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11/29/85 Myer Feldman, v. District of Columbia

November 29, 1985




Before PRYOR, Chief Judge, and NEBEKER and TERRY, Associate Judges.


Petition for Review of a Decision of the District of Columbia Rental Housing Commission


TERRY, Associate Judge: Petitioner seeks review of a decision of the Rental Housing Commission finding him liable for rent overcharges. His main challenge is to the finding of the Commission that the apartment at issue was not exempt from rent control. Petition also maintains that the Commission erred in assessing treble damages. We affirm. I

In August 1980 Belinda Dunmire entered into a lease agreement with petition, Myer Feldman, for the rental of a condominium unit, number 820, in a building known as the Carriage House. The monthly rent under the lease was $425.00.

There are 170 condominium units in the Carriage House. At the time Miss Dunmire moved into apartment 820, petitioner owned eight of those units: numbers T-3, 118, 217, 401, 720, 807, 820, and 905. Under both the Rental Housing Act of 1977 ("the 1977 Act") and the Rental Housing Act of 1980 ("the 1980 Act"),1 the owner of any rental unit could seek an exemption from rent control by filing a "claim of exemption statement" with the Rent Administrator, provided that certain conditions were met.2 Petitioner, however, never filed such a statement for any of his apartments in the Carriage House prior to August 1980.

On February 23, 1981, petitioner filed claim of exemption statements for units T-3, 401, 720, and 820. No statements were ever filed, however, for units 118, 217, 807, or 905. Twelve days later, on March 7, petitioner filed a registration statement3 for all of the eight units he owned in the Carriage House. In the registration statement petitioner asserted that units 118, 217, and 905 were not rental units. He listed his other five units (T-3, 401, 720, 807, and 820) with their maximum monthly rental value. The maximum rent allowable for Miss Dunmire's unit (820) was $252.45 per month. On June 1 petition sold unit 720.

On June 29, 1981, Miss Dunmire filed a complaint with the Rental Accommodations Office , claiming that petitioner was charging her more rent than the law allowed. A month later, on July 29, petitioner filed a new claim of exemption statement for apartment 820. A hearing was then held on the Dunmore complaint before a hearing examiner from the RAO, who concluded that petitioner had failed to meet his burden of demonstrating that Miss Dunmore's rental unit was exempt from rent control.4 Accordingly, the examiner found that petitioner had knowingly overcharged Miss Dunmire and assessed him treble damages plus interest and a $500 fine. The Rental Housing Commission, on appeal, upheld the findings and conclusions of the hearing examiner but decided that the $500 fine was inappropriate. Petitioner was ordered to pay Miss Dunmire $6,462.00. That sum has been placed in escrow pending the decision of this court on the instant petition for review. II

The Commission correctly ruled that Miss Dunmire's rental unit in the Carriage House was not exempt from rent control. The parties below focused most of their attention on the number of units that Mr. Feldman owned, under the mistaken belief that both the 1977 Act and the 1980 Act exempt an owner from rent control if he or she owns four or fewer rental units. That is not the law.

The pertinent part of the 1977 Act, D.C. Code ยง 45-1686 (a)(4) (1980 Supp.), provides that rent control shall apply to every rental unit in the District of Columbia except:

(4) any rental unit in any housing accommodation of four (4) or fewer units, including any aggregate of four (4) units whether within the same structure or not: Provided, that:

such housing accommodation is owned by not more than four (4) natural persons:

none of such owners has an interest, either directly or indirectly, in any other rental unit in the District of Columbia; and

the (owners) of such housing accommodation shall file with the Rent Administrator a claim of exemption statement which shall consist of an oath or affirmation by such (owners) of the valid claim to the exemption. The claim of exemption statement shall also contain the signatures of each person having an interest (direct or indirect) in the housing accommodation. Any change in the ownership of the exempted housing accommodation or change in the owner's interest in any other housing accommodation which would ...

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