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One tenant who cycled through D.C. Superior Court this morning had an interesting excuse for failing to pay her rent: She didn’t understand the lease agreement.
The tenant landed in court back in March for failing to pay $7,000 in back rent to her landlord. When she finally forked over the payment, she also signed a new agreement stating that she wouldn’t be late on rent again.
She was late in June, landlord Barrington Bowen claims—-and now she owes him an additional $1,150 in rent, plus fees. The landlord wasn’t happy to be involved in a second run-around. “I’m tired of chasing after this woman,” he told the court. “I’ve had it, and I want my property back.”
The tenant’s lawyer, who was communicating with the tenant in Spanish, protested that the woman didn’t understand what she was agreeing to, since the court failed to supply an interpreter during the proceedings.
Judge Joan Zeldon—-she of cell-phone borrowing fame—-wasn’t buying the language barrier excuse.
“I simply don’t believe that,” Zeldon said, adding that the court “bends over backward” to provide interpreters during hearings. A Spanish interpreter is on-hand at the court each morning, and other language-speakers are summoned on request—-an Urdu interpreter, in fact, was on the way.
Zeldon went back to the record to settle the bilingual dispute. According to court documents, Zeldon pointed out, the March agreement had been “read by an interpreter in open court.” Zeldon pointed to the line in the document and shook her head. The tenant, at least, understood the body language.
Reporting by Ruth Samuelson