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Andrena Crockett v. Deutsche Bank National Trust

March 31, 2011


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (LTB-17317-09) (Hon. Cheryl M. Long, Trial Judge)

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

Submitted November 12, 2010

Before REID, KRAMER, and THOMPSON, Associate Judges.

Andrena Crockett appeals the trial court's entry of a non-redeemable judgment for possession and the striking of her pleadings as a sanction for non-payment of a protective order under Superior Court Landlord and Tenant Rule 12-I (g). We find no error and affirm.

Deutsche Bank National Trust (the Trust) foreclosed on Crockett's house in December of 2009.At the foreclosure sale, the Trust itself purchased the home. Subsequently, the Trust provided Crockett with thirty-days notice to quit, and after Crockett did not vacate the premises, filed suit for possession in the Landlord and Tenant Court.Crockett's answer alleged that she had not been provided a right to cure her mortgage default,*fn1 and that she was attempting to re-purchase the home.*fn2 The court entered a protective order requiring Crockett to pay $4,691 per month into the court registry, an amount which corresponded to her monthly mortgage payment. Crockett did not make any payments into the court registry, and as a sanction, the trial court entered a judgment for non-redeemable possession to the Trust. The trial court declined to modify its ruling after reconsideration. Crockett appeals, arguing that because the suit for possession was not a case involving non-payment of rent, Superior Court Landlord and Tenant Rule 12-I (g)(2)(B) prohibits the granting of possession as a sanction. For the reasons stated herein, we disagree, and affirm the order of the trial court.

We review the trial court's legal conclusions de novo. Matthews v. District of Columbia, 875 A.2d 650, 654 (D.C. 2005). Superior Court Landlord and Tenant Rule 12-I (g) allows for the issuance of sanctions, including a grant of possession, where a party violates a protective order. However, Rule 12-I (g)(2)(B) provides:

Cases without allegations of nonpayment of rent. The Court shall not enter a judgment for possession as a sanction for the defendant's failure to comply with a protective order in a case in which the plaintiff seeks the entry of a judgment for possession that is not subject to the defendant's right to redeem the tenancy and avoid eviction.

Thus, Crockett argues that because her case was without an allegation of nonpayment of rent, the trial court was not able to enter a judgment for possession as a sanction. The Trust argues, and the trial court held, that Rule 12-I (g)(2)(B) is inapposite because the Trust and Crockett never had a landlord-tenant relationship, and Rule 12-I (g)(2)(B) only applies to leasehold situations.

The parties and the trial court agreed that Crockett and the Trust never had a landlord-tenant relationship. "A landlord-tenant relationship does not arise by mere occupancy of the premises; absent an express or implied contractual agreement, with both privity of estate and privity of contract, the occupier is in adverse possession as a 'squatter.'" Nicholas v. Howard, 459 A.2d 1039, 1040 (D.C. 1983) (citation omitted). Our law defines a "squatter" who is a mortgagor remaining in possession after a foreclosure sale as a "tenant at will." D.C. Code § 42-522. While the term "tenant" is used to define such status, that term itself does not create a contractual landlord-tenant relationship; it is used to allow property owners to avail themselves of the summary procedures of the Landlord and Tenant Branch. Nicholas, supra, 459 A.2d at 1040; see also Taylor v. First Am. Title Co., 509 A.2d 96, 97 (D.C. 1986) ("Assuming appellants were tenants at will after foreclosure, they were not in a contractual relationship with appellee, which purchased the property at foreclosure.").

We agree with the trial court's interpretation of Rule 12-I (g)(2)(B). Rule 12-I (g)(2)(B) prohibits the grant of possession as a sanction for violating a protective order where the parties have a contractual landlord-tenant relationship and there are no allegations of non-payment of rent; it does not prohibit the entry of a judgment for possession as a sanction where the parties do not have a contractual landlord-tenant relationship. The rule applies to proceedings where the tenancy is nonredeemable, which means that a tenant cannot redeem her lease by paying the rent due. By referencing redemption, the rule presupposes that the person in possession is in a contractual landlord-tenant relationship. See Trans-Lux Radio City Corp. v. Serv. Parking Corp., 54 A.2d 144, 146 (D.C. Mun. App. 1947) ("[A] court of law or equity may relieve a tenant from forfeiture of his lease for nonpayment of rent by permitting him . . . to pay the rent due.") (emphasis supplied). Properly understood, the rule applies to situations where a tenant is in violation of her lease for reasons other than non-payment of rent, for example, violating a no-pets clause or other covenant, and thus is unable to redeem her tenancy by paying the back rent. Thus, the rule cannot apply to a tenant at will who is a holdover mortgagor, because there is no lease at issue whatsoever, and no rent due from such a tenant at will.*fn3 See Nicholas, supra, 459 A.2d at 1041. Moreover, other sections of the rule explicitly apply to a relationship where rent is paid. Super. Ct. L & T. R. 12-I (a) ("If entered, the protective order shall require the defendant to deposit money into the court registry instead of paying rent directly to the plaintiff.").

We reached a similar conclusion when considering whether or not the protections of the Rental Accommodations Act applied to tenants at will who are holdover mortgagors. Holding that they did not, we wrote that [t]he primary fallacy in appellant's position is his contention that the statutes are in pari materia and that the term 'tenant' is defined consistently throughout the D.C. Code. The distinction here is between a tenant at common law - one who holds or possesses lands by any kind of right or title - and a tenant under the renters' statute - one who stands in a contractual relationship with his landlord.

Simpson v. Jack Spicer Real Estate, Inc., 396 A.2d 212, 214 (D.C. 1978) (citation omitted). The "tenancy" envisioned by Rule 12-I encompasses the latter, not the former, and Rule 12-I (g)(2)(B) does not prohibit the grant of possession as a sanction where the protective order was entered in a case lacking a contractual landlord-tenant relationship. Thus, we hold that the trial court did not err when granting the Trust's motion for possession.*fn4

Of course, this begs the question why a protective order was entered in the first instance.*fn5 Protective orders, by their very nature, are designed to govern a contractual landlord-tenant relationship, and their utility is questionable when the litigants lack such a relationship. See Lindsey, supra note 5, 921 A.2d at 786 ("[T]he judge determined that a protective order was not warranted because appellant had not demonstrated that this was a suit for possession based on nonpayment of rent.

We believe that this ruling should stand."); Walker v. Smith, 499 A.2d 446, 450 (D.C. 1985) ("Moreover, in the absence of the traditional landlord-tenant relationship, with privity of contract, the validity of [a] protective order is open to serious question."); see generally Bell v. Tsintolas Realty Co., 139 U.S. App. D.C. 101, 430 F.2d 474, (1970) ...

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