in the Life of a Small Housing Provider." The training will be held on Tuesday, February  4, 2014, from 1:00-3:00 pm at the DHCD headquarters located at 1800 Martin Luther King Jr., Avenue, SE.  

It looks like it could provide useful information for small landlords or those considering becoming landlords in DC. The flyer is below.  Hope to see you there!  


Keeping Tenants Warm: The DC Housing Code on Heat

The temperature is about to drop and stay cold for at least a week. That always means disagreements between landlords and tenants about whether or not rental properties are being kept warm enough. Luckily, the DC Housing Code is extremely specific. The temperature in DC residential rental units where the temperature is not controlled by the tenant must be at least 68 degrees between 6:30am and 11pm and at least 65 degrees the rest of the time. If the temperature is controlled by the tenant the heat system must be able to maintain 70 degrees. So what happens when DC landlords and tenants disagree about the heat? If the parties end up in court the judge often wants to know the heating system is being regularly serviced, so keep your service records. A housing inspector will test the temperature of the rooms and will issue an emergency violation if the heat doesn't meet the code. Giving the tenant a space heater usually isn't considered a solution but when weather is as cold as it is going to be in the next week, getting a furnace serviced can be very difficult, so a temporary solution is better than doing nothing. Showing the court or housing inspector that you are doing everything you can is vital to avoiding a fine. On a related issue, remember property owners must clear sidewalks and walkways of snow within the eight hours of daylight following the snow stopping. Hang in there, it will be spring before you know it.


An End of Year Checklist for DC Landlords: Things to Consider for 2014 and Beyond 

For DC landlords, the end of the year is a good time consider your status with DC government and any problems you are having with tenants, as well as updating and improving the systems that keep your business going. Going through the following checklist should give you some ideas of what to work on for 2014. 
1) Licensing. Do you hand your Basic Business License from DCRA?  Do you need a Certificate of Occupancy?  You should have a Rent Control Exemption or Registration Number from the Office of the Rent Administrator.  If your licensing isn't in order, enforcing your lease may be impossible and you could be fined. Make it a goal for the year and if you think you might have problems that would keep you from getting licensed, like ceiling height problems, zoning issues, or Housing Code violations, talk to an attorney before you start the process. 
2) Condition of the Property. If you haven't done a complete inspection within the last year schedule one with the tenant immediately. If you find problems with the property you can resolve them and if you find problems with the tenant you can decide how to proceed. 
3) Rent Level. If your licensing is in order and you've seen the property, start looking atcomparable properties in the area and see if you are charging market rents. If not, and you are exempt from rent control, start thinking about the pros and cons of a rent increase.  Are you making a profit?
4) The tenant. Is the lease up to date and if not, would the tenant be willing to sign a new lease? Do you feel comfortable with the tenant and are you happy to keep them around?  If not, rememberthat DC law does not allow you to end a tenancy because a lease ends. Do you need to discuss any issues with the tenant? 
5) The Lease and Application. If you are planning to get any new tenants for any of your properties this year, when was the last time your lease was updated?  Contact us if you think it's time for some changes or a new lease. 


6) Record Keeping. How is your system for recording when rent is paid, providing receipts to tenants when requested, and tracking all the expenses related to your property for tax and legal purposes?  What about keeping track of communication with the tenant?  The new year is a great time to start or commit to using a new system and there are lots of things out there to make these jobs earlier now.  

7. Delegation and/or Plans for Growth. This is a great time to decide if you want to hand things the financial management over to a CPA, the property management over to a firm, or keep doing everything yourself. Are your circumstances the same as they were a year ago or two years ago?  Are you more or less able to handle the day to day? Are you considering buying more property and expanding your business this year and if so what considerations go into that?  

Let us know if we can be of service during this process.  

Just knowing where you want to be in a year and having a sense of your budget, your profits, and your goals, will let you sleep better at night.