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King v. Jones


September 1, 1994


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. William C. Gardner, Trial Judge)

En Banc. Before Wagner, Chief Judge,* and Ferren, Terry, Steadman, Schwelb, Farrell, and King, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

PER CURIAM: King, a former tenant of the premises in question, appeals from a judgment of possession for the landlord, Jones, entered because of King's failure to comply with a protective order requiring him to pay $475.00 per month into the court registry while Jones's suit for possession was pending. King argues that the notice to cure or vacate was defective in that it failed to contain information which both a statute and a regulation require of a notice of intent to evict (as in this case) for a reason other than nonpayment of rent. See D.C. Code § 45-2551(a), (b) (1990); 14 DCMR § 4302.1 (July 1991). *fn1 Jones responded to this claim in the trial court by tendering a copy of the lease agreement, which on its face showed that the tenancy was a commercial one, hence exempt from the rent controls of the Rental Housing Act of 1985, D.C. Code § 45-2501 et seq., including the notice provisions. *fn2

The parties dispute at length on appeal the extent, if any, to which the trial court, before imposing the sanction of striking the tenant's pleadings and entering judgment for the landlord for violation of a protective order, see Davis v. Rental Associates, Inc., 456 A.2d 820 (D.C. 1983) (en banc) (plurality opinion); Mahdi v. Poretsky Management, Inc., 433 A.2d 1085 (D.C. 1981), must examine a notice to cure or vacate for its sufficiency in complying with the statute and regulation. We find it unnecessary to write broadly on this question, for we hold that the prima facie showing which Jones made of exemption from the statute by tendering the lease demonstrating the commercial nature of the tenancy was sufficient to permit imposition of the sanctions authorized by Davis and Mahdi. In this unique context of a protective order issued in landlord and tenant proceedings, *fn3 the trial court was not obliged to resolve a factual controversy engendered by King's assertion that, despite the facial character of the lease and tenancy, the landlord had permitted ("encouraged") him to use the premises partly for residential purposes. *fn4 We express no opinion as to what grounds, if any, not requiring resolution of factual disputes, a tenant may advance to counter the landlord's prima facie showing of compliance with (or exemption from) the notice requirements of the statute or regulation in order to forestall the imposition of sanctions for failure to make protective order payments.

Our decision in Jamison v. S. & H. Associates, 487 A.2d 619 (D.C. 1985), is consistent with this holding, for in that case the landlord made no prima facie showing sufficient to counter the tenant's claim that the landlord had misrepresented in its complaint the fact that the tenant had waived his right to a written notice to quit. Indeed, "the landlord's attorney did not dispute [the tenant's] allegations, but the court nevertheless granted the motion to strike the pleadings and entered a judgment for possession," id. at 620 (footnote omitted) -- a decision we reversed. In this case, the landlord countered the claim of residential tenancy by tendering the commercial lease; that was enough to end the inquiry into the issue of notice, given the tenant's conceded failure to make the protective order payments.

In Davis, supra, we went on to hold that, when a trial court exercises its "authority to impose sanctions, including the entry of judgment for the landlord in a case where the tenant fails to abide by the protective order, the trial court must carefully examine several specific factors before deciding such relief is appropriate." 456 A.2d at 826. *fn5 Insofar as King may be said to have challenged at oral argument the trial court's exercise of its authority under these criteria, we find no error in the court's determination that striking King's pleadings and entering judgment for the landlord was "an appropriate sanction" in the circumstances of this case. Id. at 827.


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