Court Simplification — Burden of Production of Rent Payment Records

DC Legal aid has a great blog on the new DC Superior Court rule requiring landlords to bring the “rent ledger” to court in non-payment cases.

The benefit is obvious: it is likely the landlord who has the record, and this makes it possible for court and tenant to review for errors.

Here is the Order implementing the rule changes to DC Superior Court Rules of Procedure for the Landlord and Tenant Branch.

Rule 10. Discovery.

(a) Except as provided in subsections (b) and (d), there shall be no discovery without leave of court.

(b) Ledgers and other documentary evidence of rent payment history.
(1) Plaintiff’s obligation to bring to court and produce upon request. In any case involving an allegation of nonpayment of rent, the plaintiff shall bring to every court hearing, including the initial hearing and any mediation session, copies of all rent ledgers within the plaintiff’s possession, custody, or control that tend to show the defendant’s payment or nonpayment of rent owed throughout all periods of time in which the defendant’s rental payments are alleged to be delinquent, i.e., back to the most recent point in time at which there was a zero balance. A plaintiff who has not maintained a rent ledger for the premises shall bring to court other materials, such as bank statements and rent receipts, that establish the defendant’s payment history for the time periods in dispute. Upon request of the defendant or the court, the plaintiff shall promptly produce all ledgers and other materials the plaintiff has brought to court pursuant to this subsection.
(2) Sanctions for plaintiff’s failure to produce. If the plaintiff fails upon request to produce any or all of the materials described in subsection (b)(1), then the court, on the oral or written motion of a party, or on its own initiative, may enter an order requiring the plaintiff to produce such materials and, until the materials have been produced, may grant a continuance, decline to enter a protective order, or vacate, suspend, or modify an existing protective order.
(3) Order for production by defendant. At the initial hearing or any subsequent hearing, the court, on the oral or written motion of the plaintiff, or on its own initiative, may enter an order requiring the defendant to produce copies of all materials within the defendant’s possession, custody, or control, including rent receipts, cancelled checks, and money order receipts, that tend to establish the defendant’s payment or nonpayment of rent owed throughout all periods of time in which the defendant’s rental payments are alleged to be delinquent.
(4) Sanctions for noncompliance with court order compelling production. A failure by a party to comply with an order compelling production pursuant to subsection (b)(1) or (3) may subject that party to sanctions as set forth in SCR Civil 37(b). In no event, however, may a default or a judgment for possession be entered as a sanction for a defendant’s failure to produce materials as required by an order compelling production entered pursuant to this section. In the event the court enters a dismissal as a sanction for the plaintiff’s noncompliance with a court order compelling production entered pursuant to this section, the dismissal will be without prejudice unless the court specifies that a dismissal with prejudice is warranted.
(5) Limitations. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require a party to create a rent ledger or any other document that does not already exist.  (Bold added)

More generally, this is a great example of creative simplification, making the person who should have easy access to the information responsible for providing it, rather than relying on traditional burden of proof or discovery rules.  The same principle is being applied in places such as NY in the foreclosure context, in which lawyers are being required for the accuracy of statements in pleadings.

I think this approach — focusing on who can reasonably be expected to product information, and when, has a great potential to save resources, and improve outcomes in the direction of that intended in the underlying substantive legislative enactment.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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