If you have received a Notice of Violation (NOV) from the Department of Public Works (DPW), you must respond to the notice at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). This page answers common questions about the OAH process.
The purpose of this page is to help you learn more about NOVs and the OAH process. This page does not give legal advice. You can only get legal advice from a lawyer. Also, OAH tries to keep information on this page up to date, but laws and procedures sometimes change. You should refer to DPW notices, OAH orders, and official sources of laws and rules for current information and requirements regarding your case.
I received a Final Order from OAH requiring me to pay fines and penalties because I didn’t respond to a NOV. Why did I get this, and what can I do about it?
When DWP issues a NOV, the agency normally files a copy with OAH. OAH then opens a case and waits for a written answer from the person or organization responsible for the violation (the “respondent”). The respondent normally has 14 calendar days from the date DPW issued the NOV to file an answer with OAH.
If the respondent never files an answer, and the agency proved that it properly “served” (i.e., sent or delivered) the NOV to the respondent, then OAH eventually issues a Final Order in the case. This is called a “default order” because it is an automatic order that goes out when the respondent doesn’t answer a NOV. A default order holds the respondent responsible for the violation and imposes the full fine amount, plus a penalty equal to the fine amount.
Sometimes, though, a respondent may never have received the NOV or may have some other reason for not having filed an answer with OAH. If this is your situation, you can ask the OAH judge to reopen the case and schedule a new hearing. See the Guide to Filing a "Request for a New Hearing" for instructions and a form you can use for this request. Among other reasons, a judge can change the Final Order or schedule a hearing if you can give a good reason for not having answered the NOV and can state an adequate claim or defense regarding the alleged violation. OAH Rule 2828 explains this type of request in more detail, including deadlines. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
You can also appeal a Final Order to the D.C. Court of Appeals. This option takes the case to another court, so you can visit the D.C. Court of Appeals’ How to Appeal a Decision or Order webpage for more information.
Finally, you should keep in mind that asking the judge to change the Final Order or appealing the order does not automatically postpone or otherwise affect the requirement to do what the order says you must do. But you can request that the OAH judge “stay” (or delay) the effective date of the Final Order, using the Request for a Stay form. If the judge grants a stay, you do not need to do what the Final Order says until after the appeal is over, and only if the Final Order is upheld on appeal.
So, if the Final Order requires you to pay fines and penalties, you must either request and be granted a stay pending the appeal, or pay the amount as ordered. If you do neither, you may be subject to additional penalties or sanctions. If you pay the money as ordered, but then the Final Order is changed to require you to pay a smaller amount, you will be refunded any overpayment.
I just received a NOV. How do I answer it?
You have three choices:
- Admit the violation and pay the fine.
- Deny the violation and be scheduled for a hearing before an OAH judge.
- Admit the violation but give an explanation in writing that may convince an OAH judge to lower or waive the fine.
You must file your answer within 14 calendar days from the date DPW issued the NOV. This date, called the "date of service", is normally given at the top right of the NOV, below the notice number.
To file your answer with OAH, you can fill in the section on the NOV to choose an answer (attaching your written explanation and any supporting documents, if you “Admit with Explanation”), or you can use the Answer to a Notice of Violation or Infraction form. Visit the Filings & Forms page for instructions on the available filing methods.
OAH Rule 2804 also has information about the answer process. See “What are the OAH Rules and where can I find them?” below for more information about the OAH Rules.
Finally, you also need to pay attention to whether the NOV requires you to take corrective action within a certain time. This is called “abatement.” The Notice will state whether abatement is required and, if so, the actions you need to take to correct the violation. If abatement is required, you also need to check the box on the notice or form to indicate whether you have or have not corrected the violation. If you do not follow abatement requirements, you could end up being required to pay up to three times the cost of correcting the issue, along with fines and penalties, if the District must do so for you.
A tenant lives at the property where the violation occurred. Can the tenant respond to the NOV?
Yes; but first, the tenant should let the property owner know about the NOV. If the property owner consents, the tenant may answer the NOV and even attend a hearing on the property owner’s behalf, so long as the tenant lived at the property at the time of the violation or was involved in the circumstances resulting in the violation. In this situation, the tenant represents the property owner, who is the actual party in the case. To inform the judge that the tenant will be handling the case, the tenant can complete and file the Notice of Appearance for a Non-Attorney.
However, since the property owner is the named Respondent (the actual party to the case), the property owner will ultimately be held liable for any violation and required to pay any fines and penalties.
If the notice I received is a warning, do I need to file an answer with OAH?
No. If a notice is only a warning, the notice number at the top right of the notice normally begins with a “W,” and no fine is imposed. If you received this type of notice, you do not need to file an answer with OAH (even if the notice still includes the standard instruction page on how to respond to a NOV).
However, if the warning requires abatement (i.e., fixing the violation), then you must do what is needed to correct the issue. If you don’t, DPW may then issue you a NOV, which would require you to file an answer with OAH. The notice number for a NOV that imposes a fine usually begins with a “K” rather than a “W.”
DPW gave me a NOV, but it was given to me by mistake (e.g., the photos with the NOV show a neighboring property). Do I have to go through the OAH process if DPW gave me the NOV by mistake?
Yes. Even if you believe DPW issued the NOV to you by mistake, you still need to follow the same process to file an answer with OAH. An OAH judge is the only official outside of DPW that can dismiss a NOV, and properly filing an answer with OAH is the only way to get your case before an OAH judge. But while you still must go through the process, hearings in cases of mistakenly issued NOVs are usually held over the phone and can be very brief.
Also, while you are still required to file an answer with OAH, you can try to contact DPW directly to see if DPW will acknowledge a mistake and send a request to OAH to dismiss the case. See the next question about resolving an issue directly with DPW for more information.
Is it possible to resolve an issue directly with DPW without having to go through the OAH process?
You may reach out directly to DPW to try to resolve an issue, but there is still a step required at OAH to have the case ended.
When DPW issues a NOV, DPW becomes the “petitioner” (the party initiating the OAH case), and the OAH rules allow a petitioner to withdraw a case at any time. So, if you can convince DPW that you should not have been fined, DPW can file a written request with OAH to have the case and the NOV dismissed. When the judge grants the request and sends out a written order dismissing the case, the matter is ended.
But keep in mind, reaching out to DPW to resolve an issue does not excuse or replace the requirement to file an answer with OAH by the deadline given in the NOV. You may reach out to DPW at any time to settle an issue, but you still need to file an answer with OAH by the deadline to avoid any potential penalties for a late filing, and in case you are unable to resolve the issue with DPW and the process at OAH needs to move forward.
What can happen if I do not answer a NOV in time?
you do not answer a NOV by the deadline, you could be required to pay the full fine amount plus a penalty equal to the fine amount, along with interest. Also, if the NOV requires abatement and you do not correct the violation by the given deadline, you could be required to pay up to three times the District’s cost of fixing or preventing the issue for you.
Normally, before OAH imposes fines and penalties for a respondent’s failure to answer, DPW must prove that it properly delivered the NOV to you. If the agency can do so, then OAH will eventually make a “default judgment” against you. This means that the judge will send you a "final order" finding you responsible for the violation by default and requiring you to pay the fine plus the additional penalty. OAH could also require you to pay additional costs associated with DPW’s inspection of your property or correction of a violation.
If you then fail to comply with an OAH order, DPW could take additional enforcement actions, such as suspending a permit or license or placing a lien on your property. OAH generally only handles monetary fines and penalties, so if you have been subject to additional sanctions, such as a suspension of a permit or license or a lien on your property, you must contact DPW to resolve those issues.
If you received a NOV and it is past the deadline for filing your answer, but you have not yet received a default order from OAH, you can still file your answer with OAH and explain in writing why you are filing the answer late. If you have a good reason for filing late, the judge may waive the penalty and allow the case to move forward.
If you have already received a default order from OAH because you didn’t answer a NOV, click on the question at the top of this page titled “I received a Final Order from OAH requiring me to pay fines and penalties because I didn’t respond to a Notice. Why did I get this, and what can I do about it?” for more information.
What are the OAH Rules and where can I find them?
The OAH Rules explain all the steps required to complete the OAH hearing process, from requesting a hearing to appealing a judge’s final decision. You can find the OAH Rules on the Rules & Laws page. You must follow the OAH Rules throughout the process.
All the rules that apply to a civil fine case, including a DPW NOV, are in Chapter 28. The table of contents for Chapter 28 can help guide you to the information you need.
Where can I find laws and regulations that apply to my case?
Every case has its own facts and circumstances, so some cases may involve laws and regulations that are not listed on this page. However, the D.C. Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR) generally cover DPW civil fine cases.
The D.C. Code is where you can find laws passed by the D.C. Council, such as laws creating civil processes and penalties for violations of solid waste and litter control regulations. Within the bounds of those laws, the D.C. agency with authority to administer and enforce the laws makes regulations with specific requirements and procedures. Regulations are often more detailed than laws, but laws have more authority. If there is a discrepancy between a law and a regulation, the law applies. When a judge decides a case at OAH, they may apply both laws and regulations to reach a final decision.
The laws governing solid waste violations are in the Litter Control Administration Act, which you can find in Title 8, Chapter 8 of the D.C. Code. This chapter has sections that cover NOV and answer requirements, penalties, and hearings, among other things.
DPW is one agency that administers and enforces litter control laws in D.C. As such, DPW’s regulations govern many aspects of solid waste control and disposal. These regulations are in Title 21, Chapter 7 (solid waste control) and Title 21, Chapter 8 (solid waste containment) of the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR).
A NOV should have a citation to the specific regulation allegedly violated. For example, a NOV alleging that solid waste was improperly stored could cite to “21 DCMR 700.3,” which is the citation for Title 21, Chapter 7, Section 700.3 of the DCMR (the first digit in the section number indicates Chapter 7). Using this example, you can pull up Chapter 7 from the link above, then click to view the text of Section 700 (titled “General Provisions”) and scroll down to 700.3 to read the text of that specific part of the regulation.
Navigating the D.C. Code works the same way, starting with a title number and narrowing down to a specific section number. Like the DCMR, each level of the D.C. Code has a heading that can help guide you to the information you need.
If you are having difficulty finding laws or regulations that apply to your case, click “I need more help” at the bottom of this page.
How does DPW determine a fine amount?
DPW uses a fine table to determine the fine amount for a specific type of violation. The fine table for solid waste violations is in Title 24, Chapter 13, Section 1380 of the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR). Subsection 1380.1 sets fine amounts for violations at a residential property, and subsection 1380.2 sets fine amounts for violations at a commercial property.
If I admit with an explanation, what do I have to do next?
If you choose the “Admit with Explanation” answer, you must include your written explanation, along with any other supporting documents you have, when you file your answer with OAH. After that, there is nothing else you need to do, unless the judge sends a written order with more instructions. You do not need to pay the fine amount when you file your answer.
Generally, when a respondent admits a violation with an explanation, the OAH judge will send out an order giving DPW an opportunity to respond to your written explanation. Afterward, the judge will consider the written explanations and supporting documents given by both sides and will make a final decision based on that information.
You will eventually receive a “final order” that will explain the judge’s decision regarding the violation and the fine amount.
If I deny a violation, how do I prepare for a hearing?
If you file an answer of “Deny,” you will be scheduled for a hearing. OAH will send you a “scheduling order” with information about your hearing. Click on “What can I expect at a hearing?” below for more information what to expect when you appear for the hearing.
The scheduling order will have some specific instructions regarding preparation, but hearing preparation generally involves each side collecting the information they want the judge to know and planning how to present the information during the hearing.
Information you present during a hearing is called “evidence.” There are two broad categories of evidence:
- Verbal testimony (what you and other witnesses say at the hearing)
- Documents, photographs, or other physical items
For testimony, you can practice telling your side of the story before the hearing. If you have witnesses that will testify on your behalf, you can ask your witnesses to practice their testimony as well. Practicing your testimony can help make sure you and your witnesses don’t accidentally leave out important information and can help you feel more comfortable on the day of the hearing.
Documents, photographs, or other items you plan to use to support your case are called “exhibits.” You should collect all your exhibits before the hearing so that you can file copies with OAH and “serve” copies on the other party by the deadline given in the scheduling order. “Serving” means delivering, mailing, or faxing a copy of the exhibit to the other party. You can also serve exhibits by email if you and the other party have agreed in writing to allow service by email.
Also, as you prepare exhibits, keep in mind that OAH is a separate agency from DPW. That means that OAH does not automatically have copies of DPW’s records. If you have any documents or records you received from DPW, besides the NOV, you need to file copies with OAH.
As part of your hearing preparation, you should also keep in mind that properly filing an exhibit does not automatically mean that the judge can rely on the information in the exhibit when making a decision. Instead, you need to be prepared to introduce the exhibit during your testimony or a witness’s testimony. In other words, you or a witness will need to describe the item and may need to answer questions about it, so that the judge can be satisfied that the item is relevant to the case and is reliable. After you or a witness describe an exhibit and answer any questions from the judge or the other party, you can then ask the judge to admit the exhibit into evidence. If the judge allows the exhibit into evidence, you can then refer to the item in detail during your testimony, and the judge can rely on the item when making a decision. You need to be prepared for this process for each individual exhibit. It is a good idea to bring a list of all the exhibits you plan on using during the hearing, so you can keep track of what you have talked about and whether the judge has admitted the exhibit into evidence.
Lastly, when you come to the hearing, you should have copies of all exhibits, both your own and the other party’s. OAH normally does not provide copies of the exhibits for the parties. Each party needs to bring their own copies.
Here are some of the common OAH Rules that apply to hearing preparation: Rule 2809 (Filing of Papers); Rule 2811 (How to Serve a Paper); Rule 2812 (Calculating Deadlines); Rule 2813 (Motions Procedure); Rule 2821 (Hearings and Evidence). Other rules may apply, so it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the OAH Rules’ table of contents so that you know where to go to look for particular requirements. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
How do I send documents or other exhibits I want to use at the hearing?
All exhibits must be filed with OAH and served to DPW.
You can file exhibits with OAH in person; by mail, email, or fax; or through the OAH eFiling Portal. Visit the Filings & Forms page for specific filing instructions.
“Serving” means delivering, mailing, or faxing copies of your exhibits to the other party. If the other party has agreed in writing, you may also send exhibits by email.
Each party must file and serve exhibits by the deadline given in the scheduling order to make sure both sides have opportunity to review all the documents and other items the other side intends to use to support their case.
If you do not know DPW’s contact information, look at the “Certificate of Service” at the end of the scheduling order you receive from OAH. The Certificate of Service lists the contact information for each party.
What can I expect at a hearing?
You should look closely at your scheduling order for information about how your hearing will be held, but most OAH hearings are currently remote and are scheduled to take place by telephone. OAH uses a program called Webex to hold remote hearings, but only a phone is required for anyone to join. Visit the Webex Hearings page for more information about joining a remote hearing by phone.
If you are scheduled for a telephone hearing, you can request a video hearing or an in-person hearing, using the Request for Video Conference or In-Person Hearing form. Or, if you are scheduled for an in-person hearing, you can request to join the hearing by phone, using the Request to Participate by Telephone form.
Whether remote or in person, an evidentiary hearing is generally divided into three main parts:
- Opening statements
- Presentations of evidence
- Closing arguments
An opening statement is not required but is your chance to give the judge a broad overview of your case and what you intend to prove through your evidence. The opening statement is not testimony and does not count as evidence, however. So, remember to present all your evidence during the next part of the hearing, even if you talked about it already in your opening statement.
The presentation of evidence is the main part of the hearing. The judge will explain how the hearing will go before it begins, but the side with the “burden of proof” normally goes first when giving evidence. In civil fine cases where DPW alleges a violation of a regulation, the burden of proof is on DPW, meaning the agency normally goes first and must give sufficient facts to prove that the violation occurred. If no representative from the agency comes to the hearing, then the agency cannot meet the burden of proof, and you may automatically win.
After the agency presents its evidence, it will then be your turn to give evidence. You can give testimony and, if the judge allows your exhibits into evidence, talk about the documents or other items you have as evidence. You can also have your witnesses attend and ask them questions to get them to testify on your behalf. Asking questions of your own witnesses is called “direct examination.”
After you or a witness are done giving testimony, the other side can ask questions about the testimony that was given. This is called “cross examination.” Likewise, after the other side’s witnesses give testimony as part of their presentation of evidence, you will have the opportunity to ask them questions. However, neither side is required to ask cross examination questions, and the judge will not assume you agree with the testimony of the other side’s witnesses if you choose not to question them.
The judge may also have questions for the parties and witnesses throughout the hearing.
Finally, after both sides have presented their evidence, each side can give a closing argument. A closing argument is not required but is your opportunity to summarize your evidence and arguments as to why you should win. The closing argument is not evidence, and you generally cannot introduce new exhibits during your closing or talk about information that was not admitted into evidence.
Throughout the process, keep in mind that all evidence and arguments are being given directly to the judge. An evidentiary hearing is not an opportunity for the parties to talk and argue between themselves. So, you should practice your opening statement, presentation of evidence, and closing argument as if you are speaking directly to the judge.
I do not speak English very well. Can I get an interpreter?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide a free court-certified interpreter at your hearing. You cannot have a friend or family member interpret for you during a hearing.
You may request an interpreter when you file your answer, or you may request an interpreter at any other time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected].
If you have not requested an interpreter by the day of your hearing, you should let the judge know that you need an interpreter, and the judge can try to get an interpreter. If the judge cannot find an interpreter right away, the judge will need to reschedule the hearing to give time for OAH to schedule an interpreter for a new hearing date.
will also provide an interpreter if you need to speak with an OAH Customer Service Representative or Resource Center staff, whether visiting in person or calling OAH by phone. Simply ask for an interpreter and identify your language when you visit or call, and OAH staff will contact an interpreter to assist.
I have an impairment that makes it hard for me to attend a hearing. Can I get an accommodation?
Yes. Upon request, OAH will provide reasonable accommodations to allow you to participate in your hearing. You may request an accommodation when you file your answer, or you may request an accommodation at any other time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected]. Please explain the accommodation you need, and OAH staff will get in touch with you to plan and schedule reasonable accommodations for the day of your hearing.
What if I need to change my hearing date?
You may request a different hearing date, also called a “continuance.”
For this type of request, you must first reach out to the other party to see if they will agree to a different hearing date. The other party doesn’t have to agree, or even respond. But you at least need to make a good faith effort to get the other party’s consent.
You then must file your request with OAH and send a copy of the request to the other party. To make sure you give OAH all the information needed for this type of request, you may use the Request for a Different Hearing Date form.
You should never assume that a request is granted. If your hearing date is approaching and you have not received a written response, please contact the OAH Clerk’s Office to see if the judge has acted on your request. If the judge has not acted on the request by your hearing date, then the hearing will be held as originally scheduled and you will be required to attend.
OAH Rule 2813 has more information about filing case-related requests, also called “motions.” The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
What if I miss my hearing?
If you missed your hearing, you must ask for a new hearing date in writing as soon as possible. Even if the judge sends a Final Order in DPW’s favor before you file your request, the judge can still grant a new hearing and change the final order. However, you must give a good reason for having missed the hearing. To make a request, you may complete the Request for a New Hearing form and file the form with OAH and serve a copy on the other party.
If you simply choose not to attend or otherwise do not have a good reason for missing a hearing, you may be ordered to pay the full fine amount, plus a penalty equal to twice the amount of the fine. You could also be required to pay up to three times the cost of DPW’s actions to abate or prevent the violation.
OAH Rule 2828 explains more about a request for a new hearing. OAH Rule 2813 has more information about filing case-related requests, also called “motions.” The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
How does a judge make a final decision?
The judge will not make a final decision about your case during a hearing. Rather, the judge will take time after the hearing to carefully consider all the evidence before making a final decision in writing. The judge’s written decision is called a “final order.” The final order will be sent to all parties to the case and will explain the facts of the case as determined by the judge, the laws that apply to the case, the judge’s legal conclusions based on how the law applies to the facts, and the judge’s orders based on those legal conclusions.
The final order will also explain your appeal rights, in case you disagree with the judge’s decision.
What can I do if I disagree with a judge’s final order?
If you disagree with a final order, you may either:
- ask the OAH judge to reconsider the decision or grant relief from the final order, or
- file an appeal with the D.C. Court of Appeals.
Visit the Closed Case Forms page, under “Filings & Forms,” for more information and instructions.
I need more help.
If you are representing yourself and need additional help, you may talk with someone with the OAH Resource Center. Please call (202)-442-9094 and press “4” from the main menu, or send an email to [email protected]. The OAH Resource Center cannot give legal advice or be your lawyer, but our staff are happy to answer questions and give general information to help you through the OAH process.