397 F.2d 687 (D.C. Cir. 1968) cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1016 (1969) |
DC Circuit decided 1968-05-17
The Court held that the landlord’s right to terminate a month-to-month tenancy “for any reason or no reason at all” did not include the “right” to terminate because the tenant complained of housing code violations.Result: Win
Case was the first recognition of retaliatory eviction as a defense to eviction in landlord-tenant law. Today, the doctrine of retaliatory eviction is the rule in most states and is endorsed by the Restatement of American Law of Property.
Law type: Civil
Topic(s): Landlord-tenant and Retaliatory eviction
State of origin: DC
Mr. Brian Michael Olmstead, Des Moines, Iowa, with whom Mrs. Florence Wagman Roisman, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellant.
Others involved: Mr. Reuben B. Robertson, III, Washington, D. C., filed a brief on behalf of the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Defense and Education Fund as amicus curiae, urging reversal.
Last modified: 2020-04-07 05:07
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
Case internal status notes: Fixed
Lists: Important cases and SCOTUS no opinion
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CASE DETAILS(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)
From the opinion
J. SKELLY WRIGHT, Circuit Judge:
In March 1965 the appellant, Mrs. Yvonne Edwards, rented housing property from the appellee, Nathan Habib, on a month-to-month basis. Shortly thereafter she complained to the Department of Licenses and Inspections of sanitary code violations which her landlord had failed to remedy. In the course of the ensuing inspection, more than 40 such violations were discovered which the Department ordered the landlord to correct. Habib then gave Mrs. Edwards a 30-day statutory notice to vacate and obtained a default judgment for possession of the premises. Mrs. Edwards promptly moved to reopen this judgment, alleging excusable neglect for the default and also alleging as a defense that the notice to quit was given in retaliation for her complaints to the housing authorities. Judge Greene, sitting on motions in the Court of General Sessions, set aside the default judgment and, in a very thoughtful opinion, concluded that a retaliatory motive, if proved, would constitute a defense to the action for possession. At the trial itself, however, a different judge apparently deemed evidence of retaliatory motive irrelevant and directed a verdict for the landlord.
Mrs. Edwards then appealed to this court for a stay pending her appeal to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and on December 3, 1965, we granted the stay, provided only that Mrs. Edwards continue to pay her rent. Edwards v. Habib, 125 U.S.App.D.C. 49, 366 F.2d 628 (1965). She then appealed to the DCCA, which affirmed the judgment of the trial court. 227 A.2d 388 (1967). In reaching its decision the DCCA relied on a series of its earlier decisions holding that a private landlord was not required, under the District of Columbia Code, to give a reason for evicting a month-to-month tenant and was free to do so for any reason or for no reason at all. The court acknowledged that the landlord’s right to terminate a tenancy is not absolute, but felt that any limitation on his prerogative had to be based on specific statutes or very special circumstances. Here, the court concluded, the tenant’s right to report violations of law and to petition for redress of grievances was not protected by specific legislation and that any change in the relative rights of tenants and landlords should be undertaken by the legislature, not the courts. We granted appellant leave to appeal that decision to this court. We hold that the promulgation of the housing code by the District of Columbia Commissioners at the direction of Congress impliedly effected just such a change in the relative rights of landlords and tenants and that proof of a retaliatory motive does constitute a defense to an action of eviction. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the DCCA with directions that it remand to the Court of General Sessions for a new trial where Mrs. Edwards will be permitted to try to prove to a jury that her landlord who seeks to evict her harbors a retaliatory intent.