Washington D.C. Landlord Tenant Rights

Last Updated: July 25, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

In Washington D.C., if payment has been accepted for rent, a tenant has inherent rights and responsibilities under landlord tenant laws pursuant to D.C. Municipal Regulations Title 14.

Tenants have the right to suitable housing and the right to pursue some forms of alternative action. Washington D.C. landlords have the right to collect rent in a timely manner and the right to pursue formal eviction in the case of a lease violation.

Note: These rights exist regardless of a rental agreement stating otherwise.

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Landlord Responsibilities in Washington D.C.

Landlords in Washington D.C. are responsible for maintaining a habitable domicile and providing repairs in a timely manner when required. 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.

Landlords are also required to honor the tenant’s rights and not disturb them when they are peaceably and reasonably using the property.

Item Landlord Responsibility?
Structural components Yes
Electricity Yes
Plumbing Yes
Sewage/sanitation Yes
Garbage pickup Not addressed
Pests Yes

These obligations only apply to single and multi-family dwellings. They do not apply to condo owners or mobile home landlords. Landlords have a “reasonable” timeframe to address tenant’s concerns.

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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 to be 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Owner’s Personal Use of Rental Unit – If the landlord wants to live in the rental unit and no longer want to rent out the property, they must issue 90-Day Notice to Quit.
  6. Sale of Rental Unit – If the rental unit is being sold, landlords must issue a 90-Day Notice to Quit.
  7. 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.

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Security Deposits in Washington D.C.

  • Standard limit/maximum amount – One month’s rent.
  • Time limit – 45 days after the end of the lease to return the full deposit or notify the tenant of deductions, then within 30 days of providing notice the itemized statement of deductions must be delivered.
  • Penalty for not returning – Forfeiture of right to retain any portion of the deposit and liability for accumulated interest, plus triple the withheld sum in damages and legal fees if the withholding is willful and negligent.
  • Allowable deductions – Unpaid rent, cost of damage to the unit (not wear and tear), and any other reason mentioned in the lease agreement.

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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 Notice Needed
Week-to-Week No Statute
Month-to-Month 30 Days
Quarter-to-Quarter 30-Days
Year-to-Year No statute
Questions? To chat with a Washington D.C. landlord tenant attorney, Click here

Early termination: Washington D.C. tenants are legally allowed to terminate their lease for the following circumstances:

  1. Active military duty.
  2. Uninhabitable unit.
  3. Landlord harassment or privacy violation.
  4. Early termination clause in lease agreement.
  5. Domestic violence.

If a Washington D.C. tenant legally breaks their lease, they must still pay all rent and fees for the remaining lease period if it is stated in the lease agreement.

Rent Increases & Related Fees in Washington D.C.

  • Rent Control – The rent control law is the Rental Housing Act of 1985, as amended “the Act”. The Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) which is part of the Department of Housing and Community Development’s (DHCD) Housing Regulation Administration (HRA) is responsible for administering the Act. The Rent Administrator is the head of the RAD. Rent control is applicable to all housing accommodations (any apartment building or apartment complex) unless they are specifically exempt from the Act.
  • Increases – According to the Act, any increase in rent must meet the following conditions:
    • The new rent charged may not be greater than the prior rent plus an allowable increase.
    • The increase in rent charged cannot be more than the increase allowed under any section of the Act.
    • The last increase in rent must have been at least one year ago (unless the unit is unoccupied).
    • The rent increase must not violate any terms of the lease agreement.
    • The housing accommodation must be properly registered with the RAD.
    • The rental unit and the housing accommodation’s common elements must be in substantial compliance with housing regulations.
    • The housing provider must give a 30-day notice of an increase in rent.
  • Additional Fees – Landlords are generally allowed to charge late fees if it is noted in the lease agreement and may charge no more than 5% of the monthly rent.

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, persona appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, political affiliation, victim, or family member of 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 landlord shows discriminatory acts during the rental process there are a number of penalties he/she might face. The 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.

Landlord Right to Entry in Washington D.C.

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.

Small Claims Court in Washington D.C.

Claims valued at up to $5,000 can be litigated in Small Claims Court. For filing fees, check the landlord and tenant section.

Mandatory Disclosures in Washington D.C.

At the time a prospective tenant applies to rent a unit, the landlord shall provide a disclosure form published by the Rent Administrator (or in another suitable format until a form is published) together with any documents corresponding to each item of information:

  1. 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).
  1. Rent Cost – The landlord must disclose in the lease agreement the applicable rent for the rental unit.
  2. Building Condition – Any tenant petition or petition filed by the landlord, which is pending 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 which have but not been abated.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Fees – If a landlord charges a nonrefundable fee, the amount of any nonrefundable fee must be stated in the agreement.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. Condominium Conversion – The landlord shall disclose if dwelling unit is registered as, or in the process of converting to, a condominium or cooperative or a use that is not a housing accommodation.
  9. 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.
  10. Mold – This disclosure requires landlords to inform tenants of the history of known presence of indoor mold contamination in the rental unit or within the common areas of the premises in the past three years.
  11. 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 weblink 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 request for lock changes and the landlord must change the lock within five days of 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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 buy the building, more than 50% of the tenants qualify as low to moderate income households.

On 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

In addition to the below, check your local county and municipality for additional landlord-tenant regulations. To learn more, please refer to the below digital resources.

Housing DC | Resident Resources | housingdc

Residential Lease Law FAQ-FINAL.pdf (dc.gov)

2015 07 03 OTA DC Tenant Bill of Rights ODAI-OTA FINAL.pdf

Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Assistance | dhcd (dc.gov)

Landlord-Tenant | District of Columbia Courts (dccourts.gov)

Instructions-for-Serving-the-Landlord-and-Tenant-Complaint-and-Summons.pdf (dccourts.gov)

Rules of Procedures for the Landlord and Tenant Branch

Questions? To chat with a Washington D.C. landlord tenant attorney, Click here