October 1, 2020

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Renters in the District of Columbia have a number of rights when their landlords move to evict them, but a nine-month investigation published today by DCist exposes a flawed system that often fails to alert tenants that an eviction case has been filed against them.

An examination of more than 13,000 pages of court records, nearly 60 interviews with tenants, lawyers and advocates; observation of numerous eviction proceedings; and examinations of security camera footage turned up more than 600 cases in just two months where discrepancies in required affidavits of service would likely cause the case to be thrown out if brought to a judge’s attention. These sworn affidavits are the only evidence that tenants have been properly notified of their pending eviction cases, but in hundreds of cases DCist found that these documents are demonstrably false.

“In the United States we don’t take away someone’s apartment without giving them those rights,” says Lori Leibowitz, an attorney who oversees housing cases with D.C.’s Neighborhood Legal Services Program. “But the prerequisite for due process is knowing there’s a case against you. So notice is really the core.”

The investigation by journalist Joshua Kaplan, currently with ProPublica in New York, was supported by a grant from SpotlightDC: Capital City Fund for Investigative Journalism. The nonprofit based in the District raises charitable funds that it awards to worthy investigative and explanatory journalism projects in and around Washington, D.C.

“The District is home to hundreds of thousands of renters, and based on Kaplan’s investigation too many are vulnerable to an eviction system flawed at its most basic level – informing tenants of their potential eviction,” says SpotlightDC Chairman Colbert I. King. “SpotlightDC is proud to support journalism that sheds light on systems that don’t work for Washingtonians.”