Retaliatory actions by landlords should never be considered as viable solutions for disagreements or problems with tenants. Unfortunately, some landlords may take an action that they feel is justified but is in fact retaliatory. Make sure that you understand which actions are considered retaliatory. A review of the D.C. statute on this subject is helpful.

What you cannot do

Per D.C. Code § 42-3505.02, the landlord can not take any retaliatory action against a tenant who exercises any right conferred to them by any provision of law. Examples of retaliatory actions are:

  • Any action or proceeding which is not permitted by law, where the landlord attempts to recover possession of a rental unit;
  • any action which would unlawfully increase rent, decrease services, increase the obligation of tenant, or constitute undue or unavoidable inconvenience;
  • any action that violates the tenant’s privacy or harasses tenant;
  • any action that reduces the quality or quantity of service to tenant;
  • any refusal to honor a lease or rental agreement or any provision of a lease or rental agreement, or any refusal to renew a lease or rental agreement;
  • any action to terminate a tenancy without cause;
  • any other form of threat or coercion.

Retaliatory actions presumed

Timing is important when determining if an action by the landlord is retaliatory. When trying to determine if an action taken by the landlord against a tenant is retaliatory in nature, the “trier of fact” (i.e. a court of competent jurisdiction) will automatically presume that retaliatory action has been taken, and will enter a judgment in the tenant’s favor unless the landlord comes forward with clear and convincing evidence to rebut this presumption of retaliatory action, and if the tenant has done one of the following within the six months preceding the landlord’s action:

  1. Tenant has made a witnessed oral or written request to landlord to make repairs which are necessary to bring the housing accommodation or the rental unit into compliance with the housing regulations.
  2. Tenant has contacted appropriate officials of the District government, either orally with a witness or in writing, concerning existing violations of the housing regulations for the premises being rented or pertaining to the housing accommodation in which the premises is located, or tenant has reported to officials suspected violations which, if confirmed, would render the premises or housing accommodation in noncompliance with the housing regulations.
  3. Tenant has legally withheld all or part of their rent after having given a reasonable notice to landlord, either orally with a witness or in writing, of a violation of the housing regulations.
  4. Tenant has organized, been a member of, or been involved in any lawful activities pertaining to a tenant organization.
  5. Tenant has made an effort to secure or enforce any of their rights under the lease or contract with the housing provider.
  6. Tenant has brought legal action against landlord.