Code of the District of Columbia

§ 16–1501. Definition; summons.

*NOTE: This section includes amendments by temporary legislation that will expire on October 7, 2022. To view the text of this section after the expiration of all emergency and temporary legislation, click this link: Permanent Version.*

(a) When a person detains possession of real property without right, or after his right to possession has ceased, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, on complaint under oath verified by the person aggrieved by the detention, or by his agent or attorney having knowledge of the facts, may issue a summons in English and Spanish to the party complained of to appear and show cause why judgment should not be given against him for the restitution of possession.

(b) The person aggrieved shall not file a complaint seeking restitution of possession pursuant to this section for nonpayment of rent in an amount less than $600. Nothing in this subsection shall prevent the person aggrieved from filing a complaint to recover the amount owed.

(c)(1) Notwithstanding subsection (g) of this section, prior to March 31, 2022, the person aggrieved shall not file a complaint seeking relief pursuant to this section, except when:

(A) The complaint alleges that the tenant's continuing presence at the housing accommodation where the tenant resides presents a current and substantial threat to the health and safety of tenants, on-site agents, or employees of the owners of the housing accommodation, or household members or guests of other tenants, or residents of immediately adjacent properties, because the tenant has violated an obligation of tenancy by engaging in an unlawful possession of a firearm, threats or acts of violence, or assault;

(B) The complaint alleges that the tenant has willfully or wantonly caused significant damage to the unit, building, premises, or property of the housing provider; or

(C) The complaint alleges non-payment of rent, the complaint was filed on or after October 12, 2021, and the person aggrieved provides documentation at the time of filing demonstrating that:

(i) He or she has applied for emergency rental assistance through the STAY DC program on behalf of the tenant, or initiated the application on behalf of the tenant by completing all landlord portions of the application, the tenant has been notified in writing of the application, and the housing provider is eligible to seek possession pursuant to § 42-3505.01(b-1)(1); provided, that the requirement to apply for emergency rental assistance through STAY DC shall only apply to cases filed between October 12, 2021 and December 31, 2021; and

(ii) The tenant has been served with a written notice which meets the requirements of § 42-3505.01(b-1)(2)(A) and all other requirements under District law.

(2) It shall be a dispositive affirmative defense requiring dismissal of a complaint for non-payment of rent filed between October 12, 2021, and December 31, 2021, if a tenant can demonstrate with substantial evidence provided through testimony that:

(A) The housing provider did not pursue rental assistance as required timely or in good faith;

(B) The tenant did not receive notice of the rental assistance application;

(C) The housing provider did not provide a notice that meets the requirements of § 42-3505.01(b-1)(2)(A), and all other requirements under District of Columbia law;

(D) The tenant or their authorized representative submitted an application for emergency rental assistance prior to or during the 60 days after receiving a past due rent notice, and that application is still pending, approved and awaiting payment, or under appeal;

(E) The housing provider has not met the requirements of § 42-3505.01(b-1)(1); or

(F) For complaints that involve rent arrears accrued since March 11, 2020, the landlord did not offer or negotiate a payment plan in good faith pursuant to § 42-3281 [Expired] at any time since March 11, 2020.

(3) For complaints filed pursuant to paragraph (1)(B) of this subsection, it shall be a dispositive affirmative defense requiring dismissal of a complaint if a tenant can demonstrate with substantial evidence that the housing provider willfully or negligently contributed to the significant damage of the unit, premises, building, or property that are the subject of the complaint.

(4)(A) For complaints filed pursuant to paragraph (1)(C) of this subsection that allege non-payment of rent during the COVID-19 covered period, a tenant shall have the right to raise financial or medical hardship during the covered period as a defense. In determining whether a tenant has suffered a financial or medical hardship, the court shall consider, among other relevant factors, the following:

(i) Whether the tenant's income is below 40 percent area median income;

(ii) Whether the tenant is currently eligible or was eligible for cash assistance, supplemental nutrition assistance program (food stamps), supplemental security income (SSI), Medicaid or DC Healthcare Alliance, or unemployment insurance or benefits during the COVID-19 covered period; and

(iii) Whether vacating the premises and moving into new permanent housing would pose a significant health risk because the tenant or one or more members of the tenant's household have an increased risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19 due to being over the age of 65, having a disability or having an underlying medical condition, which may include but is not limited to being immunocompromised.

(B)(i) If the court finds the tenant has established a financial or medical hardship defense pursuant to subparagraph (A) of this paragraph, the court shall stay the execution of a judgment for possession against a tenant until March 31, 2022, at the earliest; except, that the court shall not stay the execution of a judgment for possession pursuant to this sub-subparagraph when the tenant lives in the same building as the housing provider or when the housing provider owns a single unit within a housing accommodation with more than one unit. A tenant may establish a financial or medical hardship defense by submitting a financial or medical hardship declaration to the court or by providing testimony, documentation, or other evidence of the factors set forth in subparagraph (A) of this paragraph to the court. Nothing in this subsection shall prevent the court from entering a money judgment when the housing provider meets all other requirements under District law for the entry of a money judgment.

(ii) If a money judgment is entered and the tenant remains in possession of the rental unit, any subsequent payment from the tenant to the housing provider will be credited first to rent due before or after the COVID-19 covered period and any other charges or fees currently due. Nothing in this subsection shall prevent a housing provider from using any mechanism authorized under District law to collect on the money judgment, or a housing provider or a tenant from applying for rental assistance for the months of rent covered by a money judgment, so long as the tenant remains in possession of the rental unit.

(5) For purposes of this subsection, the term:

(A) "Act of violence" shall have the same meaning as "crime of violence" as provided in § 23-1331(4).

(B) "Assault" shall be construed according to § 22-404.

(C) "COVID-19 covered period" means March 11, 2020, until such time as the Mayor declares an end to the COVID-19 public emergency extended by Mayor's Order 2021-119, or any subsequent extension of the public emergency.

(D) "Significant damage" includes large holes in the walls of the unit that cannot be repaired with plaster and paint, destruction of major building systems such as electric or plumbing, destruction of appliances such as ovens, refrigerators, or dish washing machines in the unit, or damage to large areas of flooring such that the housing provider will have to replace the damaged flooring.

(E) "Threat" shall be construed according to § 22-407.

(F) "Unlawful possession of a firearm" shall be construed according to § 22-4503.

(6) Nothing in this section shall be construed to create an obligation on the part of any person to pursue an eviction action under this subsection.

(7) No tenant shall be evicted from a rental unit based on a complaint filed under this subsection unless the court determines by a preponderance of the evidence that the alleged violation of an obligation of tenancy meets all of the requirements of this subsection.

(8) At the initial hearing for any complaint for non-payment of rent, if the complaint does not allege sufficient facts or the person aggrieved has not produced sufficient documentation to meet all pre-filing requirements under District law, the Court shall dismiss the complaint.

(d)(1) The person aggrieved shall not file a complaint seeking restitution of possession pursuant to this section without a valid registration or claim or exemption issued pursuant to § 42-3502.05, and a current license for rental housing issued pursuant to § 47-2828(c)(1) presented at the time of filing.

(2) The Court may waive the requirements for a current license for rental housing in this subsection if the person aggrieved can demonstrate that the housing provider for the housing accommodation was unable to obtain or renew a current rental housing license due to extenuating circumstances.

(3) The requirements of this subsection shall not apply to complaints involving subtenants.

(e) The person aggrieved shall not file a complaint pursuant seeking relief pursuant to this section based on consistent late payment of rent by a tenant occurring between the dates of March 11, 2020, and 60 days after the expiration of the public health emergency declared in response to the novel 2019 coronavirus (SARS CoV-2).

(f) Subsections (b), (c), (d), and (e) of this section shall not apply to complaints involving commercial tenants.

(g) Complaints seeking relief pursuant to this section not covered under subsection (c) of this section shall not be filed until January 1, 2022, at the earliest.