“Help Regarding an Unlawful Eviction”

Photo by PoPville flickr user nevermindtheend

Ed. Note: Info from the office of the tenant advocate can be found here

“Dear PoPville,

Here’s the deal:

1) I paid two months advance rent and a security deposit, all totalling 6400, to occupy a single family home with an illegal basement unit.The landlord did not have an active license at the time he rented the unit but acquired roughly two months later, after I called the matter to his attention. However, I signed a one year lease which began in August 2014.

2) At the time of renting the place, the landlord said that he intended to rent the basement, and there was an ad for the unit on Craigslist at the same time my apartment was on the market. The landlord said that he would charge me $200 in rent per month to cover my half of the utilities. However, I discovered and brought to his attention that he only had license to rent the unit as a single family home per zoning restrictions for the area.

3) I was in the process of selling my primary residence and so I spent several evenings preparing at my old place, preparing it for sale. Also, the chemicals used to clean the carpet exacerbated by allergies and caused rash breakouts for my 3 year old daughter. While I was away, the landlord entered the property several times without any notice – once to clean the carpet, once to turn out the lights.

4) My house did not close on the scheduled date, and I was a little hard on cash, so I was unable to pay November rent. Just before Thanksgiving, I noticed that the landlord shifted my daughters toys and cleaned the carpet – again wihtout notice.

5) Two days after Thanksgiving, the landlord sent a text message to tell me that he had moved my things to the basement of the apartment. I texted back asking why. He phoned back and told me that he needed to move my things because he had rented the place to another person. He said I could arrange to meet him at the basement to retrieve my furniture and personal belongings.

6) I am scheduled to close on my house on December 5th, and I now have no place to stay because the landlord has moved my things and rented my place to someone else.

And so now…. I am freaked out trying to find another place. I wonder if I have any recourse or what steps I can take against the landlord. I have never been in this situation before, and I would greatly appreciate receiving any help or advice that Popvillians can offer.


21 Comment

  • If the facts of the case are as stated, this landlord has violated a bunch of DC laws & regulations. You need to call the Office of Tenant Advocate and DCRA today.

  • Go straight to the Office of the Tenant Advocate


  • This sounds like a self-help eviction, which is illegal in DC. I’d recommend getting as much as you can in writing, particularly the text messages where he says he moved your stuff out of the apartment, and the Craigslist ads showing he was trying to rent it while you were there. I’d contact the Office of the Tenant advocate or I’d go to the landlord/tenant center at the DC Courthouse. Contact info for both is on this list:


  • Remember to update us later, OP!

  • The reason for eviction is legal (30 day non payment, no notice required) but the method was illegal. You have a right to go to court.

    • Notice is required unless the lease specifically states there is a waiver for non-payment of rent. If there is, then you don’t need to wait 30 days before starting the eviction process. Obviously methods were illegal.
      OP- you signed a year lease, but you’re buying a home in Dec….what is/was your plan regarding the apartment? He already broke your lease, so you should be fine now, but it seems like you’re have over 6 months of overlap without the illegal eviction.

  • Did you ever get around to paying your November rent? The landlord might have violated some laws but that doesn’t mean you can’t pay your rent. Also, it seems that you knew going into the lease that he wasn’t on the up and up. Just curious why you went ahead and signed the lease anyway,

  • You do not sound like an ideal tenant. You sound like a pain in the neck that doesn’t pay his rent. Maybe if you hadn’t called your landlord out on the legal issues which have no bearing on your safety or the habitability of the rental he wouldn’t have been so eager to get you out of there. Did you let your landlord know you were going to ‘be late’ with the rent? Sure he was in the wrong to evict you the way he did but you alienated him from the get-go and I imagine you’ll go after him and be successful la di da. Your need right now is that you get a place to live but the way you’ve represented yourself there’s probably not going to be a landlord who reads this blog who will lend a helping hand fearing that that he might well be bitten.

    • Lisa, don’t be an arse.

      • It needed to be said.

      • Lisa isn’t being an arse. Both the tenant and the landlord acted badly. DC tenant protection laws are absurdly weighted toward the tenant (and I say this having been on both sides of landlord/tenant disputes), with the result that, even ignoring this landlord’s other violations, the OP could likely stay in the apartment for 8 months or more no problem without paying rent simply because the legal process to evict, even for non-payment is so difficult, long, and so weighted against the landlord. Self-help evictions are illegal, as are several other things this landlord did, so he’s especially screwed (in significant part its his own fault, of course).

        Bottom line for the OP is that he or she can definitely remain in the apartment and the office of tenant advocate can help, as can any number of non-profits. Morally (and even legally – not that it’s enforced in DC in any meaningful way), the OP still has to pay rent despite the landlord’s violations. Also, it was, in my opinion, morally wrong not to pay November’s rent on time – it’s not the landlord’s problem that your house didn’t close on time.

        In general, if DC landlord/tenant laws were more balanced, more landlords would enter the market with less than luxury rentals, rents would come down, and landlords would generally be more lenient with people who have bad credit histories, or don’t pay on time always. As it is currently, a smart DC landlord will never take a chance on someone with less than perfect credit, limited income, or any past mistakes – it’s just too hard and too expensive to evict if they end up not paying, or trashing the place, etc. DC’s system rewards bad landlords (slumlords who bribe the city and/or only rent to people who are at the margins of political power, but can charge high rents thanks to the limited number of options) and bad tenants (who can file endless frivolous legal claims, refuse to pay rent, trash the place, etc. and not be evicted for a long time…if ever). It’s a bad system for good landlords and good tenants though.

        But in the end maybe OP and his/her landlord will do fine! Neither seem to fall in the “good” category yet.

    • As a landlord, I absolutely agree with you. This particular landlord sounds like a colossal moron, but the OP also sounds like a bad tenant.
      I live in my home and rent out the basement apartment. No it is not a legal separate unit, but it’s extremely nicely renovated and I myself would live there (heck it’s a nicer renovation than the upstairs is currently). I take care of anything my tenant needs as quickly as possible and I’d say they’re getting a very good deal (seeing as utilities are included and I charge a bit below market rate for my area). It is this type of tenant that gives me major pause and hence why I require a thorough screening process and past landlord references. OP, people like you make it hard on all the decent landlords and renters.

      • +1. The OP sounds like a nightmare tenant. When the landlord said that he would charge $200/month to cover the OP’s share of utilities, the OP should have suggested paying half of the actual cost (which would vary from month to month) instead. Responding with “Oh, I see you aren’t licensed to rent out that basement anyway!” was a needlessly inflammatory gesture.

        • Tough shit. That’s the law of the land and anyone who decides to enter the rental market is responsible for following it. Last I checked, being an ass isn’t illegal. Yes, this woman is far from the perfect landlord. But she, as a tenant, has legal rights, and the landlord completely ignored her rights in this case.

          • The basement unit not being licensed had nothing to do with what the landlord was asking for utilities. It’s not even clear what the OP wanted as an alternative — not paying any utilities at all?
            Being an ass isn’t illegal, but it can have consequences. Unless you thrive on conflict, it’s not a good idea to be an ass to your landlord (or to your tenant(s), if you’re a landlord).

          • If I was landlord and screening the the tenant for the lease and they balked about the illegal basement unit that was soon to be rented prior to signing the lease, I sure as hell wouldn’t be renting to them. That’s a huge red flag that they are going to be a royal pain and not worth my energy. Landlords evaluate ability to pay first, but also ones that will create the least headaches for them during the course of the lease. We’re not all corporate money grubbing rental buildings with full time property managers. 100% agree on the illegal eviction however.

          • Are both the tenant and landlord females? I missed this in the reading….

  • Thanks Popville, for the feedback and support. I greatly appreciate it.

    I’m not sure that I qualify as an asshole simply because I hit hard times and possessed slight knowledge about licensing requirements for rental units. Hitting hard times can happen even to the best us. And, intelligence is not cause for indictment.

    I think it is safe to say that neither the landlord nor I wanted this outcome when we first entered the lease agreement. I hope and trust that all will end well.

    • Hard times can fall onto a landlord too, especially when they rely on the additional income to pay a mortgage or if someone causes them legal troubles for profit (i.e. something I’ve experienced: people refusing to leave your unit for months, not paying rent, and the courts making you pay them to leave due to “squatters rights).

      Not saying you did take advantage, but it can be hard being a landlord in this town…. you need to be careful who you let live in your home and I would probably feel paranoid due if you threatened me about the basement status from the get go. I feel like people think of all landlords as people who have a lot of money. I rent part of my home because I couldn’t afford my bills without doing so, and when someone doesn’t pay rent or it goes unrented for a month, it’s a burden.

      And most basements in DC aren’t legal. I would love for mine to be, but I don’t have the $ to spend thousands digging out my entire basement floor to make the ceiling 1.5” taller.

    • Is that all you took away from this? Indicting you because of your intelligence? Calling you an a** because you hit hard times? Neither of those things occurred. Please reread the responses because they have some valuable lessons for you.

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