The Washington D.C. rental application form is a document used by landlords to screen prospective tenants to help determine whether they are a desirable tenant. The information collected is about rental history, eviction history, and financial information, which is used for background screening purposes.
Washington D.C. Laws on Rental Application Fees
In Washington D.C., there is no limit or maximum rental application fee a landlord can charge a prospective tenant. It’s advised to not charge more than the average out-of-pocket expense, but ultimately the determination of the fee is at the sole discretion of the landlord.
If an applicant is approved, the landlord may charge a security deposit. According to Washington D.C. state law, landlords can charge up to one month’s rent as a security deposit. Additionally, the landlord must provide a receipt for the security deposit unless the payment is made by a personal check that states the purpose of the payment. The law also requires landlords to deposit any collected security deposits into an escrow account within 30 days of receipt, which may include deposits from multiple properties.
Mandatory Disclosure for Rental Applications
Landlords in Washington D.C. are required to disclose certain information to prospective tenants before they fill out an application for a rental unit in a Housing Accommodation. The landlord must provide the following information:
- The landlord’s name and business address.
- The landlord’ phone number and email address.
- The name and address of the rental unit.
- The current amount of rent charged for the rental unit.
- If it is a rent-controlled housing accommodation under the Rental Housing Act of 1985, the landlord must write down the last three years of the current rent charged and the dates of rent increase and the reason for the increase (i.e., hardship petition, vacancy, etc.).
- List the case number and the type of any tenant or housing provide petitions/proceedings that are pending and could affect the rental unit (i.e., capital improvement petition, substantial rehabilitation petition, etc.).
- List any capital improvement surcharges that are currently in effect. Include the case number, type of surcharge, the amount of surcharge and the date of expiration.
- Make note how many times there was an increase in the rent charged for the rental unit in the last 12 months.
- Clarify if the rental unit is subject to the Rental Housing Act of 195 or if it is exempt and explain in detail why it’s exempt.
- The amount of any non-refundable rental unit application fee.
- The initial security deposit.
- Clarify if the rental unit is registered as or in the process of converting to a condominium or cooperative.
- Clarify if there is a pending sales contract for the rental unit (include the date).
- A written notice of all eligibility criteria including financial, credit, employment, rental and certain criminal history.
The landlord must provide the following documents to the applicant (or the landlord must at least offer a copy of the documents):
- Business license.
- Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) Registration/Claim of Exemption Form.
- The most recent RAD Amended Registration Form (if applicable).
- A Tenant Bill of Rights published by the Office of the Tenant Advocate.
- All Housing Code Violation Notices issued by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs within the last 12 months and any Housing Code Violation Notices. This should include the date and the violation number.
- Information about indoor mold contamination in the rental unit (or common areas) in the last three years, unless it has been remediated by a remediation professional who is certified and licensed in D.C..
- A pamphlet published by the Rent Administrator, called “What You Should Know About Rent Control in the District of Columbia.”
This mandatory disclosure is also known as the “Housing Provider’s Disclosure to Applicant for Rental Unit in the Housing Accommodation (Applicant Disclosure Form).
What Washington D.C. Rental Application Forms Can’t Ask About
The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal for landlords to discriminate against the following protected classes:
- National Origin (Nationality)
- Familial Status (Having or not having children)
- Disability (Physical or Mental)
In Washington D.C., there are several additional protected classes for housing rights:
- Personal Appearance
- Sexual Orientation
- Gender Identity or Expression
- Family Responsibilities
- Political Affiliation
- Marital Status
- Source of Income (Government, State or Federal Assistance, Veteran’s Benefits, Disability Benefits, Alimony, etc.)
- Place of Residence
- Status as a Victim of an Intra-Family Offense
Asking about any of these items on a Washington D.C. rental application form (and/or using them to base an application decision on) is illegal.
However, certain exemptions to Federal Fair Housing Act laws do exist. In Washington D.C., these include:
- Familial Status – it is acceptable to ask about and base an application decision on if children will occupy the rented premises in any two-family owner-occupied buildings.
- Age – landlords may ask for an applicant’s age in the case of age-specific communities, such as senior housing or 55+ communities, due to the Housing for Older Persons exemption.
- Religious Organizations – landlords may give preferential consideration to certain applicants based on religion if the property is owned, operated, controlled, or supervised by a religious organization that does not make it commercially available (42 U.S. Code § 3607).
- Private Clubs – a private club that operates without public access or commercial intent and does not discriminate when it comes to accepting new members may provide preferential consideration of applications for non-commercial lodgings owned by the club (42 U.S. Code § 3607).
- Owner Occupied Properties – if an owner lives in one of the units of a single-family property, it has 4 dwellings or less and the owner represents themselves during the leasing process, then they are exempt from abiding by FHA laws under the “Mrs. Murphy” exemption. Race can never be a deciding factor (per the Civil Rights Act of 1866) and there cannot be any discriminatory advertisements to discourage applicants of a certain group.
Consent for Background Checks
Before a landlord can run a credit check based on the prospective tenant’s information on the submitted rental application, the Federal Credit Reporting Act requires that written consent must be given by the applicant. This written consent can be given via a statement of such and signature on the rental application form itself (like in our free template), or via a separate consent form (such as this one).
Processing a Rental Application
Washington D.C. landlords may obtain financial, employment, credit and rental history before making a conditional offer. Landlords may not obtain criminal history until after the applicant has received a written notice of a conditional offer of housing.
The next step in the tenant screening process is to use the information on the rental application form to conduct a background check.
- Credit Check – subject to the tenant’s written consent, a credit check will either provide a simpler “pass/fail” report, or a full credit report including the tenant’s credit score and information about their income, employment, past addresses, credit inquiries and more.
- Eviction Check – an eviction check aims to show the tenant’s history of eviction filings or judgments against them at any point in the last 7 years.
- Criminal History Check – a criminal history check aims to show any records involving the tenant in state court criminal records or in databases such as the national sex offender public registry.
- Washington D.C. prohibits landlords from obtaining criminal background history before extending a conditional offer of housing for an applicant. This law, otherwise known as “The Fair Criminal Record Screening for Housing Act of 2016” which doesn’t necessarily guarantee the applicant the rental unit.
- Washington D.C. landlords may only consider the following criminal background history:
- Pending charges in the court system at the time of the criminal background check.
- Criminal convictions that happened within the last 7 years and only if they are one more of the 48 criminal offenses listed in Washington D.C. law. Criminal offenses include, but are not limited to the following: arson, kidnapping, sexual assault, murder, burglary, forgery, insurance and credit card fraud.
Washington D.C. Eviction Record Search
Washington D.C. public records include eviction records which means that anyone can access them. This can be done with a third-party screening program, or done for free manually.
To search for records on your own:
- Go to the Washington D.C. Superior Court’s eAccess System.
- Fill in the captcha code.
- Enter the potential renter’s name to access civil court documents under the “Name Search” tab. Under “Case Type” scroll and search for “Landlord & Tenant Branch”
- Select “Search” to view records.
Certain eviction records may be sealed by the Superior Court, including, but not limited to the following:
- The tenant failed to pay an amount of $600 or less.
- The tenant was evicted from a rental unit under the Federal or District housing assistance program.
- The landlord and tenant entered into a settlement agreement.
Adverse Action Notices
If you acquire a consumer report for an applicant (i.e. credit, eviction or criminal history) and take an “adverse action” against them such as any of the following:
- Rejecting the applicant.
- Requiring a co-signer (when they didn’t include one before).
- Requiring a larger security deposit.
- Requiring higher rent.
Then you are legally required to provide the tenant with a notice letter that includes certain details, known as an “adverse action notice”. This is required even if the consumer report’s information wasn’t the primary reason for the action.
The notice must include details about the consumer reporting agency, an explanation that they didn’t take the adverse action themselves (and can’t explain why it was made) and a statement on the applicant’s right to a copy of the report and to dispute its contents within 60 days. Additionally, when rejecting an applicant, it’s recommended to specify the reason (but not legally required).
For an example, see this tenant rejection letter template.