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Guide to Tenant’s Rights in Washington C

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Know your rights before you sign a lease.

Washington DC law indicates that if an oral or written rental agreement exists, and payment is given as rent, landlords and tenants have specific responsibilities and rights, including the right to a livable property for tenants and the right to timely rental fees for a landlord. Many rights exist regardless of what may be written in the lease agreement.

It’s important that both landlords and tenants know their rights and responsibilities so they know what is expected of them. While ideally, it’s best to maintain an amicable relationship to prevent disputes, should the other party adopt an unreasonable attitude, it’s also best to know your legal rights. If you’re about to sign a lease, it’s best that you know your tenant’s rights in Washington, DC.

Important Tenants’ Rights

The District of Columbia has a law that obligates the D.C. Office of Tenant Advocate to publish a ‘D.C. Tenant Bill of Rights’ with periodic updates and publishing in the D.C. Register. While this document may not cover all rights, it does provide tenants within the D.C. area with information regarding general rights that apply to all tenants within the district, with the only exception being rent control.

Some of the more essential tenant rights include:

  • Lease 

A written lease is not mandatory, but if one exists, a landlord cannot change the terms unless the tenant agrees. Once the initial lease period expires, the tenancy may continue every month indefinitely with the same conditions except for legal rent increases. 

Rent increases require a 30-day notification. In rent-controlled properties, one rent increase is allowed annually. Limits on rent increases are standard in many major cities across the United States.  

Tenants also have the right to terminate a lease if the unit is uninhabitable, privacy is violated, incidents of domestic violence, active military duty, or if the lease includes an early termination clause.

  • Security deposit

Tenants are not required to deposit more than one month’s rent as a security deposit, and the landlord must place this money in an interest-earning bank account. When leaving the rental property, a tenant must be notified of a final inspection, including the date and time. 

A security deposit with interest accrued must be returned within 45 days of departure, or the tenant must be notified that the deposit will be used to cover legitimate expenses. If a landlord is not forthcoming with the restitution of the security deposit, tenants can attempt with a security deposit demand letter or file a claim in small claims court.

  • Receipts 

Tenants have a right to receive receipts for money paid unless a personal check is used as payment.

  • Property conditions

The rental property must be safe and sanitary, free of pests and rodents, with adequate lighting, heat, hot water, and ventilation, and in good repair. Garbage removal or containers and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors must be provided. 

All items provided must also be repaired or replaced by the landlord. Tenants have the right to expect that landlords will make repairs promptly upon written notice by the tenant.

Tenants can apply the ‘repair and deduct’ right if a landlord does not get a contractor to do the necessary repairs by withholding rental fees.

  • Sale of the property

Should a landlord wish to sell the property, the tenant must be offered the possibility to purchase the property.

  • Relocation assistance

If a landlord must renovate or repair and a tenant is required to move, the tenant has the right to receive relocation aid.

  • Eviction

Tenants can only be evicted for one of ten reasons specified in the Rental Housing Act of 1985 (Title V), and eviction must be done through the judicial system so that tenants can challenge the eviction reasons in court.

Important Landlord Rights

Transforming a home into a rental is not easy. Landlords and rental property owners have the right to expect that their property is kept clean and safe, with garbage disposal done in a sanitary manner. This includes maintaining plumbing clean and protecting the premises from vermin and rodents. 

Tenants must keep common areas, facilities, and amenities in good working condition, and property cannot be damaged or destroyed.

While not considered a landlord-friendly location, landlords do have rights when renting. If a property is leased for a specific period, a landlord can retake possession without notice immediately at the expiration date. Commercial tenancies can be terminated in writing with a 30-day notice.

One of the most important of these rights is the landlord’s right to entry. Landlords can enter for inspections or other maintenance-related motives at a reasonable time and in an appropriate manner. They must notify tenants 48 hours in advance unless an emergency warrants otherwise. Locks cannot be changed without the express permission of landlords.

Regarding rental payments, landlords can charge a 5% late fee following a five-day grace period when rent is not paid on time. Landlords can also charge nonrefundable fees, which must be clearly stated in the lease agreement, as should the rental price.

If a tenant does not surrender a property, the landlord can bring an action against the tenant to evict them. This also applies to recovering furnishings provided with the property. Landlords can also produce claims for rent arrears and other expenses to the courts.

What Can You Do If You Have a Problem?

Tenants can lodge complaints with the Office of the Tenant Advocate if conditions are uninhabitable. Emergency inspections can also be requested for building code violations. For these problems, tenants can sue landlords by contacting the civil actions clerk’s office. 

The majority of landlord-tenant disputes generally find their way to small claims court. This judicial process is more informal and designed to be more rapid in resolving problems. 

Minor disputes such as recuperating unpaid rent, a security deposit, damages beyond the security deposit, early lease termination, or a violation of the lease agreement can be settled in Small Claims Court without needing an attorney if the claim is less than $10,000. 

These claims usually take a few weeks to a month. The time limitation for filing small claims for residential leases in Washington, DC, is three years.

Are You Looking to Buy or Sell a Rental Property?

As an experienced real estate agent, Eng Garcia can help you buy or sell a rental property. They know the Washington DC area inside and out. They can give great advice on what to search for when purchasing or how to get the best market price for your property using an excellent marketing strategy and a home preparation plan. 

Let us take care of administrative tasks or a need for referrals for local contractors for repairs, renovations, pest control, or mold remediation. We’ll lighten the burden of researching and preparing the paperwork. Contact us today to get started.

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