Tenant Rights in Washington, DC

Landlord and tenant laws are in place to protect both parties during the rental arrangement. Tenants in Washington, D.C., should become familiar with the rental laws to ensure the property owner does not violate their rights. Both the property owner and tenant have responsibilities as well as rights under the landlord tenant law.

Security Deposits

A security deposit is money a landlord requires of a tenant to protect against unpaid rent or damages to the rental unit when the tenant moves out. In Washington, landlords cannot require an amount more than one month’s rent for a security deposit. The law requires the landlord to deposit the money in an interest bearing account and provide the tenant with the terms of the security deposit. Property owners must pay the interest to a tenant when he moves out if he has lived in the rental unit for a minimum of one year. The landlord must also return the security deposit within 45 days after the tenant vacates the property and provide a list of any deductions for damages or unpaid rent.

Landlord Responsibilities

The Washington landlord and tenant laws require the landlord to keep the rental unit in a safe and habitable condition. Property owners must maintain the property in accordance with the District of Columbia housing codes. The apartment or rental unit must be clean and free of pests when the tenant moves into the property. D.C. housing codes require each room to have two separate electrical outlets and lights. The apartment must have a fire exit that is well lit, a fire extinguisher and fire alarm system. The landlord is responsible for making sure smoke detectors work properly. The property must have heat, hot and cold running water and working plumbing that does not leak. Property owners must keep the heating, electrical and plumbing systems in the home in good working order.

Tenant Responsibilities

While tenants have rights in D.C., the renter also has responsibilities when living in a rental unit. The tenant must make rent payments on time in compliance with the lease agreement. A renter is responsible for keeping the rental unit clean and sanitary. The renter must refrain from causing damage to the property and use the appliances and systems of the home in an appropriate manner.


The eviction process must begin with a notice from the landlord. Tenants must have an opportunity to state their case in court during an eviction hearing. The landlord can evict a tenant without notice if it is stated in the lease agreement and is only valid for non-payment of rent. Without a clause in the lease waiving the notice for non-payment of rent, landlords must give a tenant a 30 day notice to pay the rent or vacate the property. The landlord must provide 30 days notice to tenants who violate the terms of the lease to correct the problem or move out. When the property owner plans to use the rental unit for personal use, Washington law requires 90 days notice. The landlord must wait until the notice expires before pursuing an eviction with the courts. The notice must be written in English and Spanish, state the name and address of the property owner and the reason for the eviction. Landlords must deliver the notice in person or leave it with a person 16 years or older on the premises. The notice may also be posted on the residence if it cannot be delivered in person. When posting the notice, the landlord must also send a copy through the mail. When tenants fail to comply with the notice, the landlord may file a complaint in the Washington D.C. courts, which will set a court date to determine possession of the property.