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Requirements to be a Landlord in Washington DC

October 13, 2022
Kamal Nawash

Washington D.C. Rental License

Landlords in Washington D.C. must obtain a housing business license to rent out their residential property. In addition to a housing business license, landlords must obtain a certificate of occupancy and register the Rental Accommodation Division (RAD). Even if the landlord believes his or her property is exempt from the rent control laws in D.C., the landlord still must register with RAD. The landlord may claim an exception from the rent stabilization program after registering with the RAD. Landlords should follow these steps to start renting their residential property.

Rent Control in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. has a rent control law that applies to most residential rental units in the city. Every rental property in Washington D.C. must be registered with Rental Accommodation Division (RAD) which is part of the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Housing Regulation Administration (HRA). Under the D.C.'s rental control statute, a landlord cannot increase the rent of their rental property above the allowable increase.

In order to increase rent, the landlord must do the following:

  • Register his or her property with RAD
    • The property must be in substantial compliance with housing regulations
    • The last increase must have been at least 12 months ago
  • The owner must give the tenant a 30-day notice of the increase in rent

Automatic Rent Increase

Each year, rent may be automatically increased based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI-W). The increase may exceed CPI-W by two percent; however, the total increase in rent cannot exceed 10% of the previous rent amount.

If the tenants are elderly or disabled, the landlord may only increase the rent in line with the CPI-W; the rent increase cannot exceed the CPI-W by two percent. Additionally, the total increase in rent cannot exceed five percent of the previous rent amount.

Vacant Unit Rent Increase

If the unit is vacant, the landlord may increase the rent up to 10% more than that amount charged to the former tenant or the landlord may increase the rent to the rate of a comparable unit. A comparable unit is a unit with the same square footage and floor plan, comparable amenities, equipment, and location. The total increase cannot be greater than 30% and the landlord cannot increase rent again for another 12 months.

Other Allowable Rent Increases

A landlord may petition the Rental Accommodation Division (RAD) for other rent increases based on hardship, capital improvements, services, and facilities, or substantial rehabilitation. Also, if the landlord can get 70% of the tenants of the rental property to agree, he or she may petition for a voluntary rent increase.

Tenant Objections to Rent Increases

For any rent increase, a tenant who believes that a rent adjustment is incorrect may file a tenant petition with Rental Accommodation Division (RAD). If a tenant petition is filed with the RAD, the Office of Administrative Hearings will hold a hearing in which the tenant and landlord can present their arguments regarding the rent increase.

Rent Control Exceptions

Landlords that own four or less rental units are exempt from the rent control laws in Washington D.C. To qualify for this exception, the landlord cannot own units through a corporation or LLC. Also, landlords that are receiving local or federal rent subsidies or a mortgage subsidy are exempt from rent control.

Further, there are rent control exemptions based on when the property was erected. If the property was built after 1975 or was first rented in 1980, it is exempt from rent control. However, if a rent-controlled property was demolished to build a new property after 1975, that new property would still be a rent controlled property.

Finally, if the property has been continuously vacant since 1985, it is not subject to rent control. To claim an exemption from the rent control law, a landlord must file a claim of exemption form with the Rental Accommodation Division.

Is there a legal requirement for late fees in Washington D.C.?

Late fees cannot exceed five percent of the monthly rent. The lease must state the maximum amount of late fees that may be charged in order for the landlord to charge the tenant a late fee.

Security Deposit Laws in Washington D.C.

In Washington D.C., the security deposit cannot exceed the cost of one month's rent. The landlord may only charge the tenant once for the security deposit. At the end of every calendar year, the owner must post where the tenants' security deposits are held and the interest rate for the preceding six months.

When must a landlord return the deposit by in Washington D.C.?

The tenant must receive their security deposit within 45 days after moving out. If the tenant lived in the rental unit for more than one year, their security deposit must be returned with interest. The landlord must send the tenant a written statement detailing the landlord's reasons for withholding the security deposit if the landlord plans to withhold part or all the security deposit. Within 30 days of sending the tenant notice that part of the deposit will be withheld, the landlord must send the tenant the remaining balance.

Which situations allow a landlord to withhold a security deposit in Washington D.C.?

Landlords cannot withhold deposits for routine maintenance or the repair of damage that was not caused by the tenant or the tenant's guests. Otherwise, the landlord may withhold the deposit for any reason stated in the lease.

To determine whether any damage to the unit will be charged to the tenant, the landlord may inspect the apartment three days before or after the tenant's move-out date. However, the landlord may not conduct an inspection on Saturday or Sunday.

If the landlord plans to inspect the rental unit, he or she must notify the tenant, in writing, of the inspection. The notice must be sent to the tenant 10 days before the inspection date.

What are the remedies available to the tenant if the landlord fails to remedy or correct the tenant's complaint or action to repair in Washington D.C.?

The tenant's remedy is to request an inspection of the premises by Housing Inspection Section of the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs. However, the tenant must first request that the landlord make the necessary repairs.

The request for repairs should be in writing and sent to the landlord through certified mail. If the landlord does not respond to the tenant's request for repairs then the tenant can move forward with the inspection request.

After the inspector completes the inspection, any damage must be repaired by the landlord. If the landlord does not make the required repairs, the tenant may petition the Rental Accommodations and Conversion Division (RACD) or the Office of the Tenant Advocate. The tenant may also sue the landlord in Small Claims Court; claims in Small Claims Court must be under $5000.00.

If the rental unit is unsafe or unsanitary when the tenant moves in, and the landlord knows the condition of the rental unit, the tenant may void the lease, without any consequences.

Washington D.C. Laws On Eviction

Before evicting a tenant, the landlord must serve the tenant a pay or quit notice. The pay or quit notice must state the wrong committed by the tenant and provide a period in which the tenant can repair the defect. If the tenant does not repair the defect that prompted the eviction, then the landlord may file an eviction in court. The landlord may evict the tenant only for the following reasons:

    • Nonpayment of rent
    • Violation of the lease, of which the tenant failed to correct after notice
    • Performance of an illegal act within the rental unit by the tenant
    • The landlord, in good faith, seeks to occupy the rental unit for personal use and occupancy
    • The landlord sells rental unit to a party who seeks in good faith to occupy the rental unit for personal use and occupancy
    • The landlord seeks to renovate or rehabilitate the rental unit in a manner which renders it uninhabitable
    • The landlord seeks to demolish rental unit
    • The landlord seeks to discontinue rental unit for housing and occupancy
  • The landlord seeks to convert rental unit to a condominium or cooperative after securing governmental approval.

Washington D.C. Laws on Retaliation

Landlords cannot retaliate against tenants for asserting any rights conferred upon tenants under Washington D.C.'s housing regulations or any other law. Some examples of retaliatory conduct include:

    • Unlawful evictions
    • Unlawfully increase of rent
    • Decrease services or a reduction in the quality of services
    • An increase in the obligations of a tenant
    • Violation of the privacy of the tenant
    • Harassment of the tenant
    • Any refusal to honor a lease or rental agreement or any provision of a lease or rental agreement
    • Any refusal to renew a lease or rental agreement
  • Termination of a tenancy without cause

What is the timeline for retaliation in Washington D.C.?

If the landlord pursues any of the actions above within six months after the tenant has sought enforcement of his or her rights under the Washington D.C landlord-tenant law, then the court presumes that the landlord's actions are retaliatory.

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