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Robinson v. Diamond Hous. Corp. - 150 U.S. App. D.C. 17, 463 F.2d 853 (1972)

Rule:

The landlord's desire to remove a tenant who is not paying rent is not a legitimate business purpose. Southall Realty and the housing code guarantee the right of a tenant to remain in possession without paying rent when the premises are burdened with substantial housing code violations making them unsafe and unsanitary. The landlord of such premises who evicts his tenant because he will not pay rent is in effect evicting him for asserting his legal right to refuse to pay rent. This, of course, is the very sort of reason which, according to Edwards and the housing code, will not support an eviction. 

Facts:

Lena Robinson was a month-to-month tenant of Diamond Housing. Robinson moved into the premises with the understanding Diamond Housing would repair the deteriorating condition of the premises. When Diamond Housing failed to do so, Robinson withheld rent. Diamond Housing sought to evict Robinson, which Robinson defended stating the lease was unenforceable because at the time of its execution substantial housing violations existed. After several unsuccessful attempts, Diamond Housing was successful in obtaining a judgment to evict Robinson wherein the trial court held the retaliatory defense of Edwards v. Habib, 130 U.S.App.D.C. 126, 397 F.2d 687 (1968), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 1016, 89 S. Ct. 618, 21 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1969), which held that a tenant may assert the retaliatory motivation of his landlord as a defense to an otherwise proper eviction, was unavailable to Robinson.

Issue:

May a landlord who has been frustrated in its effort to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent by successful assertion of a Brown v. Southall Realty Co. defense automatically accomplish the same goal by serving a 30-day notice to quit?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The appellate court for the District of Columbia held, pursuant to the District of Columbia's Housing Regulations 2901 and 2902, retaliatory evictions are forbidden for assertion of a defense that the underlying lease was illegal and void; thus the landlord was not entitled to gain possession for rent due under the invalid lease as announced in Brown v. Southall Realty Co., D.C. App., 237 A.2d 834 (1968),which held that a lease purporting to convey property burdened with substantial housing code violations was illegal and void and that hence the landlord was not entitled to gain possession for rent due under the invalid lease.

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