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Grimes v. Newsome

September 13, 2001

FRED N. GRIMES, JR., AND FRANCES GRIMES, APPELLANTS
v.
THELMA NEWSOME, APPELLEE



Before Terry and Reid, Associate Judges, and King, Senior Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Hon. William M. Jackson, Trial Judge

Argued January 4, 2001

Appellants, Fred and Frances Grimes, appeal from a judgment granting possession of a leased house to appellee, Thelma Newsome. Appellants, as tenants under the lease, repeatedly failed to pay their rent on time. As a result, Ms. Newsome, appellants' landlord, served them with a "30 day notice to correct or vacate," pursuant to D.C. Code § 45-2551 (b) (1996). When appellants failed to cure their late payments of the rent within the thirty-day period, Ms. Newsome filed a complaint against Mr. and Mrs. Grimes in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the Superior Court. In due course, after a non-jury trial, the court entered a judgment of possession in favor of Ms. Newsome. On appeal from that judgment, appellants assert that the trial court erred in ruling (1) that the notice to correct or vacate was valid and (2) that they received adequate notice of their violations. We affirm.

I.

Ms. Newsome owns a single-family house on Channing Street, N.E., in the District of Columbia. On August 8, 1997, Mr. and Mrs. Grimes entered into a one-year lease to rent this house from Ms. Newsome. When the lease expired on August 31, 1998, Mr. and Mrs. Grimes remained in possession as month-to-month tenants, pursuant to paragraph 29 (h) of the lease. *fn1

During the tenancy, appellants repeatedly failed to pay their rent on time, as required by the lease; consequently, Ms. Newsome filed suit in September 1998 for possession of the property. Later, however, she agreed to dismiss her complaint in return for Mr. Grimes' promise to make immediate payment on the back rent that was due and owing.

Months passed, and appellants resumed their habit of not paying their rent on time; sometimes they did not pay it at all. Accordingly, on July 26, 1999, Ms. Newsome served another notice to correct or vacate. This notice listed, as violations of the lease, "Nonpayment of rent $2,400.00 [and] consistent late payments of rent . . . ." The notice further stated:

By reason of the foregoing, in the event you do not cure within the thirty (30) day period, this letter shall be deemed to be your notice to Quit and Vacate, and you are hereby notified that the housing provider desires to have and gain possess [sic] of the premises occupied by you, as set forth above, no later than midnight August 26, 1999.

On September 20, 1999, appellants paid Ms. Newsome $4,800.00 to cover four months of rent, including the two months of back rent listed in the notice.

Ms. Newsome filed a new complaint in the Landlord and Tenant Branch on November 24, 1999, seeking possession of the house. After a non-jury trial, the court ruled that the notice to correct or vacate was "sufficient to put the defendants on notice as to what the violation was; it was non-payment of rent and consistent late payments of rent in violation of the lease." In addition, the court held that despite an earlier ruling by another judge that the Spanish translation of the notice was inaccurate, the notice was still valid because appellants were "not a part of that . . . protected class of people . . . whom that requirement was designed to benefit." *fn2 A judgment of possession was entered the same day.

On February 3, 2000, appellants filed a notice of appeal from the judgment. Five days later, on February 8, Ms. Newsome obtained the first of three writs of restitution by which she sought to gain possession of the property. This court initially granted appellants' motion to stay the writ, contingent on their continued payment of the rent into the registry of the court. However, when appellants failed yet again to pay the rent, we vacated the stay, and appellants were evicted from the Channing Street house on April 28, 2000.

II.

Because the date stated in the notice, by which they had to correct their violations of the lease or else vacate the premises, was wrong, appellants contend that the notice itself was invalid and that the complaint based on it should have been dismissed. Appellants also maintain that the notice was inadequate because it failed to "specify what actions need to be ...


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