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Loney v. District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission

September 23, 2010

STEVE LONEY, PETITIONER, AND TENANTS OF 710 JEFFERSON STREET, N.W., INTERVENORS/CROSS-PETITIONERS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA RENTAL HOUSING COMMISSION, RESPONDENT.



On Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission.

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

Argued May 11, 2010

Before RUIZ and OBERLY, Associate Judges, and KING, Senior Judge.

Steve Loney filed a petition for substantial rehabilitation of his property at 710 Jefferson Street, Northwest. After several administrative hearings, the hearing examiner of the Housing Regulation Administration, Rental Accommodations and Conversion Division, granted the petition. The tenants appealed the decision of the hearing examiner to the District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission (hereinafter, the "Commission"). The Commission reversed and vacated the petition, finding, among other things, that there was not substantial evidence to support the decision of the hearing examiner. The Commission also awarded attorney's fees to the tenants for work performed before the Commission. Loney filed the instant petition for review, contending that the Commission made several errors in its decision to deny his rehabilitation petition, including its finding that there was not substantial evidence to support the petition. The tenants cross-petitioned, alleging that the Commission erred in its calculation of attorney's fees, first by finding that it lacked jurisdiction to determine fees for work performed before the hearing examiner and second by rejecting the hourly rate the tenants requested. We conclude that the Commission did not err in finding that there was not substantial evidence to support the decision of the Hearing Examiner granting Loney's petition for substantial rehabilitation. We, therefore, do not reach Loney's other challenges to the ruling of the Commission. We remand to the Commission on the issue of attorney's fees.

I.

On August 6, 2004, Loney filed a petition for substantial rehabilitation of his fourteen-unit apartment building pursuant to 14 DCMR § 4212 (2004), and D.C. Code § 42-3502.14 (2001). He proposed renovations to the building with a projected cost of $141,800. His proposed renovations -- detailed in a memorandum from an architect -- included replacing the roof, updating the electrical system, refinishing the floors, painting, and replacing all fixtures and appliances in the kitchens and bathrooms of the units. He additionally submitted to the hearing examiner cost estimates for the work to be done and provided testimony from a roofing consultant and an electrical contractor.

On July 28, 2005, a hearing examiner with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Housing Regulation Administration, granted the petition for substantial rehabilitation. She found that Loney presented sufficient documentation of the rehabilitation, that it was in the interests of the tenants, and that it met the requirements of the D.C. Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations for such petitions. The tenants then appealed to the Commission.

On September 3, 2008, the Commission reversed the decision of the hearing examiner and denied the petition. The Commission ruled that the hearing examiner erred in concluding that the petition met the definition of "substantial rehabilitation"; the Commission found that the petition lacked critical information regarding the proposed work.*fn1 The Commission determined that Loney's failure to submit necessary documentation and carry his burden of proof justified outright denial of the petition rather than reversing and remanding the hearing examiner's decision for further proceedings.

II. The Commission's Denial of the Petition

In the petition for review before us, Loney challenges the Commission's holding that "the hearing examiner's finding that [Loney] submitted a detailed list of renovation costs is inaccurate, incomplete, conclusory and not supported by substantial evidence in the record" and that "the Hearing Examiner erred in concluding that the renovation is in the interest of the tenants[.]" We sustain this determination by the Commission for the reasons stated below.

In reviewing a decision of an administrative agency, this court considers whether there is substantial evidence in the record to support each of the findings, and whether the decision is in any way arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with the law. See D.C. Code § 2-510 (2001); Cohen v. Rental Hous. Comm'n, 496 A.2d 603, 605 (D.C. 1985). This court gives great deference to the agency's interpretation of statutes and regulations which it administers, and will reject the agency's interpretation only if it is plainly wrong or incompatible with the statutory purposes. See Tenants of 738 Longfellow St., N.W. v. District of Columbia Rental Hous. Comm'n, 575 A.2d 1205, 1213 (D.C. 1990).

The statute that allows for substantial rehabilitation petitions provides, in part:

(a) If the Rent Administrator determines that (1) a rental unit is to be substantially rehabilitated, and (2) the rehabilitation is in the interest of the tenants of the unit and the housing accommodation in which the unit is located, the Rent Administrator may approve, contingent upon completion of the substantial rehabilitation, an increase in the rent charged for the rental unit, if the rent increase is no greater than the equivalent of 125% of the rent charged applicable to the rental unit prior to substantial rehabilitation.

D.C. Code ยง 42-3502.14 (a). The D.C. Municipal Regulations detail what information a housing provider ...


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