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Nelson v. District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

May 24, 2018

Blake J. Nelson, et al, Petitioners,
v.
District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission, Respondent, and The Klingle Corporation, et al, Intervenors.

          Argued April 24, 2018

          On Petition for Review of a Decision and Order of the District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission (TP-28, 519)

          Blake J. Nelson, with whom Carol S. Blumenthal was on the brief, for petitioners.

          Jason Lederstein, Assistant Attorney General, with whom Karl A. Racine, Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Todd S. Kim, Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, and Loren L. AliKhan, Deputy Solicitor General at the time the brief was filed, were on the brief, for respondent.

          Richard W. Luchs, with whom Debra F. Leege was on the brief, for intervenors.

          Before Fisher and Thompson, Associate Judges, and Farrell, Senior Judge.

          Fisher, Associate Judge

         Blake and Wendy Nelson filed a petition with the Rent Administrator alleging that their housing providers charged rent above the lawful rent ceiling. The petition eventually reached the Rental Housing

         Commission ("the Commission") and it held that the rent was too high but awarded the Nelsons less relief than they sought. Now, they contend that the Commission shortchanged them and raise four challenges to its ruling. We find none persuasive and affirm.

         I. Background

         On August 1, 2003, the Nelsons moved into unit 802 in the Kennedy-Warren, a residential apartment complex owned by the Klingle Corporation and managed by B.F. Saul Property Company (collectively, "intervenors"). Their petition, filed on January 26, 2006, alleged that intervenors miscalculated the rent ceiling for their unit and charged rent above the lawful level. Specifically, they averred that intervenors failed to perfect a 2003 vacancy adjustment and CPI-W (or cost-of-living) adjustments in 2003, 2004, and 2005.[1]

         The hearing examiner generally agreed with these arguments. In a proposed order, he held that the 2003 vacancy adjustment and 2003-2005 CPI-W adjustments were invalid, deducted those increases, and determined that the lawful rent ceiling was $1, 766 per month. Noting that intervenors had sought rent above that level-they initially demanded $3, 225 per month for the Nelsons' unit and raised that figure to $3, 349 and eventually $3, 439-the hearing examiner awarded the Nelsons a refund, with interest, for rent charged above the lawful maximum.

         Before the hearing examiner converted that order into a final one, the Nelsons and intervenors filed briefs presenting exceptions and objections to the proposed order. The Nelsons argued that the hearing examiner erred in concluding that intervenors did not act in bad faith, a holding that made the Nelsons ineligible for trebled damages. They also contended that he incorrectly calculated their rent refund and, finally, moved to reopen the hearing so that they could submit additional evidence. The hearing examiner rejected all of these arguments, as well as those raised by intervenors, and made only minor changes to the proposed order.

         Both parties then sought review by the Commission, which affirmed most of the hearing examiner's holdings. In the one reversal relevant here, the Commission held that, contrary to the hearing examiner's determination, intervenors owed the Nelsons prejudgment interest through the date of the final, rather than proposed, order at a rate of three, rather than four, percent. Rather than remand, the Commission awarded the Nelsons the corrected interest amount. After the Commission rejected their motion for reconsideration of this issue, the Nelsons filed this petition for review.

         II. Analysis

         This court will accept the Commission's findings of fact if substantial evidence on the record supports them. Loney v. District of Columbia Rental Hous. Comm'n, 11 A.3d 753, 755 (D.C. 2010). As to questions of law, we remain "the final arbiter" but will defer to the Commission's interpretation of "the statutes it administers and the regulations it promulgates" unless its interpretation "is unreasonable or embodies a material misconception of the law." Sawyer Prop. Mgmt. of Md., Inc. v. District of ...


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