DC Street Vendors File Lawsuit To Fight The City’s ‘Clean Hands Law’ That Blocks Licensing

DC Street Vendors File Lawsuit To Fight The City’s ‘Clean Hands Law’ That Blocks Licensing

Debt is weighing down street vendors in the District of Columbia.

On June 20, 2023, a group of D.C. residents sued the city after being denied licensing over unpaid debt. According to DCist, the group of seven included street vendors who cannot obtain occupational or small business licenses under the Clean Hands Law.

The lawsuit says the Clean Hands Law negatively impacts poor residents. It reads, “This case challenges a poverty trap the District of Columbia imposes on its most vulnerable and impoverished residents,” according to DCist. A street vendor involved in the suit echoed this concern. Kahssay Ghebrebrhan, a 63-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia and a food street vendor, said he could not pay off his debt if he is not working. “I’m not working. How can I pay?” he said. DCist reported that Ghebrebrhan owes around $1,000 in debt to D.C.

Ariel Levinson-Waldman, an attorney for the group, said, “When we have policies that condition participation in the workforce on the ability to pay, what we’re doing is punishing poverty.” He added, “We are absolutely encouraging the council to continue the important work of reforming the Clean Hands Law. But in the meantime, it becomes very important for the court to step in and provide the kind of relief that is only available on this emergency basis through the court process,” DCist reported.

The D.C. Bar reported a lawsuit against the Clean Hands Law at the beginning of 2023 for preventing people from getting or renewing their licenses if they owed $100 or more in parking or traffic fines. Tzedek DC and Venable LLP filed the lawsuit. Levinson-Waldman, president of Tzedek DC, said at the time, “Black D.C. residents are being arrested at 19 times the rate of white D.C. residents for the offense of driving without a permit. The Clean Hands Law is playing a role in creating that situation,” according to the D.C. Bar.