Under Washington D.C. law, if a written or oral rental agreement exists, or if payment is accepted as rent, landlords and tenants have automatic rights and responsibilities under D.C. Code Title 42 Subtitle VII and D.C. Municipal Regulations Title 14, such as the right to timely rent payments and a livable dwelling.
Note: These rights exist regardless of what the rental agreement says.
Landlord Responsibilities in Washington D.C.
In Washington D.C., landlords legally can’t rent property out unless it meets basic health and safety requirements. Here is a list of amenities and how they relate to Washington D.C.’s habitability requirements:
|Has to Provide?
|Has to Fix/Replace?
|Only If Provided
|Smoke and Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors
If a property doesn’t provide the legally required amenities for habitable housing, a tenant can usually report the landlord to government authorities for unsafe living conditions.
Renter’s Rights for Repairs in Washington D.C.
Landlords must perform necessary repairs in a timely manner. In Washington D.C., landlords must make repairs within a reasonable time after getting written notice from tenants.
If repairs aren’t made in a timely manner, Washington D.C. tenants can sue for costs, or a court order to force the landlord to make repairs. They can also cancel the rental agreement, or make minor repairs and deduct from the rent.
Tenant Responsibilities in Washington D.C.
Tenants in Washington D.C. are primarily responsible for:
- Maintaining the premises so it is clean, safe, and sanitary.
- Disposing of all garbage in a clean, safe, and sanitary manner.
- Keeping all plumbing fixtures clean and sanitary.
- Maintaining the premises so it is free from rodents and vermin.
- Maintaining all facilities, utilities, and services in a safe and good working condition.
- Not destroying or damaging any part of the premises.
Evictions in Washington D.C.
Landlords in Washington D.C. have broad powers to evict tenants. Washington D.C, landlords can evict tenants for:
- Violation of Lease Terms: If a tenant violates a lease, landlords must provide a 30-Day Notice to Comply requesting they remedy their behavior. Nonpayment of rent is considered a lease violation. Proper service for nonpayment of rent needs to be completed and the landlord must provide a copy of the notice to the Rent Administrator not more than five days after issuing the notice to the tenant.
- Demolition of the Rental Unit: If an owner wants to demolish a rental property and rebuild it. The landlord must give a 180-Day Notice to Quit. If the tenant remains on the property, the landlord may file for eviction.
- Renovation of the Rental Unit: If the landlord wants to renovate a property and the tenant needs to move out during that time, the landlord must provide a 120-Day Notice to Quit before filing an eviction suit with the court. The tenant has the right to return to the rental unit once the renovations are complete at the same rent rate.
- Discontinuance of Use: If the landlord decides to no longer rent out the unit and the property will sit unused, the landlord shall provide the tenant with a 180-Day Notice to Quit.
- Owner’s Personal Use of Rental Unit: If the landlord wants to live in the rental unit and no longer wants to rent out the property, they must issue a 90-Day Notice to Quit.
- Sale of Rental Unit: If the rental unit is being sold, landlords must issue a 90-Day Notice to Quit.
- Illegal Activity: If the tenant (or their guest) participates in an illegal activity on the premises, a landlord may issue a 30-Day Notice to Quit.
Washington D.C. tenants cannot be evicted as retaliation for reporting health or safety violations on the landlord’s part. Tenants can also not be evicted for violating terms added to the lease without their written permission.
Landlord Retaliation in Washington D.C.
It’s illegal for Washington D.C. landlords to retaliate with raised rent, reduced services, threatened eviction, or other similar inconveniences against tenants who have taken a protected action like reporting a landlord to government authorities for health and safety violations.
Security Deposits in Washington D.C.
Collections & Holdings: The following laws apply to the collection and holding of security deposits:
- Maximum: 1 month’s rent.
- Responsibilities: In order to collect security deposits, landlords must:
- Include the terms and conditions of the deposit in the lease agreement or on a receipt.
- Post and maintain a statement regarding interest rates.
- Provide written notice of any pending requests to change the rent ceiling.
- Disclose the amount of the security deposit and other information required by the Department of Housing and Community Development.
- Holding Requirement: Landlords must hold security deposits in an interest-bearing escrow account.
- Interest Requirement: Landlords are required to provide interest if the tenancy is longer than one year.
- Receipt Requirement: Yes (except for personal checks).
Returns & Deductions: The following laws apply to the return of security deposits:
- Allowable Deductions: Unpaid rent, utilities, late fees, damage excluding normal wear and tear, and cleaning costs.
- Time Limit for Return: Within 45 days after the lease term ends, landlords must either return the security deposit in full or provide a statement that they intend to make deductions, in which case, they have an additional 30 days to make the deductions and return any portion of the deposit that remains.
- Max. Penalty for Late Return: Tenants can sue for three times the deposit with interest plus court costs and attorneys’ fees.
Lease Termination in Washington D.C.
In Washington D.C., a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed-end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease (D.C. Code § 42-3201). Washington D.C. tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:
|Rent Payment Frequency
Early Termination: Washington D.C. tenants are legally allowed to terminate their lease for the following circumstances:
- Active military duty
- Uninhabitable unit
- Landlord harassment or privacy violation
- Early termination clause in lease agreement
- Domestic violence
Cost of Breaking a Lease in Washington D.C.
If a Washington D.C. tenant breaks their lease early, they are still liable for the rent for the remaining lease period. Landlords are legally required to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit, and if they find a new tenant, the original tenant is then no longer liable to pay all remaining rent.
Landlords cannot keep the full security deposit because a tenant broke their lease. The landlord can make deductions for damages or unpaid rent, but the rest must be returned to the tenant.
Rent Increases in Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. has rent control limiting the amount that landlords may ask for rent. Some types of housing are exempt from the rent control laws including all rental units built after 1975.
The maximum rent increase on a rent-controlled unit changes annually based on the average rate of inflation. In order to increase the rent, the rental property must be registered with the Rental Accommodations Division and the housing provider must be properly licensed.
All landlords must avoid increasing the rent during the lease term (unless the lease agreement allows for it), out of discrimination of district or federally-protected classes, or in retaliation.
Landlords must give 30 days’ notice before any rent increase. If the unit is rent-controlled, rent increases are limited to once per year.
Housing Discrimination in Washington D.C.
Protected Groups: Washington D.C. landlords cannot discriminate housing against any groups outlined in the Federal Fair Housing Act. Additionally, the D.C. Office of Human Rights Fair Housing program was established in 1999 to eliminate discrimination in housing.
Additional protected traits include age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political affiliation, and status as a victim of domestic violence. Some areas also recognize matriculation, source of income, and status as a victim of an intrafamily offense.
Discriminatory Acts: Acts that are considered discriminatory when directed as one or more prospective renters in a specially protected class include:
- Refuse to rent.
- Refuse to accept vouchers as rent payments.
- Make housing unavailable.
- Provide different housing, units, or services (such as repairs).
- Provide inaccurate or different information.
- Advertise a preference or dislike for a group or falsely tell someone housing is unavailable.
- Write different conditions in the lease agreement.
- Retaliate against someone for filing a complaint.
If a landlord discriminates during the rental process there are a number of penalties they might face. The Federal Fair Housing Act and the District of Columbia’s Office of Human Rights set forth guidelines on how to file a discrimination suit with the state.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Washington D.C.
In addition to having laws that address general issues like repairs and security deposits, most places, including Washington D.C., grant rights and responsibilities about things like lock changes and a landlord’s right to entry. See the topics below for more information.
Landlord Right to Entry in Washington D.C.
Landlords in Washington D.C. have the right to enter rental property for inspections and other purposes reasonably related to upkeep. They must give the tenant at least 48 hours of written advance notice (except in emergencies) and can only enter in a reasonable time, place, and manner.
Rent Collection & Related Fees in Washington D.C.
The following laws apply to the collection of rent and related fees:
- Grace Period: Landlords are required to provide a 5-day grace period for the payment of rent before charging a late fee.
- Maximum Late Fee: 5% of the rent due.
- Rent Payment Methods: Washington D.C. law does not regulate which payment methods landlords may or may not accept for rent.
- Rent Receipt: Required (except for personal checks).
Small Claims Court in Washington D.C.
Most disputes between landlords and tenants are handled in Small Claims Court, which is an informal process designed to be quicker and simpler than higher courts. For example, disputes regarding the return of security deposits are typically handled in Small Claims Court.
Landlords and tenants can file cases in Small Claims Court to settle minor disputes without hiring an attorney if the amount claimed is less than $10,000. Washington D.C. Small Claims Court is a division of Superior Court. The process takes approximately three to four weeks.
Mandatory Disclosures in Washington D.C.
When someone applies to rent a unit, the landlord must provide a disclosure form published by the Rent Administrator, together with any documents regarding the following items of information:
- Rental Regulations: At the start of every tenancy, all landlords must distribute a copy of the following:
- District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, CDCR Title 14, Housing, Chapter 3, Landlord and Tenant;
- Title 14, Housing, Chapter 1, 101 (Civil Enforcement Policy); and
- Chapter 1, 106 (Notification of Tenants Concerning Violations).
- Rent Cost: The landlord must disclose in the lease agreement the applicable rent for the rental unit.
- Building Condition: Any pending tenant petition or petition filed by the landlord, that could affect the rental unit, including petitions for further rent increases during the following 12 months. Landlords must provide all copies of housing code and property maintenance code violation reports issued by the Department of Buildings within the last 12 months, or previously issued reports for violations that have not been abated.
- Surcharges and Rent Increases: Any surcharges on rent for the rental unit, including capital improvement surcharges and the expiration date of those surcharges. Upon a tenant’s request once per year, the landlord must also disclose the amount of, and the basis for, each rent increase for the prior three years.
- Rent Control/Exemption Status: The rent-controlled or exempt status of the housing accommodation, its business license, and a copy of the registration or claim of exemption together with the most recent notice filed. Washington D.C. landlords must provide their tenants with a pamphlet to help them understand the rent control laws and regulations.
- Fees: If a landlord charges a nonrefundable fee, the amount of any nonrefundable fee must be stated in the agreement.
- Tenant Bill of Rights: The Tenant Bill of Rights published by the Office of the Tenant Advocate shall be disclosed and distributed to the tenant.
- Security Deposit Amount: The amount of any initial security deposit, the interest rate on the security deposit, and the means by which the security deposit is returned to the tenant when the tenancy ends.
- Condominium Conversion: The landlord shall disclose if the dwelling unit is registered as, or in the process of converting to, a condominium or cooperative or any use that is not a housing accommodation.
- Disclosure of Ownership and Business License Information: A landlord shall file a registration statement with the Rent Administrator for each housing accommodation in the District of Columbia for which the landlord is receiving rent or is entitled to receive rent. The landlord must also provide the business license information.
- Mold: This disclosure requires landlords to inform tenants of the known history of the presence of indoor mold contamination in the rental unit or within the common areas of the premises in the past three years.
- Voter Registration Packet: The disclosure form published by the Rent Administrator shall include the voter registration packet developed by the District of Columbia Board of Elections. The packet includes a voter registration application, online voter registration, updating a voter’s address, voting rights in Washington D.C. of individuals with criminal records; voter registration information for high school and college students, a web link to the Board’s website where the tenant can find the date of the next scheduled election, polling place locations and the names and positions of current elected officials in the District of Columbia.
Changing the Locks in Washington D.C.
Washington D.C. law does not allow tenants to remove, replace or add locks without the landlord’s permission. Victims of domestic violence may require the landlord to change the locks within five days of a request.
Landlord’s Sale of a Rental Unit
In Washington D.C. the Tenant Opportunity Purchase Act (TOPA) is available for tenants to purchase the current home that they are residing in. The law states that tenants in the building that is being sold must be offered the first opportunity to purchase the building. The Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) helps with financial assistance, technical assistance, and helping organize tenant associations.
There are two programs under the DHCD:
- First Right Purchase Assistance: This program offers low-interest loans to individuals and tenant groups. Those who are eligible must meet certain income limits, reside in a building in the District, be the head of a low to moderate-income household, have good credit and a steady income to afford the mortgage, and not have any ownership interest in any other housing in the District.
- Tenant Purchase Technical Assistance: This particular program provides free services for tenant groups who are interested in purchasing their apartment building. Tenant associations may apply if they meet the following requirements: the building is located in the District, the building will be converted to a cooperative or a condominium, more than 50% of the tenants are interested in buying the building, more than 50% of the tenants qualify as low to moderate-income households.
As of July 3, 2018, the law exempts single-family homes from TOPA, unless it is occupied by an elderly person or disabled person.
Additional Resources for Washington D.C. Renters
See the resources below for more general information about the laws relating to landlord-tenant issues in Washington D.C.