Washington D.C. Commercial Lease Agreement

Last Updated: August 4, 2022

The Washington D.C. commercial lease agreement is a contract used to rent a commercial space for business use. This written document establishes the relationship between the landlord and a tenant or business. It is often more complicated than a residential lease agreement because they involve a significant amount of money.

A commercial lease agreement is a legally binding contract between a landlord who owns a commercial property and a tenant who wishes to rent the commercial property with the intention to operate a business. The commercial property being rented generally falls into a retail, office, or industrial space category.

Three basic types of commercial leases exist.  Each one has positive and negative aspects for the landlord and tenant.  The three variations of commercial leases are defined as:

  1. Gross Lease – also known as a full-service lease, this type of agreement is considered to be tenant-friendly.  In this situation, the tenant pays a predetermined amount for monthly rent. The landlord uses these funds to pay for related property expenses, also known as “nets.”  Nets include taxes, insurance and common area expenses.
  2. Triple Net (NNN) Lease – favorable type of lease for the landlord, this type of agreement requires the tenant to pay all taxes, insurance and common area expenses associated with the property, in addition to their base rent amount.
  3. Modified Gross Lease – this type of agreement serves as a compromise between a gross lease and triple net lease.  In a modified gross lease, the landlord and tenant negotiate which nets each party is responsible to pay.

Commercial lease agreements can have a significant impact on the financial well-being of all parties involved.  It is important that the landlord and tenant fully understand and agree to the terms of the lease proposed prior to signing it into a legally binding document.

Guarantees, Disclosures, and Additional Concerns

It is critical that this agreement covers all of the disclaimers and disclosures for the state. Some of the things that will need to be discussed in the state of Washington D.C. include:

Use of the Premises

When a commercial lease is written, the first thing that will need to be discussed is the use of the premises. This is often written out in detail so that the landlord is not liable for the tenant selling items that they are not allowed to sell because of the zoning laws in the state.  Tenants will most likely keep a broad category in this section to allow for a more versatile business, but a landlord will want to keep the category narrow so that they cannot be held responsible for going outside of the zoning regulation allowances.

Lead-Based Paint Disclaimer

If the building was built before the year 1978, there is a possibility that lead-based paint was used. If this is the case with the property being rented, the tenant will need to know because it can be a hazard to the customers visiting the location.

Making Improvements

If there are specific changes that need to be made to the property before the tenant can open the doors to do business, then the landlord will often offer a build-out period where the tenant can use their own money to make the changes during a certain period of time without paying rent. If they need more time than is permitted by this agreement, they may need to start paying the landlord rent before they are ready to open the doors, but all of the specifics should be listed in this section.

Anti-Discrimination Laws

The District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977 (DCHRA), D.C. Code §§ 2-1402.21 et seq., prohibits discriminatory practices in commercial spaces based on one’s actual or perceived protected trait:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Personal appearance
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Familial status
  • Family responsibilities
  • Disability
  • Matriculation
  • Political affiliation
  • Source of income
  • Status as a victim of an intrafamily offense
  • Place of residence or business of any individual

Writing a Commercial Lease Agreement in Washington D.C.

When writing a commercial lease, the sections that will need to be included in the document will include:

Party Information

The first thing that should be noted on any commercial rental agreement is the names of the parties that are agreeing to do business together. The landlord’s name and the management company should be listed as well as a phone number where they can be reached. The renter and the name of the business should also be listed with a phone number to reach the tenant as well.

Terms of the Lease

In this section, the amount of rent that is due to be paid each month will be written down as well as the total annual rent that is due for each year. Most of these leases are designed to last for at least five to 10 years, so since there is such a variation on the terms of a commercial lease, it should be clearly written in this section so that there is no reason for a dispute down the road. In addition, if there is anything that the tenant needs to do to renew the terms of the agreement, they should be listed here as well.

Business Hours

So that the landlord does not disrupt the business hours of the tenant’s business after they open up, it’s essential that they list the hours that the store will be open for customers to visit. If there are specific hours that will be best for the landlord to reach the tenant, they should be listed in this section as well.

Utilities and Additional Expenses

Even if the expenses are spit for the building, the tenant is going to be responsible for paying the bills that their business is using. This could include gas, electric, water, phone, and even the internet.  If there is not a lot of space for the employees to park, the landlord may reserve some spaces for the business to use, but there will most likely be a fee each month that the tenant will be required to pay.


Once the terms of the commercial lease agreement have been written down and discussed, both of the parties involved will need to sign and date the bottom of the document to acknowledge that they fully understand and agree to the terms that were outlined in the document.