This Email Left Me Speechless

See No EVIL, originally uploaded by Thru Jenns Eyes.

In the three years I’ve been running this site, from time to time, I’ve been made aware of some horrible things. The worst incident I was emailed about was a rape that took place in Shaw on Marion Street. Thankfully, an arrest has been made in the case. Since the crime occurred back in April I have been corresponding with the victim and her boyfriend every couple of months. I have not published that correspondence for obvious reasons. Today I received an email from them that truly boggles my mind. At their request I will publish below.

“Just recently we were dealt another blow. Our small claims case against our landlady to recover our security deposit was denied. Our judge ruled that our landlady’s duty to mitigate the fact that we wanted to break our lease ( ie advertise and re-rent the property) extended for the entire month of May. We told her as soon as we could contact her that we had no intention of staying in the property and in court she stated that she knew immediately that we would not want to stay in the property. Instead of being proactive she just dragged her heels for 2 weeks then offered to let us out of the lease if we paid an additional month plus taking our security deposit. We declined that offer and ended up in court, losing our security deposit.

We would be interested to see what the people have to say to the question “If a violent crime is committed in a rental property what do people think would be a reasonable resolution to terminate the lease?” Kind of a serious topic but we would be intrigued to see what kind of responses people have to see if we are being unreasonable or if our landlady just has a heart of stone.”

70 Comment

  • Your landlord has a duty to keep you safe. The timing is a difficult thing. If you would have moved out sooner, than I think you would have been more likely to get your deposit back. I don’t agree with it and I bet someone could make a better argument. DC might have a statute dealing with this type of thing as well.

    I think your land lady has a heart of stone.

  • Just post the name of your landlady so no one who reads this blog will ever do business with her.

  • I am a landlord and i would absolutely return the deposit. I have recently had a life altering event happen and i can absolutely understand tough situations. sorry to hear such tragic news, all together.

  • Your landlord is an absolutely inhuman POS for not returning your deposit, but Jack, I think you have it wrong when you said, “Your landlord has a duty to keep you safe.” It’s not all that pleasant for some folks to think about, but you are the only person responsible for your own safety, not your landlord, not the police [check Warren v. DC].

  • I am also a landlord for a condo on 14th st, I wouldn’t even think twice about letting them leave and returning their deposit

  • Agree with Shawn. The only court that will do justice here is public opinion. This landlord should be pilloried into shame.

  • Landlords are not in the business of minimizing their revenues. They are not there to help you out or to be your friend. They are small businesses and they are only talking to you because you are paying them money. So no, I don’t think the landlord has any unwritten obligation to a renter aside from what is written within the lease.

    And really, if this is such a huge deal for these two renters and they absolutely can not continue living in their current place, then what is a big deal about losing a deposit/months rent/whatever?

  • All other aspects aside, landlords are not responsible for your safety outside of their control. If you want that, move back in with your parents. I’m responding to that comment, not the situation.

  • Such comportment by the landlady is appalling, disappointing, and sadly unprofessional given the circumstances.

    To be dragged into landlord and tenant court after such a egregious experience garners an award for the most insensitive of indignant proprietors.

    I’m well into my 4th decade of being a Washington landlord and I’m surprised the presiding L&T Judge didn’t call the landlord into his chambers privately and talk some sense and shame into the landlady.

    Law enforcement and adjudication, landlord, neighbors, friends, and anyone involved in and around such a situation need to be civil and accommodating to the victim.

    Acting in a timely fashion, the landlady could have resolved the issue without any loss of rent.

    This is a lamentable situation where those in authority and capacity failed their positions and failed to rise to the occasion in an obvious call for discretion.

  • @dcpublius — What’s wrong with you? “…if its such a huge deal for these renters… then what is a big deal about losing a deposit/money/rent?”

    Do you lack compassion, or just common sense?

    She was apparently raped WITHIN the property. Obviously, its probably of pretty huge import to her mental health that they not have to linger at the scene of the crime (for all we know, it happened in their bedroom.) Maybe they don’t have the luxury of giving money to their shit landlord, because the economy sucks, because she is incapable or working now which leaves them half the income, maybe they have to pay for incredible psychiatric bills as well.

    They are unmarried renters, meaning that they’re probably young — how many people of that demographic do you know, who can afford to drop a few grand totally cashing out to an old landlord and setting up with a new one?

    Legal aspects and the business of renting aside, this landlord is a shit bag. When your client is compelled by extraordinary reasons to break the contract, and gives immediate notice.. and you still dither and leave them in limbo, then put them in a financial tough spot to make yourself a few bucks… you are certainly exploiting their misery for financial gain.

    This is a good neighborhood, easy to rent. The landlord could have been at the house (or sent someone) the day after being notified and done an assessment for deposit return, and had new renters in before the next month began. So there’s no request for a handout here. If the landlord had been on top of her business, she could have a financially seamless transition. She dithered and maybe NOW she’s in a little pickle. It doesn’t sound like the ‘small business’ landlord is in a pinch here, rather, just being lazy (like nearly every independent/owner landlord I’ve come across in this area of the city.) You give up your right to complain when you compound your problem by letting it fester.

    Seriously, can you not say this person is being shitty/lazy, and now trying to eek a few bucks out of her tenant’s vulnerable position? Contractually, she’s on solid ground, but it still doesn’t mean she isn’t a piece of shit.

  • The court looks at foreseeability. If its not there, you can’t win as a plaintiff suing a landlord.

  • Morally questionable, legally cut and dry.

  • Since it was taken to Small Claims COURT and the landlord happily accepted the judgement then please post her name and address here–it must be part of a public record somewhere.

  • As a landlord I would have released the tenants from their lease.
    I would have kept the security deposit.
    If the tenant were in a bad way I would have returned the deposit.

  • Burn it. Now, I’m advocating Arson… (Burn it).

  • What Eli said.

  • I guess she COULD keep it under the terms of the lease, but gosh seems like some compassion might have made her return it.

  • What Eli and Herb said

  • Before a public flogging on this blog, I’d want to know the landlord’s side of this story.

    Compassion might say to return the deposit but the landlord might have compelling reasons why s/he was unable to do so.

  • Yeah, I’d like to know the landlord’s side as well. Obviously if this couple contacted you, they want their side out and gave you only the details that show them in a good light, which is normal. But without the landlady’s side, who can pass judgement? I suppose the judge heard both sides and did, but we shouldn’t.

  • On the face of this it does sound like the landlord is a piece of garbage….but it is impossible to tell without knowing the landlords side of this. Is this a landlord with 1 or two small properties and a limited income? By missing out on this rent will she then end up missing a mortgage payment which will very adversely affect her credit score?

  • I am a landlord of two houses and I certainly would let someone out of their lease. Also, I have dealt with owners who own neighboring homes and they are shady-ass people who will do NOTHING to help their tenants or the community. Landlords like that should be held up and exposed for the crapholes they are. Post her name.

    Also, if you dont live or work in DC, a DC civil judgement can’t attach wages. If you are young enough, just move out and let they come after you. It will come off your credit report in 7 years or so.

  • Its possible the landlord is over a barrel themselves and need the money to avoid foreclosure. Just as possible that they are a greedy POS who could care less about rapes within this properties, or any other crime, and they perhaps are able to bribe a judge as needed. Welcome to DC, check all sanity at the door. Arbeit Macht Frei.

  • I’ve been a landlord to two tenants. I added to the lease agreement that if for any reason, the tenant felt unsafe or was felt threatened for any reason, they had grounds to terminate the lease. When you live in a neighborhood like Columbia Heights, it’s the human thing to do. Sure I could lose a little income, but that pales next to somebody who has lost as much as the victim in this story has. Cut her a break.

  • There’s more to this story. For sure.

  • POP,
    If the full story pans out as presented. I’ll donate a few $100 to help them walkaway from this mess. lmk.

  • Pennywise, I’m one of the first people to criticize DC for a number of reasons, but comparing it to Auschwitz is a bit ridiculous.

    I’d also like to know the LL’s side of the story. “Dragging feet” could be true, which would make the LL a scumbag, but it could also be an inaccurate view based on incomplete information. Landlord Tenant court in DC tends to VERY tenant friendly (I used to work there), so for the LL to win on this one, there must be more to the story.

  • I’m a landlord of a rental house, and have had a few tenants leave early. I don’t keep the security deposit if I’m not losing money…otherwise it seems greedy. Basically that means if the tenant who is leaving early can find a replacement, and there’s no gap in the rent there’s no problem. I think that’s the fair way to do it. That said, according the law, the landlord has a right to keep your security deposit, so it’s not a surprise that was the outcome in court. Your landlord has been a jerk in an awful situation, but I’m not sure what you can do about it. Ugh, best to move on. I”m really sorry about the situation and hope you have a better landlord and safer apartment in your new place 🙁

  • While returning the security deposit would have been the charitable thing for the landlady to do, she has no obligation to do so. They broke their lease which is a binding legal document. If they had owned their property and the poor young lady was raped inside, they would not have had any standing to ask the mortgage company for any concessions, now would they?

    What happened was a tradgedy, please do not misunderstand me. But sometimes what is charitable is different from what is responsible.

  • I hope there’s more to this story, and there’s at least one fact I wish you’d been clear about – did these folks go ahead and move out, or are they still there? I hope they went ahead and did what’s best for their mental health rather than hang around over the money but it’s not clear from the email fragment.

    I don’t think they’re unreasonable for asking for accommodation from their landlord but it’s possible she’s over a barrel here too. I think a reasonable move in this situation would be to offer the tenants an out as soon as new tenants can be found and signed. However this is a tough rental market right now and that could be a much longer period than two months. It’s possible that letting them out with two months rent is a real gift if the property continued to be empty.

    I’ve known a lot of landlords who used their rental income as their sole source of income, several of them funding their retirement that way. Or she could be covering mortgage payments, as someone said above. She could very well be just as unable to give up that money as they are. That’s no excuse for not trying to do the right thing, but she may have significant challenges in her life as well.

  • I feel absolutely awful for this couple. I hope they’re living happier in a new apartment now, and certainly hope they weren’t still living there during April-September, when this guy was at large.

    On the other hand, Anon 10:22 am has a really good point. How do mortgage companies respond to this type of situation (breaking a mortgage and moving out of an owned property for safety reasons), if at all?

  • Prince Of Petworth

    @Don the couple has moved out.

  • First, I am terribly sorry for these folks – particularly the female victim. My prayers are with her.

    Second, as I read the post the small claims case has already been lost so there is nothing more that these folks can do in court unless there is a right of appeal. I believe there is a general right to break a lease if the premises become uninhabitable. But typically that involves physical problems with the property – no heat, no water, no a/c in summer, infestation of some sort, etc. – and giving the landlord notice with an opportunity to correct the defect. I don’t know if there is caselaw that supports the proposition that premises can become uninhabitable because of a crime that occurs there. This is one of those situations where one would think that simple human decency would prevail. Apparently, and unfortunately, it won’t.

    Third, the victim may have a legal claim against the landlord. I don’t know the circumstances of this assault, but if it was facilitated by some defect in the property (i.e., a door or window that wouldn’t shut properly, poor exterior lighting, etc.) that the landlord was made aware of before the assault and failed to remedy, he or she might have some liability for the crime that resulted.

  • Threaten her that if she doesn’t return the deposit you’ll go public with this story. Blogs, City Paper, even wash. post will probably be happy to publish a story like this: makes them look like they’re on the little guy’s side. She’d risk losing more business than your deposit.

  • Honestly I think that the landlord offered a fair compromise in essentially letting the tenant out of their lease with 60 days notice (one more month plus the security). She was not legally required to do that.

    Expecting the landlord to just let you walk away is basically asking them to pay two month’s rent for you. They would undoubtedly lose at least a month, if not more, in rent. You can’t just suddenly replace a tenant. The compromise they offered lets you out of your lease, and may still not even compensate the landlord for their loss depending on how long it takes them to find another tenant.

    I am certainly compassionate for the victim. However, the landlord is not responsible for what happened. Demonizing them because they basically aren’t willing to fork over several thousand dollars to you is not fair. As someone else noted, if you owned the house, would you expect a concession from the mortgage holder while you tried to sell your house? Why?

    The crime is horrible and I am in no way trying to minimize the importance of it — but the agreement between the tenant and the landlord has no more to do with this than any other contract in which the victim was currently engaged. The landlord was acting compassionately by agreeing to break the lease with no notice. They deserve credit for that. Do you think that a big corporately-owned building would have done as much? I doubt it.

  • Also, can we please post the apartment building, landlord’s name, and/or case file of the lawsuit? As a single girl living in the city, I want to ensure that I never rent from this person or live in this building!

  • Some of the larger buildings in the area, such as mine, have clauses in the lease that exempt themselves from any liability if a crime happens in your unit or on the property.

  • do they know about the violent crime compensation act in dc? i’ll try to look it up. it might could help with their costs.

    this is horrible. i’m so sorry for these people. its a nightmarish thing.

  • The Landlady is lucky that the former tenants don’t publish her address and information about the crime. Who’d want to rent a place where a crime was commited.

    If the victim is still in a bind, and without family/friend resources, we as a community could throw her a benefit to put her right again. Who cares about the would have, should have, could have. Let’s just take care of our own when another member of our community is not.


  • @Nonmiss – What you say is true but those clauses are not worth the paper they are written on if they don’t conform to the law in the particular jurisdiction. I don’t know the specifics of DC law, but I do know of cases in other jurisdictions where landlords have been found liable for defects in property that facilitated a crime. It all comes down to foreseeability – did the landlord know about the defect and was it foreseeable that it could lead to the commission of a crime.
    If your landlord knows that the back entrance to your otherwise secure building does not lock and someone uses that entrance to get into the building and commit a crime, the landlord will not be able to escape some liability for the damages that result.
    On the other hand, if someone gets in your building because a tenant held the door open for him or her and they attack someone, I don’t see the landlord being held liable for that. I also don’t see a landlord being held liable if someone you let into your apartment assaults you.

  • “The Landlady is lucky that the former tenants don’t publish her address and information about the crime. Who’d want to rent a place where a crime was commited.”

    Which is further reason why both sides of this story should be considered. The landlord could easily end up in a difficult financial position should this become common knowledge through no fault of their own. I hope that the victim does not decide to retaliate in this way.

    “If the victim is still in a bind, and without family/friend resources, we as a community could throw her a benefit to put her right again. Who cares about the would have, should have, could have. Let’s just take care of our own when another member of our community is not.”

    This is something to which I would gladly contribute. But the burden should not rest solely on the landlord who is not responsible for the crime any more than you or I.

  • It would actually be better business sense for the landlord to return the security deposit because the word of mouth will end up losing the landlord tens of thousands of dollars more than the security deposit.

  • @Anon, so basically you’re saying the landlord should respond to blackmail.

  • The landlord had an obligation to mitigate once she was notified that you intended to break your lease. This would entail starting the process of looking for new tenants. However the court would conclude that a two months of searching for new tenants would be reasonable thus you losing security deposit and one months rent. You broke the terms and agreement of the lease all issues aside.

  • Aargh, just had a longer, more well-thought out post gobbled up by WordPress, but have to say that the landlord doesn’t seem to be the monster some of you think she is, at least not on these facts. Her sole sin seems to be two weeks of foot-dragging in finding a new tenant, but as a landlord, I can tell you that finding an acceptable tenant at the same rent rate in the middle of April in a craptastic economy isn’t that easy. That hardly rises to the level of conduct that would merit public shame. Unless the landlord was somehow at fault for the horrible crime — by failing to fix a broken exterior door lock or something — I don’t see why she should be left holding the bag.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I have received a number of emails from folks wishing to donate money. I asked the couple and they are super grateful for your kindness. They explained that it was more the principle than the money that has upset them. For those that would like to give money they have requested that you donate to the DC Rape Crisis Center. You can donate here:

  • They went to small claims court on principle? A principle which seems kinda muddy at best? Damn. That’s a lot of effort to prove a point, and basically punish someone who didn’t really do anything wrong.

  • Jamie seems to be a voice of reason….

  • Anon, are you really that dense? I imagine that the money was not immaterial to them, but that they had the resources (savings, family, etc) to withstand the blow and unselfishly figured donations would be better spent helping a larger number of people via a non-profit that does good work.

    On another note, I’m surprised by the accounts of it taking 2+ months to rent an apt in DC. At least from my experience on the tenant side, it seems to me that a Metro-accessible apartment offered at a reasonable rate will draw multiple applications and a tenant can be found within a month at most. It’s been almost a year since I’ve looked so maybe things are different now with the recession.

  • @L, PoP said: “They explained that it was more the principle than the money that has upset them.”

    So…. how would I read that in any way other than the money is not important?

    If the victim is not interested in recouping this loss in any way OTHER than from the landlord it just seems vindictive to me. Nothing I have read has said the landlord was negligent in any way in this situation. So why do you think this is justified? Why do you think, if the victim doesn’t really need the money, and is not interested in getting it from the community, that the innocent landlord should have to pay? What did the landlord do to deserve this?

  • I think everyone here is being far far too harsh on the couple. the landlord is running a business and business people need to be prepared to deal with these issues which are their responsiblity alone, even if they’re not really at fault. This is why businesses carry insurance. this landlord’s poor business sense is wildly unprofessional.

    I think some of you who never owned a business are cutting her much too much slack here.

  • @ Anon, because if the landlord had acted promptly to replace the tenant they likely could have avoided any financial loss at all. I agree that they’re not at fault for the rape.

  • @Jamie is completely on point. It is not easy being a landlord.

  • @neener so basically you think that if someone skips out on rent, that we should say “that’s OK because the landlord should have deadbeat tenant insurance?”

    Replace the current circumstances with any other reason why someone breaks their lease. Would you come in on the side of the deadbeat tenant? Your argument supports that just as well.

  • @L actually the soft rental market has been pretty well documented this year, with many multi-unit properties having to make major (2+ months free) concessions to lure tenants. I wrote about it in the context of rent negotiations and the Washington Post wrote about the difficulties of attracting renters in this article in August.

  • Actually I think Jamie is definitely the voice of reason.

    @neener, I’m sure business insurance wouldn’t cover the landlord in this situation.
    At the end of the day, the landlord/business owner has to cover a bottom line.
    If I let my bleeding heart run my business, I think I would have shut my doors a long time ago.

  • As long as I’m not @voiceofreason…

  • only one.

  • asking the landlord to pay their rent is the same as asking one of you to do it.

    she is under no obligation to do so.

    so which one of yall is gonna pay the month’s rent in its entirety?

  • Neener:

    There’s no insurable covered loss here under any real property owner’s fire, extended and v.m.m. or special multi peril insurance policy. There’s no property loss here; no insurable covered loss; thus no claim for loss of rent can be made under these circumstances.

    What could have transpired is that the landlord and the tenant worked together and accommodated each other recognizing each other’s situation:

    The landlord acting promptly upon notice given, and the tenant allowing for showing the property to facilitate finding a new tenant as soon as possible so as there not being a loss of rent, or at least a limited one, providing for a seamless transition to this lamentable situation with the landlord being able to return any unused deposit.

  • I’m not a lawyer but in my opinion a rape is like a murder. If a landlord doesn’t want to lose rental income, he/she should have some kind of extraordinary circumstance insurance to cover it. Just like when a tree falls on one’s house…

  • @ Neener — as a small-time landlord of two units, I can tell you that the only real way I insure against loss is by being picky in tenant selection and writing a damn good lease. The first part of this is not renting to people with bad credit, an unstable rental history, or for whom I get bad references from previous landlords. It’s never first-come, first-served in response to craigslist ads. Due diligence is in order. The way I account for situations that may arise is in my lease, the second part of the equation. That’s how I cover myself and agree with the tenant ahead of time how we will resolve any bad things that may happen. Once a lease is in place, it’s not my “responsibility alone,” because we’ve reached agreement about allocating responsibility in advance. I’m actually quite surprised by the landlord above who says she puts in her lease a “don’t feel safe” clause, as that seems to me an open-ended invitation for the tenant to break the lease, but if that was really important to a good tenant, I would work on something similar for one of my leases.

    That also explains why I agree with others that it’s not easy to rent a place in DC. Sure, I see a dozen or more applications every time I post one my units for rent, but some of them clearly don’t have the income to pay the rent, some offer references who tell me they would never rent to them again, some carry credit card debt month-to-month in the thousands of dollars, etc.. In other words, it’s clear they are likely deadbeats or at least a risk for me, and I don’t rent to them. I don’t want to end up in court to protect my interest, whether in an understandable situation like this or just because the tenant flaked. So regarding this landlord’s duty to mitigate, I don’t at all think it means she had a duty to just take the first person to respond to a rental posting and live with that for the duration of a new lease. It means finding somebody who is as good a prospective tenant as the current people and who will pay rent equal to what they were paying.

  • She had a moral duty not to screw this couple- can we agree on that? She failed to not harm them, correct? She passed the buck onto them, yes? They we agree.

  • asking the landlord to pay their rent is the same as asking one of you to do it.

    Any landlord that has to pay rent on a house they own isn’t doing it right.

  • @Jamie, I guess it’s blackmail, but that’s how all business are run. If a company treats a customer badly, that customer will tell other people. Those people will most likely decide that the company isn’t worth their money, and will therefore no longer do business with that company, losing that company far more money in the long run than had the company done right by the first customer and lost less money in the short term. Really, it’s the company’s fault for not treating their customers decently.

  • I’m no lawyer, but isn’t this landlady incredibly fortunate that she wasn’t named in a civil suit by the victim? If the crime occurred inside the rental property, then one could probably make the case that the landlord failed to provide adequate security, locks, alarm system, etc. at the building in question.

  • No Neener, “we” don’t agree with your pronouncements.

    I think we can agree that the couple went through a traumatic event and made the right choice to move out. That is paramount, and I hope they have the support they need and a new environment to help in their healing.

    But we don’t know that the landlord was negligent, or failed to provide adequate security. We don’t know that the landlord was being unreasonable in this situation.

    @Ryan, you can file a civil suit for just about anything (ref the great missing pants dry cleaner civil suit) and name whomever you want. It’s the American way. The fact that a crime occurred doesn’t mean the landlord is responsible, or that a civil suit will provide any relief.

  • If you’re curious, the suspect in the sexual assault, George Leroy Clowers, is currently out on $1000 bond and has had his initial hearing rescheduled three times, initially due to a lack of defense counsel (he’s getting a public defender). His preliminary hearing is now scheduled for 11/18. He has a ‘stay away order’ presumably to keep him from the area of the assault, though these are almost never enforced as far as I know. So, the original posters, if they are not aware, should know he is out and about. He also has numerous prior cases dating back to when he turned 18 (he’s 25 now), not sure how many are violent but at least a couple are.

    You can learn this sort info here:

    Note the search is slow as molasses and often fails, much like the court system it represents.

  • Neener,

    I “own” a house. However, since it’s a mortgage – I essentially pay rent to the bank every month. I may buy another house (since I now have kids) to live in. If I’m able to rent the house I currently “own”, I will need to cover the “rent” I have to pay the bank.

    If I don’t get rent, I won’t make my mortgage payment. Does this mean I’m planning on doing it wrong? My calculations are: Rental income on old house * 75% >= mortgage on old house + increase in mortgage on new house (from not selling old house). As a basic rule, if I expect tenant turn over every year: I will have to pay one months rent on repainting; wait a month (or more) to get a new tenant in. This does not include other costs like insurance; other routine repair.

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