REILLY, Chief Judge:
This appeal raises the issue of whether or not a trial court has discretion to stay a
Appellant is a federal agency charged with providing housing for low-income residents of the District of Columbia.
After hearing this testimony, the trial court made a finding that the total amount of unpaid rent was $868.67. From that sum, the court allowed the tenant a 15 percent (15%) Javins setoff on account of the asserted maintenance deficiencies. The court held that a balance of $756.54 was owed by the tenant.
The court then issued a judgment for possession but in the same order stayed the execution of such judgment for two years during which time the tenant was required to pay $600 in installments of $25 per month, and to meet current rental obligations. The remaining amount, $156.54, was to be paid within seven days from the date of the order. It is the two-year period of the stay which appellant assigns as error.
In a summary possessory action based on nonpayment of rent, it has been the practice of trial judges in the landlord and tenant branch of the Superior Court under Trans-Lux Radio City Corp. v. Service Parking Corp., D.C.Mun.App., 54 A.2d 144 (1947) (and authorities cited therein), to compute the total amount of rent owed by a tenant refusing to surrender the premises, even though the landlord is not seeking a judgment for back rent. Thus, although appellant here included no prayer for unpaid rent in its complaint, the trial court properly determined the precise amount of rent legally due, including the calculation of the setoff.
In Trans-Lux, supra at 146, former Chief Judge Hood explained this procedure:
It is also clear from this opinion, however, that the trial court exceeded its authority in deferring the tenant's obligation to pay the full amount due for an extended period. The rule in this jurisdiction—as reaffirmed in the Trans-Lux case —is that all accrued past rent must be unconditionally tendered before any stay of
As rationale for its "stay-installment" plan, the trial court cited one of its own prior decisions, United States v. Murphy, Super.Ct. L&T No. 85917-37 (1974), where a similar order was entered. In that case, the court held that the tenant would suffer "undue hardship" if the judgment for possession was executed, because low-income tenants of National Capital Housing Authority rental units could not possibly make a full tender in order to obtain a stay. This holding cannot be reconciled with a decision of this court, where much the same contention of hardship was raised and rejected on the ground that a trial court lacks power to stay even temporarily the execution of a writ of restitution if the full tender was not made first. Conrad v. Medina, D.C.Mun.App., 47 A.2d 562 (1946). The opinion in that case did commend the practice of many landlords in responding to efforts of the landlord and tenant branch to settle controversies by conciliation during times of housing shortages. We share that view but we also are compelled to recognize the proposition that an "[e]xercise of judicial discretion... must not be founded upon what an individual judge believes are abstract ideas of justice, but upon recognized legal or equitable principles." Id. at 565; footnotes omitted.
The tenant also contends that the equitable defense of laches should apply,
Reversed and remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.