District of Columbia (D.C.) Eviction Process
November 15, 2023
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Eviction In D.C.
If you own and rent properties in the District of Columbia, you are responsible for complying with D.C. eviction laws. This often means working closely with the US Marshals Service during the eviction process, which has jurisdiction over executing evictions rather than the local sheriff’s office or other law enforcement agency.
In this article, we break down each step of the legal process for eviction in D.C.
D.C.’s eviction laws can be found at D.C. Code § 42-3505.01.
D.C. Eviction Process
- Landlord serves a 30-day eviction notice.
- Landlord files an eviction lawsuit with the court.
- Court serves tenant a summons.
- Tenant files an answer.
- Landlord and tenant attend court hearing and receive judgment.
- Tenant gets three days to move out.
- The U.S. Marshals Service returns to forcibly remove the tenant.
In D.C., tenants can be evicted for failing to pay at least $600 in rent, violating a lease term, or performing an illegal act on the premises. Tenants can also be removed for external reasons, such as a sale or planned demolition of the property.
1. Landlord Serves a 30-Day Eviction Notice
The first step in the D.C. eviction process is serving a formal notice. If any of the above lease violations occur, the landlord must first serve a D.C. eviction notice and state that the tenant has 30 days to remedy or cure the violation:
- Rent Demand Notice: 30 days to pay or quit. If the tenant owes at least $600 in rent, the landlord may deliver this notice stating the amount of unpaid rent required to remedy the breach and the date on which the lease will terminate if it is not paid (not less than 30 days after receipt of the notice) (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(a-1)(1)).
- Lease Violation Notice: 30 days to cure or quit. If a tenant violates a lease term, the landlord may deliver this notice stating the breach and what is required to remedy it, as well as the date on which the lease will terminate if the tenant does not cure the breach (not less than 30 days after receipt of the notice) (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(b)).
- Unconditional Notice to Quit: 30 days to quit. If a court has determined that the tenant has performed an illegal act in the rental unit, the landlord may send this notice stating the breach and that the lease will terminate in 30 days. The landlord is not required to provide any opportunity to cure the breach. The tenant can only be evicted if they knew or should have known that a criminal act was taking place (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(c)).
The following notices are for nonrenewal due to external reasons:
- Notice of Immediate and Personal Dwelling Use: 90 days to quit. If the landlord wants to recover possession of the unit because they intend to use it as their primary residence, they should serve the tenant a 90-day notice to quit (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(d)).
- Notice of Sale of Property: 90 days to quit. If the landlord intends to sell the rental unit to someone as their primary residence, the landlord must serve the tenant a 90-day notice to vacate (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(e)).
- Notice of Demolition of the Property or Discontinuation of Housing Use and Occupancy: 180 days to quit. If the landlord wants to recover possession because they plan to immediately demolish the property or to discontinue its use as a rental property, they must send the tenant a 180-day notice to vacate. For demolitions, the landlord must also file a copy of the demolition permit with the Rent Administrator and notify the tenant of their right to relocation assistance (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(g(1), i(1))).
- Notice of Alterations or Renovations: 120 days to quit. If the landlord wants to recover possession of the property for the purpose of making alterations or renovations to the rental unit that cannot be safely accomplished while the unit is occupied, the landlord must send a 120-day notice to vacate. The landlord will also need to include a notice of the tenant’s rights and send the plans for the renovations to the Rent Administrator and Chief Tenant Advocate (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(f(1)(A))).
- Notice for Substantial Rehabilitation: 120 days to quit. If the landlord wants to recover possession of the property to make immediate, substantial rehabilitations, they must send the tenant a 120-day notice to vacate. The landlord must also notify the tenant of their right to relocation assistance (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(h(1))).
Additional Rules for Nonpayment Cases:
- Nonpayment of late fees cannot be the basis for an eviction (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(a)(1)).
- The landlord must attach to the eviction notice a ledger showing the dates of rent charges and payments for the period of delinquency (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(a-1)(2)).
- Eviction proceedings will be stayed if a tenant submits documentation proving that they have a pending Emergency Rental Assistance Program application. The eviction will pause until a determination of funding has been made and, if approved, funding has been distributed to the landlord. No later than 48 hours prior to the scheduled eviction, the landlord should reschedule the eviction for no earlier than three weeks (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(r)(1)).
Additional Rules for All Evictions in D.C.
- If the landlord knows that English is not the tenant’s primary language, they must provide the eviction notice in the tenant’s primary language. If the landlord fails to do so, the court may dismiss the claim (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(a)(3)).
- The landlord cannot evict a tenant on certain days when the weather is bad. With exceptions for evictions based on illegal activity or immediate hardship to others, evictions in D.C. cannot occur on days when:
- The National Weather Service predicts at 8:00 a.m. that the temperature at the National Airport weather station will fall below freezing
- When precipitation is falling at the location of the property
For all evictions, the landlord may recover actual damages and reasonable attorney’s fees.
2. Landlord Files an Eviction Lawsuit with the Court
The next step in the D.C. eviction process is filing a complaint in court. If the tenant has not cured the breach by the end of the notice period (or if the violation is uncurable and the notice period expires), the landlord can then file a Verified Complaint (the eviction lawsuit) in D.C. Superior court. The specific form required depends on the nature of the eviction. Form 1A is for nonpayment of rent, Form 1B is for violations of obligations of tenancy or other grounds for eviction, and Form 1C is for nonpayment plus other grounds.
All three Verified Complaints include:
- The case number
- Both parties’ names, addresses, and contact information
- The basis for the eviction
- A verification that the landlord has the right to take possession of the property
- Whether or not the property is registered with the Rental Accommodations Division
- The landlord’s Basic Business License number and expiration date for the property
- The address of the rental unit
- The amount the tenant owes in rent/fees with the associated dates due and the monthly rent rate
- A verification that the tenant did not vacate the property after receiving a properly served written Notice of Intent to File a Claim, Notice to Vacate, Notice to Correct or Vacate, or a Notice to Quit.
- The tenant’s lease violation besides nonpayment (if applicable)
- The relief requested (judgment for possession, money judgment, protective order, etc.)
The initial hearing will be scheduled for 21 days after the complaint is filed, or 14 days for evictions based on illegal drug activity.
The landlord will also be required to pay a filing fee of $15.
3. Court Serves Tenant a Summons
After the landlord files a claim, the court will issue a summons demanding the tenant’s presence in court.
The Summons to Appear in Court (downloadable here) includes:
- The case number
- Basic information about both parties
- Information and instructions for the tenant about the landlord’s case to evict them, including a warning that failure to attend the hearing may result in a default judgment in the landlord’s favor
- The date and time of the eviction hearing.
In D.C., the summons and complaint must be served to the tenant in a particular manner. Landlords should carefully read the Superior Court’s Instructions for Serving the Landlord and Tenant Summons and Complaint and follow all court rules, including the following:
- Service must be made by a competent person at least 18 years old who is not a party in the case.
- The server must sign a Declaration of Service (downloadable here), which must be sworn before a notary public and filed with the court at least five days before the initial hearing date (excluding weekends and legal holidays).
- Service must be made at least seven days before the initial hearing day for most evictions (excluding Sundays and legal holidays), and only five days before the trial for drug-related evictions. Note: This requirement was previously 30 days due to emergency legislation passed during the coronavirus pandemic (D.C. Code § 16-1502, D.C. Law 24-39, D.C. Code § 42-3602(b)).
- Service must be made by 1) personal delivery, 2) substitute service to a resident at least 16 years old, or 3) posting a copy on a conspicuous place at premises AND mailing copies to the tenant (last resort).
- If the summons is served by posting a copy on the premises, the server must take a picture of the posted notice and submit the photograph to the D.C. Superior Court with a readable timestamp (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(a)(2)).
4. Tenant Files an Answer
In D.C., tenants are only required to file a written, verified answer to the complaint if they want to request a jury trial. In this case, the tenant must complete the Answer of Defendant (downloadable here) and write out an explanation as to why they should not be evicted and/or why the landlord is noncompliant with the lease or law. This will extend the eviction process by two weeks to provide the tenant enough time to file the verified answer. The tenant can still attend the hearing and present defenses orally without having filed an answer (D.C. Sup. Rules of L&T Branch, Rule 5-6).
5. Landlord and Tenant Attend Court Hearing and Receive Judgment
On the day of the eviction hearing, the landlord should bring copies of the lease agreement, the eviction notice with proof of service, the complaint, and any evidence of the lease violation. Both the landlord and tenant will present their cases and any evidence to the judge. If the landlord and tenant can’t come to an agreement and both parties have a good defense to the others’ claims, the judge may schedule a second trial, automatically set for at least ten days later.
However, if the judge determines that the tenant has no good defense to the eviction, the landlord will receive the judgment and be granted an order for restitution of the property. The court will issue a Writ of Restitution (downloadable here), which authorizes the tenant’s removal from the rental premises, after at least two days have passed since the judgment (D.C. Sup. Rules of L&T Branch, Rule 16(a)(2)).
The tenant can request a stay (delay) of the writ’s execution by filing an appeal to the judgment or posting a bond for the landlord’s security within three days of the date of judgment (D.C. Sup. Rules of L&T Branch, Rule 16(b)).
6. Tenant Gets Three Days to Move Out
In most states, the local sheriff’s office is responsible for executing the writ and removing the tenant during an eviction. D.C. is unique in that the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) is responsible for executing writs. The USMS updated its procedures in 2018 to ensure that evictions are carried out safely, compassionately, and professionally.
To get the judgment executed, the landlord needs to file the writ in Landlord and Tenant Court. They will need to present their current business license for rental housing (doesn’t apply to complaints involving subtenants) (D.C. Code § 42-3505.01(q)). Then, the writ must be forwarded to the U.S. Marshals office so that the eviction can be scheduled. The USMS will make at least three attempts to schedule evictions by phone with the landlord (after the third failed attempt, the writ will be cancelled).
Once the eviction is scheduled successfully, notice of the eviction will be sent to the tenant by first class mail, along with other relevant information. The writ’s lifespan is 75 days, meaning the execution must occur within 75 days, but the tenant gets three days’ notice to move out once the writ is posted. If there is a money judgment in addition to the judgment for possession, the execution will be automatically stayed for at least 10 days (D.C. Sup. Rules of L&T Branch, Rule 16(e)). No evictions can occur on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, or judicial training days (US Marshals).
7. The U.S. Marshal Service Returns to Forcibly Remove the Tenant
If the tenant has not moved out by the end of the specified period, an officer from the U.S. Marshal’s office will return to execute the writ, forcibly remove the tenant, and restore possession of the property to the landlord.
Note that the landlord will need to pay a combined fee of $213 for the writ’s issuance, administrative costs, and execution by the U.S. Marshals Office.
Evicting a Squatter in D.C.
A squatter is a person who moves into a vacant or abandoned property without getting permission from the owner or paying rent. Squatters can usually be charged as criminal trespassers and be evicted like any other tenant. However, some squatters can receive the right to possession by meeting certain state-determined criteria. In D.C., squatters must have occupied the property and paid property taxes for 15 continuous years to invoke D.C. squatters rights and claim right of possession (D.C. Code § 16-1113). Their possession must also be:
- Hostile/Adverse—The squatter must not have a valid lease with the owner
- Actual—The squatter must be actively residing on the property
- Open and Notorious—The squatter is openly and obviously living there.
- Exclusive—The squatter does not share possession of the property with anyone else.
- Continuous—The squatter must hold continuous and uninterrupted possession.
While relatively rare, if a squatter meets all these criteria, they have “color of title”: the right of legal ownership without having a written deed to the property. They can file an action for adverse possession in D.C. to legally obtain the title to the property. However, in most cases, a squatter will not meet the criteria and can be removed. If you think a squatter is living in your vacant property in D.C., you should:
- Call local law enforcement.
- Determine whether the person is a trespasser or a squatter.
- If the person is a trespasser, they can be removed immediately by a police officer.
- If the person is a squatter, you must contact the sheriff’s office.
- Send the squatter an eviction notice as per D.C. law on eviction.
- If the squatter does not vacate the premises by the end of the notice period, file for eviction and follow the typical eviction process.
- Only the sheriff can physically remove a squatter from your property. You cannot do so, and neither can a police officer.
D.C. Eviction Cost Estimates
This chart shows estimates of the approximate cost of the eviction process, according to civil procedure in the state and iPropertyManagement. A highly accurate estimate of an eviction is impossible to provide, as cases and circumstances vary so widely. Remember to factor in other losses due to an eviction as well, such as lost rent, time, and stress.
|Jury Demand (optional)||$75|
|Service of court summons||Varies by process server|
|Issuance, service, and execution of writ of restitution||$213|
|Notice of appeal filing fee||$100|
|Average locksmith fees||$160|
|Storage fees for abandoned property||Varies|
|Tenant turnover costs||Varies|
D.C. Eviction Time Estimates
The chart below shows an estimate of the duration of each part of eviction process timeline. Keep in mind that the length of eviction cases varies widely depending on the complexity of the eviction, the court’s current caseload, and whether or not the tenant contests or appeals the lawsuit.
|Eviction notice period||30-180 days|
|Service of summons||5-7 days before hearing|
|Affidavit of service due||5 days before hearing|
|Tenant response period (if jury trial requested)||2 weeks|
|Initial eviction hearing||14-21 days after complaint is filed|
|Issuance of writ of restitution||2 days after judgment|
|Time to request a stay of execution||3 days after judgment|
|Time to quit after writ is posted||3 days|
|Automatic stay for monetary judgments||10 days|
- Verified Complaint for Possession of Real Property – Form 1A (Nonpayment of Rent – Residential Property)
- Verified Complaint for Possession of Real Property – Form 1B (Violation of Obligations of Tenancy or Other Grounds for Eviction – Residential Property)
- Verified Complaint for Possession of Real Property – Form 1C (Nonpayment of Rent and Other Grounds for Eviction – Residential Property)
- Summons to Appear in Court
- Declaration of Service
- Answer of Defendant
- Writ of Restitution
- U.S. Marshals Service website – Information for landlords about scheduling an eviction and the associated procedures and rules.
- Landlord Tenant Matters Forms – Downloadable copies of the various landlord-tenant forms that may be required in D.C.
- D.C. Superior Court Rules of Rules of Procedure for the Landlord & Tenant Branch – The specific rules of civil procedure and court policies in D.C.
The eviction process in any state can be long and complex, so hiring an eviction attorney is advised in most cases. It’s also important to note that municipalities and local governments often have stricter laws and requirements for landlords, so be sure to check local statutes as well as state ones. However, by reviewing the legal procedures and D.C. laws on eviction, you can feel more confident pursuing an eviction in this state.
Innago does not provide legal advice. The content and materials provided in this article are for general informational purposes only and may not be the most up-to-date information.