A Bell Hearing is held to determine the amount of money a DC tenant will need to pay into the Court registry while their landlord tenant case is pending. Given the extended length of time DC landlord tenant cases can take to resolve, landlords have the option to obtain what is called a protective order which requires the tenant to pay a set amount of money into the Court registry while the case is pending. The Bell Hearing establishes the amount of money the tenant will be required to pay, and this amount only relates to future rent payments, the amount of past due rent is irrelevant to the protective order amount.
At the Bell Hearing, the Court will hear evidence of the current rental amount set forth in the lease and any defenses raised by the tenant as to why the rental amount should be reduced going forward, usually as a result of housing code violations or property conditions that effect the life, health, or safety of the tenant.
These issues include, but are not limited to:
– lack of air conditioning
– broken appliances
– rodent infestations
A Bell Hearing is prospective, not retrospective, meaning that not only is the amount of past due rent irrelevant to the protective order amount, but the conditions at the property before the initial hearing are also irrelevant. Therefore, if there was a rodent infestation at the property, but it was remedied before the initial hearing, then it is unlikely the Court will consider such evidence when determining the protective order amount. For this reason, it is important that the parties document the conditions of the property at or around the initial hearing date to be considered as evidence at the Bell Hearing. This can be done by having the property inspected and having the inspector present at the Bell Hearing to testify, taking pictures of the current conditions of the property, and bringing written documentation of repair requests and responses to the hearing.
While it is possible, it is very unlikely that the parties will be able to change the protective order amount after the Bell Hearing, so it is very important that the parties have all their evidence compiled and ready to be presented at the Bell Hearing which is, in essence, a mini-trial.
Are you involved in a DC residential landlord-tenant dispute and have questions about the process? If so, you can contact the Thomas Law Office and we would be happy to discuss your specific situation with you.