Many people move to DC and look for an apartment to rent, unaware of the District’s unique landlord/tenant laws. As a departure from cultural goings on (there’re on pause anyway), we have a special guest post from Attorney Walker Fults to help you navigate the District’s tenancy laws (whether you are a tenant or a landlord).
Under District of Columbia law, landlords must disclose certain items to tenants, such as rent and rent increases, deposit amount, means by which the deposit will be returned to the tenant, any application fee, rent-controlled status, and even the status of mold in the last three years. See a full list here.
Security Deposits Cannot Exceed One Month’s Rent
Most people expect a rental property to come with a required deposit, but in D.C. that amount cannot exceed one month’s rent by law. When the tenant moves out, the landlord must return the deposit within 45 days. If the landlord makes any deductions from the tenant deposit, they must be itemized and provided to tenant within the same 45 days. A tenant has the right to dispute deductions if he or she believes they are ungrounded.
Late Fees Capped at 5% with 5 Day Grace Period
Landlords can only charge late fees if provided for in the written rental agreement. Those fees can only kick in after 5 days (or longer if provided in the agreement). If they do, late fees are capped in D.C. at 5% the full amount due. Interest on late fees is specifically prohibited, as is eviction based on non-payment of late fees. (Do you have to pay them, then? You decide . . .) If there is a public health emergency issued by the Mayor—like a coronavirus outbreak—late fees are also not allowed. See late fee provisions here and health emergency provisions here.
Tenant May Make Reasonable Repairs and Deduct From Rental Payments
If the rental unit needs major repairs in an important way (which violates D.C. housing regulations, such as leaking plumbing, presence of insects or rodents, or a broken heater), a tenant may notify the landlord, and make repairs on his or her own, deducting the cost of repairs from the rental payments. In this case, tenants should be careful to fully document the defect and the repairs in order to justify the rental deductions.
No Special Written Notice to Terminate Required
Many lease agreements contemplate a specific term, but then also require 30 days written notice of termination from the tenant. Otherwise, the rental arrangement continues on a month to month basis. In these cases, tenants often get dinged with an extra month’s rent, or a special fee. In D.C., this isn’t allowed; a planned term will expire without special advanced tenant written termination under D.C. Code Ann. § 42–3201.
Law Office of Walker Fults