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Levy v. District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission

Court of Appeals of Columbia District

November 19, 2015

Michael Joseph Levy, Petitioner/Cross-Respondent, & Carmel Partners, Inc. d/b/a Quarry II, LLC, Respondent / Cross-Petitioner,
v.
District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission, Respondent.

Argued September 22, 2015

On Petition and Cross-Petition for Review of a Decision and Order of the District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission (RH-TP-06-28, 830 & RH-TP-06-28, 835)

Michael Joseph Levy, pro se. Debra F. Leege, with whom Richard W. Luchs was on the brief, for Respondent/Cross-Petitioner.

James C. McKay, Jr., Senior Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General, were on the brief, for Respondent.

Before Thompson, Easterly, and McLeese, Associate Judges.

MCLEESE, ASSOCIATE JUDGE.

Petitioner/cross-respondent Michael Joseph Levy and respondent/cross-petitioner Carmel Partners, Inc., d/b/a Quarry II, LLC, seek review of a decision by respondent District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission ("RHC"). In that decision, the RHC concluded that Quarry had not timely notified Mr. Levy that his apartment was exempt from statutory rent control before increasing Mr. Levy's monthly rent. The RHC therefore voided Quarry's claimed exemption, awarded Mr. Levy a rent refund, and reduced Mr. Levy's monthly rent to its prior level. In this court, Quarry argues that the RHC misinterpreted the Rental Housing Act in voiding the exemption, while Mr. Levy argues that the RHC failed to provide him an adequate opportunity to submit evidence of the full extent of his damages. We affirm.

I.

In 1995, Mr. Levy and a prior owner signed a six-month lease for rental of a basement apartment in a multi-unit building. The lease provided that after the initial term expired Mr. Levy could retain possession as a month-to-month tenant. When Quarry acquired the building in 2004, Mr. Levy apparently was a month-to-month tenant.

The Rental Housing Act of 1985, D.C. Code § 42-3501.01 et seq. (2012 Repl.), regulates the rental rate landlords can charge for covered housing units. Certain rental units, however, are exempt from the Act's rent-control provisions, including those that were "added to an existing structure or housing accommodation and covered by a certificate of occupancy for housing use issued after January 1, 1980." D.C. Code § 42-3502.05 (a)(2).

Before raising the rental rate on an exempt unit, the housing provider must file a claim of exemption with the Rent Administrator. 14 DCMR § 4101.3 (a) (2015). Additionally, "prior to or simultaneously with the filing, " the housing provider must either mail a copy of the claim of exemption to each affected tenant or post a copy at the affected rental unit. Id. at § 4101.6. Unless and until a housing provider complies with those requirements, the provider "shall not be eligible for . . . [a]ny of the benefits which accrue to the housing provider of rental units exempt from" the Act. Id. at § 4101.9 (c).

Mr. Levy's apartment was added to the apartment building in 1981, when a prior owner of the building converted the basement into new apartments. Because the certificate of occupancy for the apartments was issued after January 1, 1980, Mr. Levy's apartment was eligible for an exemption from the Act's rent-control provisions. D.C. Code § 42-3502.05 (a)(2). When Quarry acquired the building in 2004, however, no claim of exemption had been filed with the Rent Administrator regarding Mr. Levy's apartment. Thus, the rental rate for Mr. Levy's unit was still subject to rent control under the Act.

In 2005, Quarry filed a claim of exemption. Quarry did not provide Mr. Levy with notice of the claim of exemption until almost a year and a half after the filing of the claim of exemption, in August 2006, when Quarry sent a letter to Mr. Levy enclosing a copy of the claim of exemption and stating that the apartment was exempt from rent control. Two weeks later, Quarry sent a second letter, reiterating that the apartment was exempt from rent control and notifying Mr. Levy that his monthly rent would increase from $718 to $1250 as of October 1, 2006.

In November 2006, Mr. Levy filed two petitions alleging among other things that Quarry had failed to provide Mr. Levy with timely notice of the claim of exemption. Mr. Levy asked that Quarry's exemption be revoked, that Quarry refund the difference between Mr. Levy's $1250 monthly payments and the previous $718 monthly rent, and that any future rent increases be consistent with the Act.

In June and July 2007, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") held two evidentiary hearings on Mr. Levy's consolidated petitions. In a post-hearing pleading, Mr. Levy submitted among other things a copy of an October 2007 notice of rent increase. In December 2008, the ALJ issued a final order concluding that Quarry's exemption was valid and dismissing all of Mr. Levy's claims. Mr. Levy appealed to the RHC. Before the RHC's hearing on Mr. Levy's appeal, Mr. Levy mailed to the RHC a copy of a January 2009 notice of rent increase.

In August 2008, while Mr. Levy's 2006 petitions were still pending before the ALJ, Mr. Levy filed another petition, alleging that Quarry had substantially reduced or eliminated facilities and services at Mr. Levy's building and that Quarry had retaliated against Mr. Levy in violation of the Act. That petition was set to be heard by a different ALJ. In January 2010, while Mr. Levy's appeal relating to the 2006 petitions was pending before the RHC, the second ALJ dismissed the 2008 petition with prejudice, concluding among other things that ...


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