Frequently Asked Questions
1. When should I start looking for housing?
It is best to give yourself an adequate amount of time for your housing search. Start your search as soon as you know you will need off-campus housing. Finding housing can take anywhere from eight to twelve weeks, or more. Also, the more time you allow for the search the better informed you will be on rents, location, and accessibility.
2. Can you recommend properties to rent or landlords to rent from?
The Office of Residence Life (ORL) cannot recommend properties or landlords. Our office functions as a resource center by providing information and links to listings, housing advocacy organizations, and other sources. We cannot guarantee housing or the quality of housing and the University is also not liable for any misrepresentation between the landlord and the student. If a student has questions or concerns about a lease or a property our office is available to answer questions and suggest resources.
3. How do I know if an area is a safe place to live?
The safety of Washington, DC neighborhoods can vary from block to block. Safety is very important to ORL, but we know when to hand things over to the experts. You may want to check out DC’s public crime reports for additional information regarding a particular area.
4. Is there anything special I should know about getting into a group house?
Group homes are common in the DC area due to the type of housing available. Residents within a group may cycle out of the property. This means that the original signers of the lease may not live at the property anymore. Be careful of this because landlords can seek back rent from those on the original lease.
5. When should I sign a lease?
Once your rental application is completed and approved, do not feel obligated to sign a lease. You should look at a few properties, so that you can get an idea of the best value for your money. Do not let a landlord force the issue; be sure the unit that you choose will best accommodate your needs.
6. Is there any basic lease information I should know?
Although leases generally contain the same essential information, they may contain different clauses or components. Tenant’s lack of awareness of agreements in the lease can lead to problems. Make sure you get written copies of all your agreements and understand what those agreements entail.
7. Should I ask the landlord for an official inspection of the apartment before I move in?
Before you sign or pay anything it is a good idea to do a walkthrough. Simply make note of problems and have both the landlord and prospective tenants sign the document. Anything broken or not in working order should be written down so that you don’t get charged for it later.
8. If something needs to be fixed when I move in, what should I do?
Make a detailed list of anything that needs to be repaired when you move into the property and give it to the landlord. Have it signed and dated by the landlord, and ask for a copy of the document. Such things that need repairs may be added to the lease in a rider or addendum. Include a date when the repair should be made.
9. What may be done if the landlord fails to complete repairs on time?
Try to work through issues concerning repairs with your landlord. After attempting to correct concerns yourself, you may report problems to the DC housing inspector for further review. To schedule a housing code inspection, first review this section of the DCRA website.
10. Can my landlord enter my apartment, or let repairmen in, when I’m not there?
To repair the property a landlord may enter at any time if it is an emergency. Otherwise the landlord should give reasonable notice. Reasonable notice is considered to be 24 hours.
11. What do I need to know about my security deposit, and when do I get it back?
Most landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit before they move in. It should be no more than one month’s rent. You must also sign a lease if you are giving a security deposit to a landlord; otherwise there is no confirmation or obligation of the deposit. Also, understand the terms and conditions relating to the deposit.
When you move out the landlord has 45 days to return your deposit or to notify you in writing if they intend to apply the money towards damages. Depending on your jurisdiction, the landlord has 30 days from notification of payment of damages to return the rest of the deposit.
12. Does my security deposit collect interest?
DC law states that the landlord is to collect passbook interest on your security deposit. This only applies to tenancies of 12 months or more.
13. Should I purchase renter’s insurance?
Renters insurance provides a significant benefit when something goes wrong, unless you are able to replace all of your belonging in the event of a fire or some other catastrophe.
14. Does the landlord have an obligation to heat an apartment?
If the heat in your unit is not under your control, the law indicates that the landlord must keep your apartment at a minimum 68 degrees Fahrenheit between 6:30 AM and 11:00 PM, and at a minimum 65 degrees the rest of the time.
15. Does the landlord have an obligation to provide air conditioning?
If air conditioning is provided by your landlord, it must be in good and safe working order and be able to cool your apartment down to at least 15 degrees Fahrenheit lower than the outside temperature, according to published weather reports. If you believe your air conditioning is defective you may contact the DC housing inspector to take a reading in your apartment.
16. Whom do I call if I disagree with my landlord?
You should always try to communicate with your landlord. In the event that you are unable to come to an agreement, keep copies of all correspondence for future reference. If you notify the landlord of a problem that is not resolved you can also file a report with the DC housing inspector:
If you have a dispute with a landlord you cannot resolve you can file an official complaint/petition with the Rent Administrator at the Rental Accommodations Division. The contact number is (202) 442-4610. When you call make sure you have as much information as possible about the property and landlord. A staff member should contact you within five days, make sure your contact information is valid, because if they cannot contact you they may close your case. The Rental Housing Act of 1985 explicitly prevents landlords from taking retaliatory action against tenants who complain about housing violations.
The Office of the Tenant Advocate receives copies of tenant petitions and helps tenants understand and exercise their rights under the law.
Superior Court of DC: Housing Conditions Calendar
The Housing Conditions Calendar allows tenants to sue landlords for D.C. Housing Code violations on an expedited basis. To initiate a case, a tenant-plaintiff must file a complaint and summons with the Civil Actions Branch Clerk’s Office, Moultrie Courthouse, Room 5000.
17. Can I, as a tenant, be cited for violating housing codes?
The DCRA states that tenants may be issued housing violation notices for unsanitary conditions. The law states that tenants have a responsibility to maintain and clean the property, and to use all the electrical, gas, plumbing, and heating equipment properly. Landlords have the right to ask for Housing Regulation Administration (HRA) inspections of a property if they think it is not being maintained properly.
Copies of the DC Housing Code Violations and Standards are available at the Harrison Institute for Public Law, 111 F. Street NW, Suite 102, Washington, D.C. 20001, (202) 662-9600.
18. What can I be evicted for and what is the process?
A landlord may not evict you without prior written notice unless the tenant has waived their right to written notice in the lease for nonpayment of rent. If a landlord wants to evict you for violating your tenancy agreement, it must be a violation of a specific lease provision and he or she must take action within six months of the violation. If your landlord serves you with a “Notice to Correct or Vacate,” document, indicating an intention to evict if you do not remedy the problem, you have 30 days to correct the violation. Landlords are not permitted to physically evict; only the U.S. Marshals may physically remove a tenant from an apartment in DC.
You can also be evicted if the building you live in is scheduled for substantial renovations or alterations, or is to be demolished or no longer used as a housing property, in such cases you have several rights as a tenant, including the right to be notified in advance, and the right to relocation assistance.
19. Can the Housing Regulation Administration help me in other ways?
If you have questions about housing code violations call DCRA at (202)442-4400. If you have questions about rent stabilization laws, security deposits, evictions, or petitions call the Housing Regulation Administration (HRA) at (202)442-9505.