Understanding rent laws in Washington, D.C.

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2020 | Real Estate Law

The timely payment of rent is the most fundamental tenant responsibility and the primary reason that landlords rent out property.  Washington, D.C. has legal requirements governing rent which can dictate which party will prevail in landlord tenant disputes.

Rent control

Washington, D.C. rent control law governs most residential units in the District. Every rental property should be registered with the rental accommodation division within the housing regulation administration.

This law does not govern landlords owning less than five units if the landlord does not own the units through a corporation or limited liability corporation. Landlords receiving local or federal rent or mortgage subsidies are also excluded.

The rent control law prohibits a landlord from increasing rent above a permissible amount  Before increasing rent, landlords must register the property with the RAD, the property must substantially meet housing regulations and the owner must provide 30 days-notice of the increase to the tenant.

Rent may be automatically raised each year based on a rise in the consumer price index. Increases may exceed the CPI by two percent and the total increase cannot be 10 percent above the previous rent amount.

When tenants are elderly or have a disability, landlords can only raise the rent in accordance with the CPI and the increase cannot exceed the CPI by two percent. The total increase cannot go above five percent of the previous rent.

A landlord may raise the rent of a vacant unit up to 10 percent over the rent charged to the tenant. A rental amount may be increased to make it in line to the rent of a comparable unit, but the increase cannot exceed 30 percent and occur again for another 12 months. A comparable unit is a dwelling that has the same square footage and floor plan and equivalent amenities, equipment and location.

Tenants may object to a rent adjustment that they claim is incorrect. Petitions must be filed with the RAD if there are objections. A hearing will be held where the landlord and tenant can present their arguments on the increase.

Late fees

Landlords can charge late fees if the lease contains the maximum amount that may be charged. Fees cannot be over five percent of monthly rent.

Late fees may not be charged until five days after rent payment is due. The late fee may be charged once within the rental period. Landlords must send an invoice if there is nonpayment and tenants will then have 30 days to pay the invoice. If the late fee is not paid within that time, the landlord may deduct it from the tenant’s security deposit.


Nonpayment of rent can constitute grounds for eviction. But landlords need to meet strict legal requirements.

A landlord must serve a pay or quit notice upon the tenant containing notification of their nonpayment or other violation and the time in which they can make payments or cure the problem. If the problem is not corrected, the landlord may file an eviction action in court.

Notice requirements 

The landlord must give the tenant a pamphlet published by the rent administrator that contains a detailed layperson’s explanation of the laws and regulations concerning rent increases and petitions that may be filed by tenants and housing providers.

Landlords must tell tenants if they are exempt from rent control. They should also tell the tenant about the rent, application fees and security deposit for the rental unit.

Before accepting a non-refundable application fee or security deposit, the owner should inform the prospective tenant of any upcoming request for a rent ceiling adjustment. This should include the current ceiling, the new ceiling being requested, its filing date and petition number and the type of repairs or rehabilitation planned for that dwelling unit.

A lawyer can help protect important rights and assure that these matters are handled legally. They can also help assure that documents are properly drafted, valid and meet the party’s needs.