Washington D.C. Habitability Laws

Last Updated: January 14, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

QUICK FACTS
  • Landlord Responsibilities. Maintain all electrical, plumbing and heating systems in good working condition (read more).
  • Making Repairs. Landlords are required to make and pay for repairs for items under their responsibility. They must do so within a “reasonable time” after receiving a written request from tenants (read more).
  • Tenant Options. If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, tenants can’t withhold rent or repair and deduct, but they can report the issue to a public official or file a lawsuit (read more).
  • Retaliation. If a landlord is reported to a local city or county inspector for housing code violations, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate, such as by threatening eviction (read more).

The implied warranty of habitability in Washington D.C. does not apply to all types of dwellings. See the table below for which are and aren’t included.

Dwelling Type Landlord/Tenant Laws Apply?
Single family Yes
Multi-family Yes
Fraternities/Sororities/Clubs Not addressed
RV parks Not addressed
Mobile home parks Not addressed
Condos Not addressed
Hotels/Motels Not addressed

Landlord Responsibilities

The following chart lists possible landlord responsibilities when it comes to habitability.  Not all of them are requirements in Washington D.C., as indicated below.

Note: Some of the below items may not be addressed at the state level but may be addressed on a county or city level. Check your local housing codes to see which additional requirements may apply.

Habitability Issue Landlord Responsibility?
Provide windows and doors that are in good repair. Yes
Ensure the roof, walls, etc., are completely waterproofed and there are no leaks. Yes
Provide hot and cold running water. Yes
Provide working HVAC equipment. Yes
Provide working plumbing and electrical wiring/outlets/ lighting. Yes
Provide working gas lines if used for utilities/cooking Not addressed
Provide working sanitation facilities (bathtub/shower, toilet). Yes
Provide a trash can (for trash pickup services). Not addressed
Ensure that any stairs and railings are safe. Yes
Ensure that all floors are in good condition and safe. Yes
Provide fire exits that are usable, safe, and clean. Yes
Ensure storage areas, including garages and basements, do not house combustible materials. Not addressed
Provide working smoke detectors Yes
Provide a mailbox. Not addressed
Provide working wiring for one telephone jack. Not addressed
Provide working kitchen appliances. Not addressed
Provide working carbon monoxide detector. Yes
Provide a working washer/dryer. Not addressed

Washington D.C. landlords shall maintain dwelling units and all common areas to be in a safe and sanitary condition for human habitation. The implied warranty of habitability and the D.C. Housing Codes (which are regulated by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA)) have the same duties outlined for a landlord. All leases (written or not) shall include the implied warranty of habitability.

Heat

If the lease agreement states that the landlord shall supply heat to the dwelling unit, the landlord must provide a minimum temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit in all habitable rooms and bathrooms during October 1st and May 1st.

Windows

Landlords must provide screens that are in good condition on the windows from March 15th to November 15th.

Pests

Dwelling units in Washington D.C. must be pest free from rodents and vermin. Extermination must be paid for by the landlord whenever infestation exists (unless it is a multi-family unit, and the unit is the only one infested).

Making Repairs

Landlords are required to make and pay for any repairs so that the unit is livable. Landlords are not liable for any damaged caused by the tenant.

  • Sending Notice – If a tenant request repairs, they must put their request in writing to the landlord. The landlord will then have a “reasonable” timeframe to make any necessary repairs after receiving written notice. The notice shall include the dwelling unit’s location, a description of the repairs requested, and the amount of “reasonable” time the landlord has to correct the issue.
  • Landlord Access – Tenants are required to give the landlord access to the property to make necessary repairs during reasonable hours. Landlords should give the tenant at least 48 hours-notice before entering the premises unless it is an emergency.

Tenant’s Options if Repairs Aren’t Made

If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, the tenant has a few possible options for resolving the issue.

  1. Withhold Rent – Washington D.C. landlord tenant law does not directly grant tenants the right to withhold rent in response to habitability issues. However, the law does state that if a landlord brings an eviction suit after proper steps were taken by the tenant to notify the landlord of a habitability issue, the eviction lawsuit may be considered as a retaliatory action, which is illegal.
  2. Repair and Deduct – There is no statute on the repair and deduction option.
  3. Lawsuit – Tenants can sue the landlord for damages for the landlord’s failure to comply with habitability laws.
  4. Reporting to Public Officials –Landlords can be reported on a city or county level to housing inspectors if they are found to be in violation of any local housing codes.

Landlord Retaliation

Under Washington D.C. law, landlords are not permitted to take any retaliatory actions against tenants for exercising their legal rights. A tenant’s legal right includes:

  • Legally withholding all or part of the rent after giving reasonable notice to the landlord about a housing violation.
  • Contacting the District of Columbia government officials regarding violations or suspected violations of housing codes in the dwelling unit.
  • Sending a written request or making an oral request (with a witness present) to the landlord to fix the housing violation.
  • Bringing legal action against the landlord.
  • Organizing a tenants’ union or becoming a member of a tenants’ organization.

Landlords shall not take any retaliatory action against the tenant within a six-month period of a tenant exercising their legal right. Retaliatory action includes:

  • Increasing rent.
  • Decreasing services or reducing the quantity or quality of the service.
  • Increasing the obligation of a tenant.
  • Violating the privacy of the tenant or harass the tenant.

Sources