Pitfalls, tips, and unique issues that confront DC landlords.
Once a landlord, always a landlord.
With some notable exceptions that I will discuss in more depth in later posts, if you rent someone an apartment in DC and they comply with the lease, and pay the rent, that lease is good until they move or die, no matter what it says about the end date. This is a "perpetual tenancy" and it is the right of residential tenants that gets many landlords in trouble. You may not want to be a landlord forever. You may have a tenant who drives you crazy. In DC getting them out is not as easy as waiting until the lease ends.
You must give a "legally sufficient" thirty day notice to cure or quit.
This is for lease violations only. For nonpayment you may or may not have to give notice, it depends on your lease. It must be specific about what the tenant did to violate the lease and it must tell them how to cure the violation. If they cure you cannot file suit. Again, notable exceptions, like the Federal Drug Related Evictions Act exist, but they are rare.
The notice to cure or quit must be in English and Spanish. Period.
Oh your tenant doesn’t speak Spanish? Doesn’t matter.
Tenants can demand a jury trial no matter how little they owe or what the lease violation is.
Your case will be certified to the Civil Division, which extends your case. Perhaps up to a year. During this time, the lease violation may very well continue and in nonpayment of rent cases you won't be getting any rent, some, hopefully all of the monthly rent going forward from the first court date, will be paid into the court escrow. Yes it’s a delay tactic.
Tenant petitions can also hold up your case.
Tenants can file tenant petitions with the DCRA and request a "Drayton Stay" in your landlord/tenant case until the agency decides their tenant petition, which can take years. If they filed certain types of petitions, they are legally entitled to the stay and you could be in limbo for a long time.
Tenants can counterclaim.
In nonpayment cases, the tenant can counterclaim for three years of back rent if they claim the conditions of the unit violated the DC Housing Code. It is possible to sue a tenant for nonpayment of rent and end up owing them money.
You need a license to be a landlord.
But you can become a landlord just by accepting rent. Confused? Just because you are an illegal landlord doesn’t mean your tenants have to move. The minute you take rent, you are a landlord. They have the rights of tenants. But you can’t fully enforce a lease, increase the rent, or avoid fines without having a license and rent control registration or exemption.
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