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September 9, 1993


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. Curtis E. von Kann, Motions Judge), (Hon. Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Trial Judge)

Before Terry and Farrell, Associate Judge, and Mack, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry

TERRY, Associate Judge: In this landlord-tenant case, the tenant appeals from a judgment of possession in favor of the landlord. Appellant makes several claims of error, all but one of which are either without merit or not properly before this court. The one exception is her contention that the trial court erred in failing to allow a Drayton stay *fn1 to remain in effect pending a final decision in her administrative appeal before the Rental Housing Commission (RHC). We agree with this contention and, accordingly, reverse the judgment and remand this case with instructions to reimpose the Drayton stay.


This suit, for possession of an apartment formerly occupied by appellant, *fn2 was filed by the landlord on January 24, 1989, after appellant had failed to pay rent due under her lease. Several weeks later, on March 14, appellant filed a complaint against the landlord with the Rental Accommodations and Conversion Division (RACD) of the District of Columbia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the agency which regulates rental housing in the District of Columbia. In her RACD complaint, appellant alleged that the landlord was not properly registered with the RACD as a provider of rental housing and had imposed an illegal rent increase during her tenancy. See D.C. Code §§ 45-2515 (f), 45-2516 (a) (1990). On March 28 a Judge in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the Superior Court stayed this litigation, pursuant to Drayton, pending a decision by the RACD in the administrative proceeding.

On August 7, 1991, an RACD hearing examiner dismissed appellant's administrative complaint. Because the landlord had filed an amended registration form with the RACD in response to an interim order, appellant's first claim had become moot. In addition, the hearing examiner ruled that the challenged rent increase was exempt from the local rent control statute because the mortgage on appellant's apartment building was federally subsidized. See D.C. Code § 45-2515 (a)(1) (1990). Appellant appealed to the RHC on August 23 from the decision of the RACD hearing examiner.

Approximately one month later, on September 26, 1991, the landlord filed a motion in the trial court to lift the Drayton stay. Following a hearing on October 8, attended only by counsel for the landlord, the court granted the motion and lifted the stay. Appellant's motion for reconsideration was denied, the court noting that it had granted the motion to lift the stay because appellant had not appeared in court to oppose it. *fn3 However, since the earlier ruling had been based on appellant's lack of opposition rather than on the merits, the court allowed appellant to make an oral motion at trial to reimpose the stay. A trial was held on November 25 on the landlord's complaint for possession, and at the end of it judgment was entered for the landlord. *fn4

Before this court appellant raises numerous challenges to the proceedings before the RACD and in the trial court. She contends (1) that the RACD hearing examiner erred in finding that the landlord had properly registered with the RACD; (2) that the hearing examiner erred in concluding that the rent increase imposed by the landlord was not subject to the local rent control statute; (3) that the trial court improperly admitted certain evidence (unspecified exhibits offered by the landlord); (4) that the trial Judge was "predisposed" against her; (5) that the trial court erred in lifting the Drayton stay while her appeal to the RHC from the RACD decision was pending; and (6) that the trial court erred in failing to notify her of the hearing at which it granted the landlord's motion to lift the Drayton stay. We address each of these contentions in turn.


Appellant's first two arguments, concerning whether the landlord was properly registered with the RACD and whether her apartment was exempt from the rent control statute because it was federally subsidized, raise issues related exclusively to her administrative complaint before the RACD. Appellant's challenges to the RACD examiner's rulings on these issues, however, were not properly before the trial court and cannot be raised in this appeal, which is limited to a review of what happened in the landlord and tenant court. A party contesting any decision of the RACD cannot seek direct review of that decision in either the Superior Court or this court, but must first take an appeal to the RHC, as appellant has done. The final decision of the RHC may then, and only then, be brought directly to this court by the filing of a petition for review under D.C. Code § 1-1510 (a) (1992). Appellant's claims that the landlord is not properly registered with RACD and that the rent increase of which she complains is subject to the requirements of the rent control law must therefore be litigated first before the RHC, and can only be brought to this court if she seeks review of the RHC's final decision, which so far she has apparently not done. *fn5

As for appellant's third and fourth claims of error -- her argument that the trial court erroneously admitted into evidence certain exhibits (not identified) offered by the landlord and her assertion that the trial Judge was "predisposed" -- we cannot resolve these claims because the record is too meager to enable us to do so. In particular, the record does not contain a transcript of the trial, which we would have to review in order to determine whether any error occurred in the course of the trial. Because any trial court judgment is presumed to be valid, "it is appellant's duty to present this court with a record sufficient to show affirmatively that error occurred." Cobb v. Standard Drug Co., 453 A.2d 110, 111 (D.C. 1982) (citations omitted). This means, specifically, that it was appellant's duty in this case to ensure that a transcript was prepared by the court reporter and included in the record. The lack of a transcript is fatal to appellant's claims of trial error. We have no way of deciding whether the challenged exhibits were properly or improperly admitted; we do not even know what they were. Likewise, lacking a transcript, we cannot determine whether the trial Judge was "predisposed" against appellant as she asserts. *fn6

This brings us to the one contention of appellant that does have merit: her challenge to the lifting of the Drayton stay.


Appellant argues that the trial court erred in lifting the Drayton stay pending the outcome of her appeal from the RACD decision to the RHC. We agree. In the Drayton case, (supra) note 1, this court held that "when there is pending before the or RHC a challenge to a rent increase that bears upon the amount of rent owed by a tenant defending a possessory action brought for nonpayment of rent," the doctrine of primary jurisdiction requires the landlord and tenant court to "stay the action to await the ruling of the or, if an appeal is taken to the RHC, then of that body." 462 A.2d at 1120 (footnote omitted; emphasis added). This means that the landlord had no right to have the stay lifted while appellant's ...

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