Licencing for DC Landlords
Monday, July 23, 2018 at 1:14AM
Emilie Fairbanks

Small landlords in DC have, in theory, fewer requirements than large landlords for administrative and licencing procedures. If you’ve ever tried to get your single family home or basement apartment licensed as a legal rental in DC you know that’s an utterly ridiculous statement. The hellish nightmare you went through trying to obey DC law for your single rental unit likely felt like a Kafka novel or perhaps like you’d accidentally time traveled to a Soviet republic. 

If you had to deal with trying to get your rental to pass inspection for a tenant with a DC Housing voucher you likely already changed your name and moved to a country without an extradition treaty with the US. I’ll deal with that in another post. Not the extradition part. You need a different lawyer if you actually did that. Don’t do that. It was a joke. 

However it is entirely possible to become a legal, licensed, rent control exempt small landlord in DC. Even if you already have a tenant living in your unit. If you have a tenant living in the unit talk to a lawyer before you start this process. It can be more complex than a blog post can address. But it’s still entirely possible. And beneficial. Don’t hide out from it. You want to be a licensed landlord. Why? Ok for now trust me. I’ll address that in another post too. 

So what are the steps you need to take? First, you need a business license. You might be thinking well now is a good time to get that LLC set up so I can protect myself from liability. STOP! If you own the property in your personal name do not set up an LLC or any other entity unless you speak with a landlord tenant attorney first. The consequences could be giving up your right to be exempt from rent control. Whew. The good news is you can get your business license online in a matter of minutes. The bad news is the property still has to be inspected. So you won’t actually have the lien s finalized until DCRA comes and inspects your property. That can be good. You will know you are in compliance with the DC Housing code. But if you have any repairs to make now is the time. Let’s assume that gets done. 

If you have a single family home or a condo you don’t need a Certificate of Occupancy. If you have more than one unit, you do. So if you have a house with a basement apartment and you are rent both, you do. If you have a duplex you do. That is a separate process with DCRA. It’s pretty painless once you pass the inspection. Of course there is a charge. 

Now that you have those you can get the rent control exemption form. That is the part you really WANT to do. It’s the part that allows you to raise rent, give the tenant notices, and enforce your lease. But it has to be filed in person, so that’s annoying. 

If you need guidance with any part of this process or if you get struck in a loop of failing the inspection or any other part of filing this paperwork please contact us to arrange a consultation. 

Article originally appeared on Emilie Fairbanks, Landlord/Tenant Attorney (
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