How to Legally Rent Your Property in DC

If you’re reading this guide, you’ve probably decided that owning and renting out a residential property is the right investment for you. As a team of renters, we love living in one of the most tenant-protective areas in the nation. But we understand that for landlords these additional laws and licenses can seem complex and daunting. That said, we’ve summed up a basic guide for those of you who want to become a landlord but are stuck wondering what it means to rent out your property legally. Here’s a simplified checklist:

  1. Apply for Basic Business License
  2. Submit the necessary forms and documents (rent control status, clean hands certification)
  3. Get home inspected by DCRA
  4. Make sure your property is rent ready
  5. Review tenant-landlord laws and federal regulations

Paperwork and Licenses

First, compliance as a housing provider requires paperwork and several small fees to the District government. DC landlords are considered a part of the residential rental business and must apply for a basic business license (BBL) for every rental unit. Renting multi-family buildings, apartments, and any other type of property with more than three units requires a separate apartment business license.

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After you’ve paid the fees and your application is approved, your BBL will last for two years. These licenses help the government make sure all units qualify as rental properties and know how much to charge in taxes. You’ll also have to register your business with the Office of Tax and Revenue.

Next, register your property with the DHCD’s Rental Accommodations Division either as subject to or exempt from rent control. A person who owns no more than four rental units can register to be exempt from rent control. This is vital information because rent control automatically applies to any unit not registered.

Additionally, to obtain your business license you must submit a Clean Hands Self-Certification indicating that you don’t owe the DC government more than $100 in the form of penalties, interest, fees, or taxes.

Before finalizing your application, we suggest visiting the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) online or in person for additional information and requirements for your property.

Up to Code and Regulations

Remember our guide for getting rent-ready? Those safety tips weren’t just mere suggestions. Housing providers must have each unit pass DCRA inspection within 45 days of obtaining the BBL. Three general areas that inspectors will look at include:

  • Household composition
  • Overall state and condition of the unit
  • Necessary certifications for components such as heating/cooling systems, ventilation and water/sewer

For the health and safety of tenants, your home will need to meet DC Housing Codes. You can find an overview of housing code violations here.

Although cosmetic repairs can make your property more rentable, they come second to the repairs that make a suitable living space. Most of the routine maintenance that keeps a home safe and habitable is the responsibility of the landlord, not the tenant.

After ensuring your property is fully licensed, up to code, and ready to list, update yourself on DC landlord-tenant laws and federal regulations so you don’t face any penalties or headaches. In addition to this advice, we recommend consulting with your local Washington DC property management company (us!) or an attorney for details on current housing regulations and procedures.

We know there is a lot to check off here but the consequences for failure to comply can be steep! It’s listed above, but here’s everything you need to do to be a landlord in Washington DC:

  1. Apply for Basic Business License
  2. Submit the necessary forms and documents (rent control status, clean hands certification)
  3. Get home inspected by DCRA
  4. Make sure your property is rent ready
  5. Review tenant-landlord laws and federal regulations


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