How to Report a Landlord in Washington DC for Unsafe Living Conditions
August 21, 2023
When a renter in Washington DC can’t obtain necessary repairs, before beginning a court case it’s usually possible to file a report with the proper government departments about the unsafe conditions on the property. Code inspectors have the power to order repairs or fine noncompliant landlords.
What Are Considered Unsafe Living Conditions in Washington DC?
In Washington DC, unsafe living conditions exist when a landlord doesn’t provide the following for a rental property, in good working condition:
Air conditioning, between May 15-Sep. 15 (if provided).
Garbage containers (in multiple dwellings).
Garbage removal services.
Required smoke alarms and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors.
Windows and doors, including locks for doors as appropriate.
Roofs and chimneys.
Other structural elements like floors, guardrails, walls, and stairways.
Provided kitchen appliances.
Common areas (in multiple dwellings).
Any other features that affect habitability as defined by the DC housing code.
What Should Tenants Do Before Reporting a Violation in Washington DC?
In most cases, before reporting a violation, a tenant in Washington DC mustnotify the landlordabout the issue (ideally in writing) and ask him to fix it within a reasonable time considering the issue. The Department of Buildings recommends listing specific code violations, either from ageneral listor using the specific requirements inTitle 14 of the DC Code.
How Can Tenants Report a Violation in Washington DC?
Tenants in Washington DC should report violations to the Department of Buildings. There’s anonline formfor reporting maintenance issues. Alternatively, tenants canemailtheir concerns to the department, or call (202) 442-9557. They can also check a property’s compliance online through theDCRA Scoutservice and theDOB Public Dashboard.
In addition to a detailed issue description, the department will ask for the address of the violation along with contact information for the tenant as well as the landlord or property manager.
After receiving a complaint, an inspecting officer might contact the tenant for more information. Then the officer will usually inspect the property and cite the landlord for any code violations. Unlike most places, Washington DC allows for virtual inspections via video call.
What Could Happen to a Landlord After a Complaint Is Made in Washington DC?
After a tenant files a complaint about unsafe living conditions in Washington DC, an officer may inspect the property and cite the landlord for code violations. DC law considers code violations to also violate the tenant’s implied warranty of habitability.
“Each facility and utility provided in a residential building to comply with the requirements of this subtitle shall be properly and safely installed, and shall be maintained in a safe and good working condition.”
“Adequate heating facilities shall mean the provision and maintenance in good repair of one of the following: (a) A central heating facility; (b) A non-portable, flue-connected heating facility; or (c) An electric heating facility which may or may not be flue-connected.”
“The owner of a rental habitation, who provides air conditioning as a service either through individual air conditioning units or a central air conditioning system, shall maintain such unit or system in safe and good working condition.”
“Each residential building shall be provided with a water heating facility which is properly connected with the hot water lines of the required fixtures, and which is capable of providing sufficient hot water at a temperature of not less than one hundred twenty degrees Fahrenheit (120° F.) at those fixtures to meet normal demands.”
“The principal occupant of a single or two-family dwelling, and the owners or licensees of multiple dwellings, shall provide and maintain water-tight metal receptacles with tight-fitting metal covers sufficient for the separate storage of all ashes, garbage, or refuse accumulating on the premises during the usual interval between collections of the ashes, garbage, and refuse.”
There isn’t a specific legal requirement in Washington DC for a landlord to provide garbage removal services, but it is implied by the requirement for the owner of a premises to prevent unsanitary conditions: “The owner of any premises shall maintain the premises free of any condition that may render the premises unhealthy or unsanitary for the occupant, the neighborhood or the community at large.”
“The owner or operator of a housing business shall provide to each tenant, when the tenant first enters into possession of a habitation, an adequate lock and key for each door used, or capable of being used, as an entrance to or egress from the habitation, and shall keep each lock in good repair. Each lock shall be capable of being locked from inside and outside the habitation.”
“Loose or peeling wall covering or paint on interior surfaces shall be removed, and the surface so exposed shall be repainted or repapered by the owner… [and] a lead-based paint hazard… shall be enforced by the Mayor according to the provisions of the Lead Hazard Prevention and Elimination Act.”
“The roof shall be maintained so it does not leak, and all rain water shall be drained and conveyed from the roof so that it does not cause wet walls or ceilings. Each smoke pipe and each chimney shall be adequately supported, free from obstruction, and maintained in such condition that there will be no leakage or backing up of noxious or dangerous gases.”
The structural requirements imposed in Washington DC are too detailed to justify point-by-point citations, but in general, walls must be kept free of holes and gaps, floors and stairways must be structurally sound and in reasonable repair, and guardrails, gutters, and other safety devices must meet code requirements and be kept in good order. SeeD.C. Mun. Regs. tit. 14 § 7 (2023)
“Whenever an owner or licensee of any residential building furnishes any facilities for cooking, storage, or refrigeration of food, those facilities shall be maintained by the owner or licensee in a safe and good working condition.”
“There shall be deemed to be included in the terms of any lease or rental agreement covering a habitation an implied warranty that the owner will maintain the premises in compliance with this subtitle.”
Washington D.C. does not require written notice from tenants to landlords about needed repairs. The city inspections process provides written notice of any code violations. However, city authorities strongly recommend written notice nevertheless: “If possible, make all of your requests for repairs in writing. Keep a copy of every letter or note you write.” Office of the Att’y Gen. for D.C., Resources for Tenants: Document and Report Problems (2023) (emphasis in original)
“Each notice of violation shall: (a) Be in writing: (b) State the nature of the violation; (c) Indicate the section or sections of this subtitle or the International Property Maintenance Code, as amended by the District of Columbia Property Maintenance Code Supplement being violated; (d) Allow a reasonable time for the performance of any act required by the notice; and (e) Be signed by the Director or the Director’s authorized agent.”