If you have received a Notice of Violation or a Notice of Infraction from a District agency – such as the Department of Public Works (DPW), the Department of Buildings (DOB), the Department of Health (DOH), or the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), among others – you must respond to the notice at the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), if instructed to do so with the notice. This page answers common questions about the OAH process.
The purpose of this page is to help you learn more about Notices of Violation/Infraction 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 the agency 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 Notice. Why did I get this, and what can I do about it?
When an enforcement agency issues a Notice of Violation or Notice of Infraction, the agency normally files a copy of the Notice with OAH. OAH then opens a case and waits for the person or organization responsible for the violation (the “respondent”) to answer the Notice in writing.
If the respondent never files an answer, and the agency proved that it properly “served” (i.e., sent or delivered) the Notice to the respondent, then OAH eventually issues a Final Order in the case. This is called a “default order” since it is an automatic order that goes out when the respondent doesn’t answer a Notice. A default order holds the respondent responsible for the violation and imposes the full fine amount, plus a penalty.
Sometimes, though, a respondent may never have received the Notice 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 reconsider or grant relief from the order, using the Request to Change a Final Order form. 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 Notice and can state an adequate claim or defense regarding the violation alleged in the Notice. 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 the 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 money as ordered. If you do neither, you may be subject to additional penalties. 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 Notice. How do I answer the Notice?
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 amount.
Please look at the instruction page included with the Notice for more specific information, including the deadline for filing your answer with OAH.
Your notice may have a section for you to complete to give your answer, but you can also use the Answer to a Notice of Violation or Infraction form. Visit the Filings & Forms page for instructions on how to file your answer.
OAH Rule 2804 has more information about filing an answer.
I am a tenant and received a Notice addressed to the property owner. Can I respond to the Notice?
First, you should let the property owner know about the Notice. If the property owner agrees, you may answer a Notice and even attend a hearing on behalf of the property owner, so long as you lived at the property at the time of the violation or were involved in the circumstances resulting in the violation. 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.
What happens if I do not answer the Notice in time?
If you do not answer a Notice by the deadline, you may be charged an additional penalty, along with interest on the fine amount. The issuing agency needs to prove that it properly delivered the Notice 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 amount. OAH can also require you to pay additional costs associated with the issuing agency's inspection of your property or correction of a violation. Failure to comply with an OAH order could also result in other sanctions, such as the suspension of a permit or license related to the infraction activity.
If you received a Notice 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 might be able to waive the penalty and allow the case to move forward.
If you have already received a final order because you do did not answer a Notice, click on "What can I do if I disagree with a judge’s final order?" below for more information on your options for appealing the order.
Also, failure to answer a Notice may also result in a lien being placed against your property, giving the District government a legal right against your property until the fine and penalties are paid. A lien could prevent you from refinancing or selling the property until the lien is satisfied. If you have discovered that a lien has been placed on your property, you must contact the issuing agency directly to resolve the issue. OAH generally only handles monetary fines and penalties, so you must contact the issuing agency for instructions on how to have a lien removed from your property.
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 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?
Each agency that issues notices and fines is responsible for enforcing different laws and regulations. In most situations, though, applicable laws and regulations are found in the D.C. Code and the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR).
The D.C. Code is where you can find laws passed by the D.C. Council. Within the bounds of those laws, the D.C. agency with authority to enforce particular laws may then make regulations creating 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, he or she may apply both laws and regulations to reach a final decision.
The notice should have a citation to the law or regulation that the agency claims you violated. For example, a Notice of Violation from the Department of Public Works could have a citation to “21 DCMR 705.5,” meaning the regulation allegedly violated is in Title 21, Chapter 7, Section 21-705.5 of the DCMR (the first digit in the section number indicates Chapter 7). Using this example, you can pull up the list of DCMR Titles, click on Chapter 7 (“Solid Waste Control”), then click to view the text of Section 21-705 (“Collection of Solid Wastes”) and scroll down to 705.5 for the text of that specific citation.
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.
Some notices may also cite to other codes, such as the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) and other construction codes. If you are having difficulty finding laws, regulations, or codes that apply to your case, you can visit the website of the agency that sent you the notice. The agencies often post relevant laws and regulations on their websites. You may also click on the “I need more help” tab below for more resources.
How does the issuing agency determine a fine amount?
Agencies use fine schedules in the D.C. Municipal Regulations (DCMR) to determine the fine amounts for specific types of violations. For example, the fine schedule for litter control violations is in Title 24, Chapter 13, Section 1380 of the DCMR. DPW and other agencies with authority to enforce litter control laws use this table to determine fine amounts for Notices of Violation.
The fine table for many other types of civil infractions is in Title 16, Chapter 32 of the DCMR. Title 16 contains chapters for various agency infractions, including DCRA infractions in Chapter 33 and DOH infractions in Chapter 36. The agency-specific chapters do not list fine amounts but specify a "class" for each type of infraction that agency enforces. Once you know the class of the infraction cited on your notice, you can then go to Chapter 32, which has a section generally describing each class of infraction (ranging from Class 1 to Class 6) and a section with the fine amounts for each class.
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, 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 someone admits a violation with an explanation, the OAH judge will send out an order that gives the agency 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 about 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” that explains how to attend the hearing and requirements for the hearing.
The scheduling order will have specific instructions, 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 from the agency that gave you the Notice. That means that OAH does not automatically have copies of the agency’s notices or other records. To use those documents at the hearing, you still 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.
Is it possible to resolve an issue directly with an issuing agency without going through the whole OAH hearing process?
Yes, you may try to contact the issuing agency directly to resolve an issue. But even if you resolve things directly with the agency, there is still a step required at OAH to have the case ended.
When an agency issues a NOV or NOI, the agency becomes the “petitioner” – the party initiating a case at OAH. OAH rules allow a petitioner to voluntarily withdraw a case at any time. So, if you can convince the issuing agency that you are not responsible for an alleged infraction or should not have been fined, the agency would still need to file a request with OAH to have the case and the NOV or NOI dismissed. When the judge grants the request and dismisses the case by sending out a written order, that is the end of matter.
However, keep in mind that direct discussions with the issuing agency do not excuse or replace filing an answer with OAH. You may reach out to the issuing agency 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 the agency and the process at OAH needs to move forward.
If I am scheduled for a hearing, how do I send documents or other exhibits I want to use at the hearing?
All exhibits must be filed with OAH and served on the other party.
You can file exhibits with OAH in person; by mail, email, or fax; or through the OAH E-Filing 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 the contact information for the other party, 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 of 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, the burden of proof is on the agency, 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.
OAH 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, and you still want a hearing, you must ask for a new hearing date in writing as soon as possible. Even if the judge sends a Final Order in the other party’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.
OAH Rule 2828 explains more about this type of request. 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, and the judge’s legal conclusions based on how the law applies to the facts.
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.