DC Bans Evictions Over Smart Unpaid Rent Tabs in Omnibus Tenant Protection Bill

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The D.C. Council has banned evictions for unpaid rent bills under $600, part of an omnibus tenant protection bill designed to help tenants find and stay in stable housing.

The legislation protects the rights of anyone who is applying for rental housing in Washington, D.C., anyone who already rents a home and is facing a possible eviction, as well as anyone who has a past record of an eviction.

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Mel Zahnd, senior staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, explained that the bill has three distinct, but related components. 

“First, it adds protections for tenants at the point when eviction cases are filed,” he told Commercial Observer. “One of these protections is a requirement that landlords, in most cases, have a license to rent residential housing when filing an eviction case.” 

The bill also prevents the filing of evictions over small sums of money — less than $600 — which applies to 12 percent of cases, according to DCist. It puts protections in place to make sure tenants are actually served with notice of their eviction case before the case can go forward.

“Second, it requires the court to seal the records of many old eviction cases,” Zahnd said. “Finally, it puts protections in place for tenants at the point when they are applying for new housing.” 

For example, the rules now require landlords to reveal what criteria they will be using when deciding to whom to rent. It also prevents landlords from relying on information that has no rational purpose other than illegal discrimination. 

So if a tenant has a voucher, which means the DC Housing Authority will pay much or all of the tenant’s rent, the landlord can’t deny that person housing based on credit problems that he or she had before they got a voucher, Zahnd said. 

All three of these components were already law through emergency and temporary bills, but this new legislation makes these protections permanent. 

“We’ve already seen how many of these protections work in practice, and it was important to make them permanent so that landlords and tenants have clarity,” Zahnd said. “In the past, frivolous eviction cases would stay on tenants’ records for years, preventing them from finding safe and affordable housing in the future. This legislation will give tenants confidence about their rights — both when they apply for housing and when they face a possible eviction case.”

The court has already sealed hundreds of thousands of records of eviction cases based on the emergency and temporary legislation that preceded this permanent legislation. 

“Now, all the tenants who were the subject of those records have security knowing that the records of their old eviction cases will stay sealed,” Zahnd said.

Some other jurisdictions have some components of this law, such as some states and cities that allow for the automatic sealing of eviction records or that limit what information a landlord can rely on when denying housing to a tenant, according to Zahnd. 

“Part of the value of this legislation is that it brings all these best practices together so that they work together as a coherent whole,” he said.

Keith Loria can be reached at Kloria@commercialobserver.com.