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Harkins v. Win Corporation

April 26, 2001


Before Washington, Associate Judge, and Pryor and Belson, Senior Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Pryor, Senior Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

(Hon. Wendell P. Gardner, Jr., Hearing Judge)

Argued March 21, 2001

Michael Harkins, Jr., appellant, appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Win Corp., appellee in Harkins's suit for wrongful eviction. The trial court found that appellant was a roomer or lodger, as opposed to a tenant, and concluded that self-help "was a permissible method of eviction." Appellant contends that the exclusive legislative remedy required for a landlord to regain possession from a tenant also must be used to evict a roomer. Being unpersuaded by this contention, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


The facts of this case are undisputed. Win Corp. operated the Allen-Lee Hotel in the District of Columbia. It had obtained both a valid license and a Certificate of Occupancy to operate a rooming house. Appellant was among the occupants of the hotel. Appellant became an occupant of a room in the hotel in September 1994 when he agreed, by signing a hotel registration card, to a weekly occupancy charge of $85 (plus tax and expenses). Win Corp. provided linens, maid service, as well as furniture for the room during Harkins's stay. By April 1995, appellant was in arrears with respect to his weekly payments, and the manager of the hotel informed him that he would be evicted if he did not pay the arrearage due on his account. Harkins, however, continued to be delinquent in his payments. Appellee did not file a complaint in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the Superior Court seeking repossession of the room for nonpayment of rent. Rather, on May 3, 1998, appellee changed the locks for Harkins's room, thereby effectively locking him out of the premises.

Harkins subsequently filed a complaint against Win Corp. alleging, inter alia, wrongful eviction. *fn1 Both parties then moved for summary judgment. In deciding the cross-motions, the trial court found that Harkins was a roomer, not a tenant, since he did not have exclusive possession of the room *fn2 and was not a tenant under the Rental Housing Act of 1985 ("Housing Act"). *fn3 The trial judge concluded that the common law remedy of self-help to evict a roomer was still permissible, though no longer available to evict a tenant. Accordingly, the trial court granted summary judgment for Win Corp. This appeal followed.


In his brief, Harkins states that "the straightforward, but not simple question" for this court is "whether the operator of a rooming house may utilize self-help to evict a roomer." Relying primarily on our holding in Mendes v. Johnson, 389 A.2d 781, 786-87 (D.C. 1978) (en banc), and his reading of the present version of the District's eviction statute, D.C. Code § 16-1501 (1997), appellant contends that a judicial possessory action is the sole remedy for matters related to repossession of real property, as here.

D.C. Code § 16-1501 presently provides:

When a person detains possession of real property without right, or after his right to possession has ceased, the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, on complaint under oath verified by the person aggrieved by the detention, or by his agent or attorney having knowledge of the facts, may issue a summons in English and Spanish to the party complained of to appear and show cause why judgment should not be given against him for the restitution of possession.

Before 1953, D.C. Code § 11-735 (1940), the predecessor to the modern statutory summary possessory provision, was unavailable in situations other than the unlawful entry and detainer or unlawful detention of property by a tenant. See Tamamian, supra note 2, 55 A.2d at 516; see also Davis v. Francis Scott Key Apartments, 140 A.2d 188, 190 (D.C. 1958). Then in 1953, section 11-735 was amended, replacing the forcible entry and detainer provisions with a general remedy for any unlawful detention of property. See Mendes, supra, 389 A.2d at 786 n.14. Section 11-735 gave rise to section 16-1501, which is substantially the same today as the 1973 version at issue in Mendes, supra, 389 A.2d at 783 n.5. The one difference is that now the required summons must be in English and Spanish. Appellant urges that the ...

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