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DC Residential Leases: Four Provisions Every Landlord Should Include

If you are thinking of renting out a space in DC there are many things to consider.  You should register with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and do all of the required licensing; you should screen your potential tenants through the local court systems for any civil judgments or evictions, as well as doing a credit check; you should set up a system for keeping rent ledgers; you should document the conditions of your property with photos and possibly an inspection by a contractor.  This is not an exhaustive list.  However, if you do all of these things and use a lease form you purchased at an office supply store or online, you could potentially negate much of the hard work you have done to protect your interests. 

I recommend you have a lease drafted for your specific situation by an attorney familiar with DC landlord/tenant law and familiar with your property.  For all of you who won’t do that, or if you had an attorney draft your lease and you want to see if they are really familiar with DC law, here are four things every DC residential lease should include.  None of them are intended to “trick” tenants.  They are basic provisions that conform to the quirks of DC law or are just things that have come up often in my practice.  Do not assume a “DC form lease” will include any of these things.  Most DC form lease are just Maryland leases with a new title, and they do not address the important issues specific to DC law.  

 This article is not intended to write your lease for you and it does not include sample provisions because each situation is too unique, but it is a checklist for things you need to include. 

1) Waiver of Notice to Quit for Non-Payment of Rent

This is the big one.  If you do nothing else, make sure to include a waiver of notice to quit in your lease.  Any DC L&T attorney will scan a lease for the waiver as soon as it is handed to them and most of the time it is the only provision discussed in court.  What is it?  The tenant is waiving their right to a thirty-day notice to cure or quit if they fail to pay rent.  Without this provision, you must give them thirty days to pay their rent after they are late.  Incidentally, HUD form leases do not include a waiver.  The best practice is to make this a separate provision; I have seen it thrown in everywhere and anywhere.  If you do not have a waiver and your tenant fails to pay rent, you must give them a thirty-day notice that conforms to the rules for all other thirty-day notices in DC law. 

2) Bar on Unauthorized Occupants and Subtenants

As this blog has previously discussed, a DC tenant is a tenant for life.  You want to have control over who your tenants are and who lives in your property.  Many multistate or generic leases will include some sort of ban on unauthorized subtenants, but it is usually not strong enough for DC.  A DC lease should list the persons permitted to live in the unit, state that no one else is permitted to live in the unit, and ban any subtenants.  

3) Criminal Activity/Drug Activity Ban

You should include a statement that any criminal activity or drug activity on or near the property is grounds for eviction.  This provision may or may not be useful to you, but if you have subsidized tenants it is required and should follow the language of the Federal One Strike provision for drug activity and also include separate language for criminal activity.  A subsidized tenant can be evicted for many types of criminal activity with a notice to quit, no cure provision required.  The government can also come after you for failing to evict or try to evict tenants who create a drug haven, so having this language can help you protect your property. 

4) Provision that Tenants Must Promptly Report all Defects

            This is not always useful for enforcement, but it is important to set the rules early in the tenancy that any problems should be reported immediately.  It also helps to attach a signed statement of how to report problems so that when a tenant says they did not know how to report that their sink was leaking, you can show you provided them with the information.  This is only useful if you are responsive when tenants call and if you fix problems when they occur.  

When you sign a residential lease in DC the provisions can be very hard to change.  The tenant has the right to stay in the property and the landlord has very few ways to make them sign a new lease, so it pays to be careful and specific about your lease.  Apart from choosing tenants carefully, which I cannot stress enough, careful lease drafting is your best protection and there is very little any attorney can do to get around a poorly written lease. 


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