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Legal Resources

October 12, 2017

What makes a person a tenant?

In general, if a person has paid rent or has agreed to pay rent to live somewhere, then that person is a tenant.

  • This is true even if the person is only using part of a house or apartment, such as when a person is sleeping on your couch.
  • Rent is usually money. A person can also "pay" rent by doing work or giving things to the person they are renting from.

If a person has never paid money, done work for you, or given you something of value AND they never agreed to do any of those things, then he or she is probably not a tenant. However, if a person has agreed to pay, do work, or give you something of value in exchange for living in your home, they may be considered a tenant even if they have never done anything to keep this agreement.

  • For example, if someone promised to pay you $500 per month to sleep in your spare room, that person may be a tenant even if he or she never paid even $1 in rent since they moved in.

Can someone be a tenant even if there is no written lease?

Yes. An agreement to rent a property does not need to be in writing.

  • A person can become a tenant through a verbal agreement.
  • A person can become a tenant based on the way he or she acts and how the other person responds. For example, if a person gives the owner money on a regular basis and the owner accepts it, that might create a landlord-tenant relationship.

What if we have a written agreement that says that the person living in my house is NOT a tenant?

That type of agreement can be helpful. But, if the person is paying rent, he or she may still be considered a tenant, no matter what the agreement says. The court would look at what is really happening, not just what the person was called in the lease.

What if we have a written agreement that says that a person is a tenant only for a certain amount of time and that time is now over?

In this case you will still need to file a lawsuit in landlord tenant court. This is true even if the time in the agreement is now over.

The person I want to evict is a co-tenant on my lease. Is that person a tenant or something else?

If you and another person are co-tenants on the lease because you both signed the lease as tenants, you will both have an equal right to live in the property. Co-tenants usually cannot evict each other, even if one of the co-tenants stops paying the rent or is violating the lease that they both signed.

Can I lock a guest out and put the guest's property on the street?

The safest way to remove a guest from your property is to use the court process. There are several reasons why it may be a bad idea to use self-help eviction to remove a guest from your home.

  • You may be risking your personal safety if the guest becomes angry or violent during or after the eviction.
  • If the police need to be called because the eviction is causing a disturbance, they may stop the eviction and direct you to let the guest move back into your home. The police may also direct you to go to court to evict the guest.
  • Judgments for wrongful eviction can be a large amount of money and can include: reimbursement for living costs while the guest was out of the property, lost or stolen personal property, pain and suffering, and, if the tenant can prove that you acted recklessly or maliciously, additional damages to punish you for the illegal eviction.

You can protect yourself from these problems by using the court process to evict your guest.

How do I evict a Tenant through the court?

You can file an eviction case in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of D.C. Superior Court.

  • You can file a complaint on a Verified Complaint for Possession of Real Estate on Landlord and Tenant Form 1B, along with a Summons on Landlord and Tenant Form 1S.
  • After these forms are filled out, take them to the Landlord and Tenant Clerk's Office, 510 4th Street, NW, Room 110, Washington, DC 20001.
  • After you file the Complaint and Summons, you will need to have someone over the age of 18 serve the papers.
  • The person who serves the guest needs to fill out an Affidavit of Service that explains how the papers were given to the guest.
  • Your first court date will be about 3 weeks after you file your Complaint and Summons.

Do I need to put any special information on the court papers if I am a tenant myself, rather than the owner of the property?

In Paragraph 2 of the Complaint, a tenant who is evicting a guest can check the box "is not the Landlord, Owner, or Personal Representative but has the right to demand possession." You can then explain on the line provided that you are the lawful tenant and that the guest is a person who refuses to leave your home.

Do I need to give my guest a 30-day notice before I file an eviction case in the Landlord and Tenant Branch?

In general, you are only required to give a 30-day notice to quit to someone who is a tenant.

You are usually not required to give a guest a 30-day notice, no matter how long that person has lived in your home. Most of the time, you can sue to evict a guest as soon as you have asked the person to leave and they have refused to move out.

I filed a Complaint to have the guest evicted. What happens when I go to Court?

Make sure you arrive and are seated in the courtroom by 9:00 AM. The judge will explain how the process works and what help may be available.

The clerk will read the names of all parties who are scheduled to appear. You must answer "here" or "present" and state your name when your name is called. Make sure you can hear the clerk clearly. If you cannot hear, raise your hand and let the clerk know. If you miss your name and fail to answer, your case may be dismissed. If the defendant does not answer when the case is called, you can ask the clerk to enter a "default" against the guest.

If you do not hear your name during the roll call or you are late arriving to court and aren't sure if your name was called, you should speak to the clerk in the courtroom after the roll call is over and make sure that the clerk knows that you are present.

What happens if the Tenant does not come to court?

If the guest does not come to court on the initial hearing date, you can usually have a "default" entered against the guest during the morning roll call. In most cases, a default means that a judgment for possession will be entered after you file paperwork with the court proving that the defendant is not in the military.

In some cases, you are also required to present proof (called "ex parte" proof) of your case to the court before you can get a judgment for possession, even if the guest does not come to court or if the guest came to court but left or did not come back to court for a continued hearing.

If proof is required, the judge might set another court date about two weeks after your first one. If the guest does not come to court, the clerk will usually tell you if you need to appear in front of the judge after roll call. If you aren't sure, you can ask the clerk after the roll call is over what you should do next.

I have a judgment for possession. How long will it take until the tenant is evicted?

After you get a judgment for possession, you must wait two full business days before you can file a Writ of Restitution. A Writ of Restitution is a document that authorizes the U.S. Marshals Service to schedule an eviction.

After the Writ of Restitution is filed, the Clerk's Office sends the writ to the U.S. Marshals Service. The U.S. Marshals Service sends a copy of the writ to the tenant. The U.S. Marshals Service will call you to schedule the eviction. The soonest an eviction can take place is on the fourth business day after the writ is filed. The writ is valid for 75 days. If the guest is not evicted in the 75 days, then you will have to file a new (or "alias") writ.

Remember, the U.S. Marshals must be present during the eviction. However, the U.S. Marshals will not remove the guest's property. You will need to find or hire an eviction crew.