Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (LT-51491-01). (Hon. Michael L. Rankin, Trial Judge).
Before Terry and Farrell, Associate Judges, and Pryor, Senior Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terry, Associate Judge
This appeal arises from a landlord-tenant dispute. Although the case has a rather protracted history, in the course of which it came before at least five different trial judges, the appeal is taken only from an order releasing to the landlord the money that the tenant previously paid into the court registry under a protective order. We affirm the order releasing the money in the registry to the landlord.
On December 6, 2001, appellee A & G Properties ("A & G") filed in the Superior Court a "Complaint for Possession of Real Estate" against appellant, Victor Pinzon,*fn1 seeking possession of a basement office in a building on Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., in downtown Washington. The complaint alleged that "[the] commercial lease term [had] expired and occupant failed to vacate at end of term; no notice required in this instance." At a hearing in the Landlord and Tenant Branch before Judge Cheryl Long on December 27, 2001, appellant proffered a lease dated September 1, 2000, which purportedly entitled him*fn2 to occupy the premises through February 28, 2002. A & G in turn presented a sublease which, it argued, was controlling because it bore a date (December 1, 2000) after the date on the lease proffered by appellant. This sublease, by its terms, expired on November 30, 2001. Judge Long set a trial date for March 1, 2002, the day after the lease proffered by appellant expired.*fn3
On January 16, 2002, A & G filed a motion for a protective order, asserting that it was "entitled to the traditional protective order . . . where the landlord's ability to recover immediate possession is delayed by a tenant request for trial." A & G asked for the order to be retroactive to December 27, 2001, "at the contract rate of $1200 per month." The motion was granted by Judge Steffen Graae, and a protective order was entered on January 18, 2002, requiring appellant to pay $1354 into the court registry by January 31,*fn4 and $1200 monthly thereafter "until completion of the case or further order of this court." Appellant - represented by counsel at the time - filed a motion for reconsideration, arguing that the leased premises were a "residential accommodation," and that he therefore had no duty to pay rent because the premises were not in a "habitable condition." He offered a litany of property damage and hazardous conditions allegedly caused by construction work which had been ordered by A & G.*fn5 The motion for reconsideration was denied.
On February 22, 2002, A & G moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that there was no defense possible for appellant since the lease that he proffered would expire on February 28, six days later. On March 1 Judge Mary Ellen Abrecht entered a judgment for possession in favor of A & G.
On March 12, in an effort to persuade the court to return the money paid into the court registry under the protective order, appellant filed a pro se "Motion to Refund Lease Payments." The crux of his argument was that he had no duty to pay rent while the protective order was in effect because the construction work that was going on during this time rendered the premises "uninhabitable."*fn6 This motion was scheduled to be heard on March 20, along with a pro se "Application for Stay of Execution of Writ of Restitution," but Judge Zoe Bush granted a continuance until March 26.
On the latter date, both motions came before Judge Michael Rankin for a hearing. Appellant asked for another continuance, but that request was denied. Judge Rankin then ordered that the funds in the court registry be released to A & G, and from that order appellant noted this appeal.
The decision to grant or deny a continuance is entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial court, and its ruling will be reversed only for a clear abuse of discretion. E.,g., Harris v. Akindulureni, 342 A.2d 684, 686 (D.C. 1975).
Moreover, in order to win reversal, appellant must demonstrate prejudice resulting from the denial of a continuance. See Hairston v. Gennet, 501 A.2d 1265, 1268 (D.C. 1985). We find neither an abuse of discretion nor any identifiable prejudice.
Judge Rankin's denial of appellant's motion for a further continuance was not an abuse of discretion. On March 19 A & G filed and served an opposition to appellant's motion for release of funds. Thus, as A & G points out, by the time the March 26 hearing took place, appellant had had one week to prepare with full knowledge of the issues that were going to be raised. Moreover, because the earlier motion for reconsideration filed by appellant's counsel made essentially the same assertions about the construction work and the allegedly hazardous conditions resulting from it, ...