The D.C. Rental Housing Commission has released a ruling that may jeopardize Jubilee Housing Inc.'s blanket exemption from standard eviction procedures that was granted to the nonprofit group several years ago under the terms of a 1980 District law.
The commission decision -- which followed 11 months of deliberation and which arrived with a minority report -- was that Jubilee cannot use the exemption against a tenant whom the group wants to evict, because she lived in the apartment in the Mozart Building at 1630 Fuller St. NW before the group was granted its exemption.
The commission also ruled that Jubilee should not have a blanket exemption for all its tenants but that exemptions should be determined on a tenant-by-tenant basis, said Mitch Berger, an Antioch School of Law student representing the unidentified tenant.
An attorney for Jubilee, a nonprofit group that provides housing for the poor in 14 apartment buildings throughout the District, called the ruling "vague and cryptic" and said it was unclear what immediate effect the decision will have on Jubilee's operations.
But Jubilee attorney Mark T. Drooks said that the group will appeal the decision regarding the one tenant to the D.C. Court of Appeals in an effort to firmly establish itself as a nonprofit agency for the poor that is exempt from eviction laws such as proving that someone is a danger to other tenants before eviction can take place.
The commission's ruling "definitely sets a precedent that we want corrected," Drooks said. "It flouted the clear intent of the City Council, which passed the law with organizations like Jubilee in mind."
The ruling is one of several that have been handed down by courts and D.C. agencies in the past two years as Jubilee has attempted to evict tenants for allegedly dealing drugs in one of its apartment buildings. Originally, Jubilee targeted four tenants for eviction, but three of them have since moved.
Jubilee wanted to evict the tenants under its exemption rather than by proving they were a danger to other tenants, because other tenants in the building were afraid to testify against the four, a spokesman for Jubilee said.
Antioch law students representing the tenants have argued that Jubilee is not entitled to the exemption from eviction procedures for a host of reasons.
"Part of our problem is that Antioch has desired to make this a general legal issue that challenges Jubilee's status and has significant consequences for our program," said Robert Boulter, a spokesman for Jubilee. "Their actions have gone beyond defending one tenant."
Berger, the law student representing the tenant, said, however, that the 1980 law grants exemptions from eviction procedures only to nonprofit groups providing housing for families with incomes below a certain level.
"Some of the Mozart residents are single and others make more than allowed," Berger said. "Many of them, like the tenant they are trying to evict, lived in the apartment before the 1980 law was passed. The commission has stated that the exemption cannot be used against all of them."
He said the question of Jubilee's exemption status will be reconsidered by the D.C. Rental Accommodations Office, which originally granted the group the exemption.
Meanwhile, the case of the one tenant will go to the D.C. Court of Appeals, Drooks said.
"If, indeed, they are taking the stand that the exemption is void for many of the tenants, then the upshot is that Jubilee can go to the RAO and demand a rent increase for those tenants," Drooks said. "They've handed us a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they are saying we cannot have the eviction exemption for some of our tenants, but are we then obligated to keep providing housing for these tenants at a loss?"
The tenant who faces eviction has been paying $236 a month for a two-bedroom apartment into a court-held bank account since the summer of 1983, when Jubilee first tried to oust her and three other tenants that Jubilee spokesmen said allegedly were dealing drugs and endangering other tenants.
Two of the four tenants settled out of court with Jubilee and moved, and the third was evicted after she stopped paying rent to the court-held bank account, Berger said.