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Entries in DC landlord & tenant court (2)


Protective Orders: Law vs. Reality

If you go to court for non-payment of rent in the District of Columbia, you are entitled to request a protective order. That means, you can tell the judge you want your tenant to pay the rent into the court registry until the case is resolved. Protective orders don't deal with back rent, only the rent from the day of the first court date forward, so if you sue a tenant for five months of back rent and come to court on March 1st, the protective order can start March 1st. The back rent is resolved at trial. The tenant can also request they pay the rent into the registry. The tenant can also request the amount of rent be reduced because of housing code violations, so be prepared to show the property is in good shape. A protective order allows you to come back to court if the tenant doesn't pay and ask for sanctions, such as striking the tenant's jury demand or answer, or in some cases entering judgment in your favor. That's the law.

Now let's look at the reality. If you have a protective order and your tenant is paying into the registry you can't access that money. You are still required to pay expenses for the property and do repairs although you won't be getting any rent. You may get that money when the case is over, but if you need that money to pay your mortgage and utilities it might not help you at that point. While there are ways to try to get money out of the registry before a case ends, they aren't easy. If the tenant is willing you could agree the rent will be paid to you directly until the case is resolved. Many tenants won't agree to that, but sometimes creative solutions can be found. Landlord and Tenant cases in DC can drag on for months or even a year, so having the protective order put in place correctly and enforced is extremely important for your financial health and future. 

If you are starting a nonpayment case or in the middle of a case that you can't resolve, contact me


Frequently Asked Questions About DC Landlord & Tenant Protective Orders 

Protective orders are frequently misunderstood but an extremely important tool for DC landlords fighting to get possession of their property from a tenant not paying the rent. Here I'll review some frequently asked questions and common misconceptions about protective orders and give landlords some tips to use them effectively. 
1) What is a protective order? 
A protective order requires your tenant to pay the rent, or a portion of the rent, into the court registry until trial. It protects the landlord from the tenant becoming farther behind in rent while the case winds it's way through the court system.
2) How do I make my tenant pay a protective order? 
Ask the judge! If the tenant wants a trial or even a continuance you should request a protective order. The judge may decide to reserve you rights to the protective order and not make a decision that day, especially if the case is only bring briefly continued, but asking will make sure you can get the protective order to go back to the first day you made the request. 
3) Can I get a protective order in any DC Landlord & Tenant case? 
No, only in nonpayment of rent cases or cases consolidated with a nonpayment case. If your tenant has violated the lease in some other way and you gave them a notice for having a dog or not keeping the apartment clean you can't get a protective order. This gets legally tricky so consult a lawyer if you have a nonpayment case and a lease violation case. 
4) Can I get a protective order for the back rent? 
Nope. Protective orders in DC Landlord & Tenant cases are "forward looking."  This means the Landlord & Tenant judge can only order the tenant to pay future rent into the court registry in DC. For example if the initial court date is October 15th the judge can order the tenant to pay half of October rent into the registry and all rent for any future months until the case is resolved. Even if the tenant hasn't paid rent for six months before the landlord comes to court, the judge cannot order that rent be paid into the registry. Decisions about that rent are made at trial. 
5)  My tenant (or her lawyer) asked for a Bell hearing. What's that? 
I've discussed Bell hearings more in depth here: http://goo.gl/nSqj9p. For now, I'll just cover the topic briefly. A Bell hearing allows the tenant to claim she shouldn't have to pay the full rent into the registry because of DC Housing Code violations in the property. If a tenant asks for a Bell hearing make sure you get a time to inspect the property, make any repairs before the hearing, and document the repairs. If the landlord can show their are no DC Housing Code violations at the time of the Bell hearing they can get the full protective order. If there are some problems the judge may reduce the amount. 
6) How do I know if the protective order is being paid? 
The landlord needs to check the court docket to see if the protective order has been paid. You can go to the DC Landlord & Tenant clerk's office and ask or you can check the docket online at www.dccourts.gov/cco. You need to have your case number or you can search by name. Check the day after the payment is due to see if it was paid. Usually the payment is due once a month and you should check every month. 
7)   My tenant didn't pay her protective order. What should I do now?
File a motion for sanctions. The judge might strike the tenant's answer, counterclaim, or jury demand or grant another sanction. They might move up the trial date, if possible. Usually the judge won't give you a default judgment for a tenant not paying the protective order, the rules discourage that, but the other sanctions they can give will move your case forward. Sometimes a tenant will pay before the motion is heard. A judge will almost never give a sanction in that case. That's ok, you got the tenant to put that money in the registry and when the case ends you will be much better off having it. 
8)  What happens to the money in the registry? When do I get my rent? 
Unless you can show a serious hardship, which is very difficult, the money stays in the court registry until the case is over. The judge will release it to the winning party at the end. If the landlord proves the tenant owed that money in rent, the money will be released to you. The DC Court Finance office will send you a check. Cases can go on a long time so surviving without your rent can be difficult but having the tenant paying it into the court at least provides you some protection you will get it eventually. 
DC Landlord & Tenant Court can be frustrating and complicated. If you need help please don't hesitate to contact us