Dismissed: How Rent Courts Process and Punish Low-Income Tenants in Washington, DC
Drawing from a year of ethnographic fieldwork in court, long-form interviews with tenants outside court, case law review, and a preliminary analysis of administrative court records, this research examines the central institution in Washington, DC’s eviction landscape: Landlord-Tenant Court (LTB). Each year, more than 30,000 cases are filed in LTB, and the court is tasked with processing each case—to varying degrees and through various mechanisms. I find that rather than providing an environment in which adjudication of the law unfolds neutrally, LTB is structured in such a way that prevents tenants from fully realizing their rights and, thus, in a way that disadvantages tenants irrespective of the merits or claims of their case. Specifically, the court’s procedures burden tenants and favor landlords; opportunity costs associated with court compliance pressure tenants into waiving rights and resources and not showing up in court; and the proximity of landlord attorneys to the court and its staff creates an underlying deferral to the interests of landlords.
Culture and Politics, Walsh School of Foreign Service
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