If a Tree Falls in the Forest...


Washington, District of Columbia,
January 31
Suzanne Des Marais is the daughter of MCM architect, professor, and historic preservationist M. Robert Des Marais, and the Goddaughter of the iconic modernist architect Josef van der Kar. A real estate broker by trade, Suzanne has particular interests in solving challenges associated with revitalizing neighborhoods and preserving housing affordability. Although she has been quoted by The Washington Post and the BBC, she is probably best known for her weekly commentary as “hipchickindc” on the popular website www.PoPville.com.


Editor’s Pick
OCTOBER 2, 2008 11:34PM

The Reluctant Seller-Update

Rate: 9 Flag

I’m a real estate broker in a large metropolitan area.  I have many years of experience, both in the actual business, and in committee work regarding ethics and public policy. Just when I think I’ve seen it all, something happens to show me that there is always a new situation to manage, beyond what I ever could have imagined. 

The Friday before last, I attended a settlement with my client, who purchased a property he plans to renovate and live in.  It was what we call a “wet” settlement, in that the Seller walked away from the table with her proceeds from the sale in her hand.

The Seller had not finished her move, and we made arrangements for her to complete it over the weekend.  My client went ahead and changed the front door lock. 

I received a call from the mover early the next morning, saying that the Seller had broken in and was occupying the house.  I went by to speak to her.  She was groggy, possibly under the influence of something, and refused to leave.  Since we had made plans for her to move over the weekend, my client made the decision to check back in on Monday.

On Monday, I met my client at the house and the door was barricaded shut.  My client called the police.  Three police officers met us at the house.  We explained what had transpired.  They were sympathetic. 

They were sympathetic BUT, this being the District of Columbia, where tenants have more rights than property owners, they insisted they had no authority to remove her.  My client was instructed to file a notice to evict down at landlord and tenant court.  In many cases, this process takes six months to a year.

My client has since consulted with several attorneys specializing in tenancy law.  They have all told him the same thing that the police officers had.


At this point, over a week later, the Seller has made some movement with regard to getting some of her stuff out of the house.  She is still in residency.  We’re trying to work with her to voluntarily move, since the legal options appear rather dismal.  In the mean time, my client is paying interest to the bank, and is losing valuable construction time.

Everyone I have told this story, including colleagues and attorneys, are flabbergasted by this situation.  Several people have asked, "so if I am not in my home and somebody breaks in and takes up residency, the police will not remove them?"  According to the District police, yes, that is what this means.

 19 days.  That's how long she stayed on my client's dime.  The cost to him includes 19 days of mortgage interest, $72. for broken locks (2), lost time from work, time and money spent consulting attorneys, and costs associated with delayed construction. 

 We ultimately made the decision to approach the situation amicably.  The squatter seemed to like my client and he treated her very gently.  He stopped by frequently and lamented over his expenses, which she seemed to kind of get.  Because she was actually making an effort to move her posessions (with both a pod storage and a Uhaul), we figured she'd be out sooner than if he pursued legal action. 

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A fascinating story and really the type I have heard more about in the case of rental apartments. I hope the situation rectifies itself on Monday! Had I been in the shoes of the buyer, I would have had such a feeling of turmoil until the previous owner had finally moved out.
"Reluctant" is an understatement.
This sounds like the perfect thing to notify your local politicians about. There ought to be a law.

The devil in me thinks it's time to find some friends, break in to the house, and move in. The more the merrier, right?
Designanator, even as the agent, I won't be able to sleep right until this is resolved.

Yes, Koakuma, an understatement, to be sure.

inchkachka, the funny (or sad) thing is that I am already actively vocal in relation to public policy legislation with regard to homeownership issues, both locally and nationally. DC has some very funky tenant laws that don't exist in other parts of the country.
My goodness...what a mess. It's not considered trespassing for her to stay in a house that now belongs to your client? Keep us informed of how things turn out.
It's time to "send the boys round" if you know what I mean
Stuff like this makes me clench my teeth with the anxiety. Great that he first tried to deal with the situation legally. But now it's time to stake out the house, and when she leaves, have a crew of 7 burly guys move her stuff onto the street, move in and change all the locks on the doors, and hire a security guard to watch the place for a couple of weeks. Fight fire with fire.
We have a crew of guys...the movers...but it seriously could affect my client's legal position if the person now squatting in the house is mishandled.

Ugh. I'll know more tomorrow.
Wow, and I thought Florida and California were lawless! I guess it shouldn't surprise me though, that DC takes the cake. Two very baaaad sayings come to mind here: It's only illegal if you get caught (and in this case prosecuted, provided there are sane laws to enforce.,) and secondly, 'learn the rules of the game so that you may break them properly.'
My guess is that the 'wet' client listened to, and applied both pieces of the preceding con-man advice. This reminds me of trying to strategize in preparation for handing McCain his posterior.

According to my father, different rules are used for Republicans than those which are applied to Democrats, and I tend to agree.

Liberals can't be shamelessly manipulative...and get away with it. Liberals can't take the moral and strategic low road, and get away with it. Liberals also cannot get away with choosing a ringer for a VP running mate with the only 'justification/explanations' given being estrogen (implicit) and 'executive' experience (explicit). POW and Governor of ALASKA?! Great, so if McCain dies, we can have a severely inept President, who was the former governor of the LARGEST state in the nation...mismanage the whole country. After having elected and then re-elected the former governor of the second largest state by area - Texas, we wouldn't want to pass up that notch on our Guiness belt now, would we?
Don't DARE tell me I'm sexist. I was rooting for Hillary until she lost her civility during the Primaries. Palin is no Hillary, and anyone voting for McCain after having their Hillary-hopes dashed this year, is as much a Liberal/clear-thinker, as Lou Dobbs is an Independent. To a certain extent, Senator Obama has to demonstrate with increased frequency, that he's grown a pair, and not be afraid to come out from behind them. I'm not advocating flashing the public, but rather, the gloves must come off. It's too late to take them off before the debates, but it IS time to give McCain what amounts to an intellectual cup-check.

I am "All-in" for Obama on a verbal joust. McCain has shown he can read the hell out of a tele-prompter. Bait is my prediction for what he'll end up as during the debate though. Take no prisoners, and spare not even Palin.

Can Palin take down the proverbial white-haired deer-in-headlights from 200 yards, with just her youth and 'enthusiasm'? I don't want to EVER find out.
This is utterly, completely insane. If she wasn't invited in, there's no rental agreement, and she hasn't been there 30 days yet, she's a trespasser, and she's guilty of breaking & entering. Maybe get the bank in on it? Somehow? Otherwise, you know, the mortgage is in danger, and gawd knows banks don't want to deal with that right now.

In Texas, and not that I'm condoning it, but in Texas your house is your castle, and anybody who even invades your YARD without permission can be shot. If they've broken into your HOUSE, well, most jurisdictions won't even bother to send it to grand jury. That may be a bit extreme, but this...honestly, this has to be one of the stupidest things I've ever heard.
It's so interesting to read these comments.

For some background, the super tenant friendly laws come out of a super liberal local government and constituency.

merwoman, remember, we're also the jurisdiction that allowed criminals to have guns, but not the citizens, causing a Supreme Court visit of that law recently.
D.C., that's like not even part of the United States, right? I'd be scared if this happened in the USA, but in D.C.... well....
In view of this discussion and my comments about Texas, I thought you might find this interesting:

Thanks, merwoman.

As Rich alluded to, it's a different universe here.