The Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) has authority to hear and decide rental housing cases under the Rental Housing Act. The Rental Housing Act is administered by the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Rental Accommodations Division (RAD). Cases that come to OAH under this Act include challenges to rent increases, the withholding of security deposits, and reductions of services or facilities, among others.
The purpose of this page is to help you learn more about rental housing cases and the OAH hearing process. This page does not give legal advice. You can only get legal advice from a lawyer. If you are interested in looking for a lawyer, click on the “I need more help” tab below for more resources.
Also, OAH tries to keep information on this page up to date, but laws and procedures sometimes change. You should refer to agency notices, OAH orders, and official sources of laws and rules for current information and requirements regarding your case.
How do I request a hearing?
If you have a complaint under the Rental Housing Act, you must file a petition with the DHCD Rental Accommodations Division (RAD). You cannot request a hearing directly with OAH. Petition forms and filing instructions are on the RAD Forms webpage.
After you file your petition, RAD will determine whether your petition gives reasonable grounds for a hearing. If so, RAD will forward your petition to OAH. At that point, OAH will open a case and will send you a written order explaining the next steps of the process.
OAH Rule 2921 has more information about beginning a rental housing case.
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.
Chapter 29 has rules for specific case types, including rental housing cases. So, if you have a rental housing case, you should start in Chapter 29 when looking for rules that apply to your case. Specifically, rental housing cases are covered by Rules 2970 through 2978. If a Chapter 29 rule does not have the information you are looking for, you should then look at the Chapter 28 rules, most of which broadly cover all case types at OAH. Chapter 29 rules sometimes refer to the related Chapter 28 rules to give you some guidance. Both Chapters also have a table of contents with section headings that 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 DHCD-related cases.
The D.C. Code is where you can find laws passed by the D.C. Council. Within the bounds of the law, a D.C. agency may then make regulations creating requirements and procedures for the program or service the agency administers. 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.
Rent control laws are in the Rental Housing Act, which you can find in Title 42, Chapter 35 of the D.C. Code. Many rental housing cases involve issues covered by Subchapter II, titled "Rent Stabilization Program." For example, Section 3502.08 covers rent increases, Section 3502.11 covers services and facilities, and Section 3502.17 covers security deposits.
The Rental Housing Act authorizes the Rental Housing Commission to pass regulations for how RAD must administer the Act. These regulations are in Title 14, Chapter 42 of the DCMR.
Other regulations may apply as well. For example, the portion of the Rental Housing Act dealing with security deposits states that OAH may adjudicate cases based on housing regulations in Title 14, Chapter 3, Sections 308 through 311.
Both the D.C. Code and the DCMR have headings at each level, from the title down to individual sections. These headings can help guide you to the sections that apply to your case.
If you are having difficulty finding laws or regulations that may apply to your case, click on the “I need more help” tab below for more information about who you can contact for more help.
How do I prepare for a hearing?
When a case comes to OAH, generally the next step of the process will be explained in a “scheduling order” that OAH will send you by mail, and by email if you provide an email address. For DHCD-related cases, the OAH judge normally first schedules a “status hearing,” also called a “status conference.” The purpose of a status hearing is for the judge to meet with the parties to generally talk about the issues in the case and next steps, which could involve another status hearing, a mediation or an evidentiary hearing.
Mediation is an informal process in which the parties meet with an impartial OAH mediator, who facilitates a discussion to see if the parties can negotiate and reach a resolution on their own terms. If the parties cannot resolve a case through mediation, the case will then be scheduled for an evidentiary hearing, the formal process in which each sides gives evidence before the judge. The judge will send a scheduling order with 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.
If a witness won’t agree to come to a hearing voluntarily, you can ask the judge for a “subpoena.” A subpoena is a court order that requires someone to come to a hearing and testify. Visit the Subpoena Request page, under “Filings & Forms,” for more information about the subpoena process.
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 a copy of the exhibit with OAH and “serve” a copy 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 in a case. You can also serve exhibits by email if you and the other party have agreed in writing to allow service by email. You can find the contact information for the other party at the end of the scheduling order, on the page called “Certificate of Service.”
If you know that a person or organization related to your case has important documents about the facts, but they will not give you copies of the documents, you can ask the judge for a “subpoena” that will require them to do so. Besides requiring someone to testify at hearing, a subpoena can also be used to require someone to share documents. You can also ask the judge to allow “discovery.” Discovery is the formal process of getting information from an opposing party. Discovery generally is not needed or permitted in most OAH hearings, but it may be an option if you have a good reason. Visit the Subpoena Request and Discovery Request pages, under “Filings & Forms,” for more information about these processes.
You should also keep in mind that properly filing and serving 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 accepted the exhibit into evidence.
Lastly, you should have copies of all exhibits, both your own and the other party’s, when you come to your hearing. Even if your hearing is in person at OAH, 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 for my case?
All exhibits must be filed with OAH and served to 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 the how the hearing will go before it begins, but the side with the “burden of proof” normally goes first when giving evidence. The side with the burden of proof must prove certain facts to win the case. If the side with the burden of proof cannot give enough facts to prove their case, the other side wins. The side with the burden of proof depends on the issue in a case. OAH Rule 2932 explains which side has the burden of proof for different types of issues. The OAH Rules are on the Rules & Laws page.
When it is your turn to present 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. (See the “How do I prepare for hearing” tab above for more explanation about how exhibits are admitted into 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 legal arguments as to why you should win. The closing argument is not evidence, and you 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 initial hearing request, or you may request an interpreter at any other time by calling OAH at (202) 442-9094 or by emailing [email protected]. But please let OAH know as soon as possible that you need an interpreter for your hearing to give OAH time to schedule an interpreter.
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 a hearing request, 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 be in touch with you to arrange reasonable accommodations for the day of your hearing. OAH may need some time to arrange the accommodations, so please let OAH know as soon as possible what accommodations you will need for your hearing.
What if I need to change my hearing date?
You may ask the judge in writing for 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, 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 the evidentiary 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 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?
I need more help.
If you are trying to find a lawyer to represent you or give you legal advice in a rental housing case, you may contact the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network. You can also visit the DHCD Forms webpage for fact sheets and booklets regarding rent control and rental unit conversion and sale laws. You may also check out the D.C. Bar resources, which include directories and other referral services for finding a lawyer.
If you cannot find a lawyer or if you choose to represent yourself, you may talk with someone with the OAH Resource Center. Please call (202)-442-9094 and select option #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 about the OAH process and rental housing and condominium cases.