Dear PoP

“I’m writing to see if any of your readers have worked with DC government on landlord/tenant problems, on either side. Our landlord is very slow to address any repairs we raise — it takes months, even past a year, to fix basic problems in our old house.  We have been very reliable tenants for more than two years, and it is very frustrating to pay our full rent every month (and it was raised during the present saga) only to have our needs dismissed. Our latest conflict: for more than 9 months, we have been waiting on the replacement of a broken in-unit appliance. We have been very communicative with the landlord, and get excuses in return.

I am considering going to DCRA and filing a complaint and request for inspection, which would require that the LL fix the situation in a certain amount of time, and may result in retroactive rent rebates for the 9 months of reduced services. I wonder if any of your readers have been through this process?  Could they shed any light on it for me?”

Any advice for dealing with negligent landlords?  Any horror stories out there?  Share your advice in the comments.  

34 Comment

  • If the problems with a unit in DC rise to the level of housing code violations, you can withhold rent and force the landlord to sue you for it, then you raise the housing code violations as a defense to the lawsuit and the landlord tenant judge will decide how much of a rent rebate you should get. The worse the problems (take photos and have a witness) the less rent you have to pay. When you’re withholding rent, pay it into a savings account instead so you have the reduced amount to pay after your court date and you can make a tiny bit of interest.

    This process isn’t very fast and you have to take a day off to go to court, so only use it if you have the stomach for it.

    Sometimes though, just the fact that you withhold rent motivates the landlord to fix whatever it is you want fixed instead of going through the hassle of suing you. But you never know, they might just sue you instead.

    Good luck.

  • If you haven’t already tried this, I would fix the appliance myself and deduct the cost of the repair from my rent.

  • I highly suggest that, when withholding rent, that you put those monies in a separate dedicated account, i.e. “in escrow”. Having been on both sides of this fence (tho not as a slumlord!), I can assure you that withholding rent can be very effective indeed.

  • The appliance is no longer in the unit. I’m pretty sure it ended up in the alley a while ago, so fixing it myself is not in the cards.

  • I don’t know if I would go the withholding the rent route. If you do, the landlord then has an excuse to fine you late fees. My old roommates and I had this same issue last year and they decided to go that route. In the end he fined them for months of late fees but didn’t tell them about them until the end of the year. He also put late fees on the late fees because the boys didn’t pay him the late fees for the months they withheld. I guess technically they should have assumed that they owed late fees for late rent and that he did not have to ask for it since it was stated in the lease that they would pay late fees of X amt for late rent. When they withheld the rent, yes the landlord responded quicker to the issues and they thought everything was peachy keen, but later we learned it was not- the hard way.

    Maybe call the landlord and tell him that you need the problem fixed or you will be filing your complaint.

  • cover all your bases – file a complain, withhold the fees, pay into a dedicated account and most importantly leave a paper trail. it sucks that it has to be that way and that the heavy lifting falls on you, but it does.

    other option – high tail it out of that house and find a different place to live.

  • The appliance is no longer in the unit. I’m pretty sure it ended up in the alley a while ago, so fixing it myself is not in the cards.
    I assume this was the LL’s doing? We had a problem with our LL charging us rent above our rent ceiling (long story, but we thought he owned the place). We spoke with DC Housing and they cited us the legalities of the situation. In the end, we wrote a letter to our LL (send it certified), explaining the situation, our expectations, and what we were willing to do (court). We got our $2,000+ back and rent dropped to what it was supposed to be. just a thought. good luck, LL’s sux.

  • Also look up any tenant rights orgs in the area…

  • I’m having similar issues (albeit ones that are hazardous to my health) and I live in VA. I know that LL/Tenant laws are a little different, but make sure you know what they are. For example, you cannot withhold rent in VA unless the violations are egregious enough (the wording is vague, leaving it up to the judge I would imagine) – the landlord then has the right to evict you.

    Make sure everything is in writing, you have pictures of the damage if possible – basically CYA.

    Also, you should move. And when you do, make sure you get a release of all responsibilities and that the next tenant will assume them. (advice from a real estate lawyer in DC)

    Good Luck.

  • You are right on the money — Get in touch with the DC government and get an inspection scheduled ASAP. We had major problems the first month we moved into our place, and the list of issues just kept getting longer (everything from electricity blowing out if we had more than 2 lights on at one time in the house, to a serious rodent infestation). Our landlord had us dealing with a third party rental agency (EFJ, btw readers…word to the wise – they are terrible!! don’t ever rent/buy from them!!), and it was months of trying to get those jerks to even return phone calls. I heard about the DCRA after about 4 months of daily torture, and gave them a call (they were really really pleasant to talk to on the phone too, which, I’ve found, can be rare when dealing with other DC Gov offices). Within 2 days of my phone call, they were at our place doing the inspection, and even calling our contact at the rental agency and ripping him a new one for not answering his “emergency” contact line. It was great!

    Within 2 months of that first inspection, we had pretty much 100% of the major violations from the inspection covered. Lesson learned — DC *does* really support its renters, and they can get your problems resolved a lot more quickly that you can on your own.

    Personally, I would not withhold rent…I thought about that too, but that can just get messy and in those situations, the landlord is given much more support than the withholding renter, regardless of the landlord’s violations. At the end of the day, you don’t want to be going to court — you just want to live in a place that’s livable. So, save yourself the potential for more drama and just call the DC gov.

    Good luck!!

  • You should contact your local council member’s office and seek their help/advice — you’ll get someone on the phone faster than going through the DC gov. Plus, your council member will probably have names of real people in the DCRA that make real decisions.

    I would try that before holding out on paying rent. I would only go that route if the LL ignores your other efforts with the DC gov.

  • You can contact the TENAC association in DC and they will help you. We have had to contact them on a few issues with our property manager. They are non profit and know the laws, etc. Their website is

    Good luck.

  • I agree with Fonzy, while we all mean well, absolutely do NOT trust any of us here- go to DCRA or your councilmember’s staff.

  • Thanks for all of the thoughts….

    I would prefer not to withhold rent because I really don’t want to be sued. Even though I’m sure we’d win, I’d rather avoid litigation.

    I also don’t feel we should have to move, basically allowing the LL’s negligence to force us out of the house (which we love).

    TENAC has been helpful with some advice — they also gave me the “State” Attorney’s email, but until this point I was really hoping we could solve this on our own.

  • put everything in writing sent to landlord return receipt required. withhold rent in a dedicated escrow account once again inform your landlord in writing return receipt required. keep copies of every piece of paper. if you speak with anyone over the phone or in person memorialize the conversation on paper keep a copy and mail it to those with whom you have spoken. the land lord tennant office in d.c. has info on what your rights are and these may vary depending on how many units the landlord owns if he/she lives in d.c. that is considerd one unit. have your place inspected by the d.c inspector focusing on the most important problems but show him everything, as small things can be vilations. take pictures. while email is convienient it is best to use reg. mail with paper confirmation of reciept. very important.!! your are within the law in d.c. with holding rent but only if it is in a dedicated escrow account and you must inform your landlord. once everything has been reinspected and oked by the d.c.inspector you must pay all rent due but no penaties or fees will charged to you. this can take some time but it is the safest way to go and can help assure you quicker response times to your issues in the future. having said all that, if you have no special attachment to the place keep your rent current give proper “notice to vacate” as stated in your lease and move. if thats the case the entire paper trail thing applies to the return of your security and/or fes they may want to charge you for damages. best of luck!

  • One warning: DCRA is the most broken, corrupt, feckless organization in the DC Government. And yes, this is based upon first-hand experience. We’ve been dealing with DCRA for almost two years now, and it boggles the mind how they have f-ed up every possible responsibility of theirs in regards to our building.

  • It’s encouraging to hear that KC had a good experience with DCRA — an inspection sounds like the best option to me, unless there is a way to handle it yourself (have you asked the LL if you can replace the appliance yourself and deduct the cost from your rent?) I recently had to end a bad apt situation by moving — it’s your decision, but I urge you to consider it if this apt and LL have become a constant headache for you. Good luck!

  • apt.manager: Do you have any links to official info about withholding rent in a dedicated escrow account”? There is already a good paper trail through email. I would feel pretty silly sending anything return receipt through USPS when the LL lives in our building.

    Chica: I’ve threatened to handle it ourselves but LL always has a “solution” just around the corner (so far a machine that was too big for the space, and then one that didn’t have the right hookups….), and says we cannot dictate what goes in the Apt.

  • did i miss what this broken ‘appliance’ was exactly?

  • Dear PoP Writer, you may feel its unfair to have to move out, but seriously do you want to do through this every time you want something done?

    Have you heard the expression “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on you”?

  • Sorry “fool me twice shame on me”

  • george w? why are you writing under kalias screen name?!?!

  • essentially, it sounds like what your LL has done is “constructively evict” you from your house. Constructive eviction is a term used in the law of real property to describe a circumstance in which a landlord either does something or fails to do something that he has a legal duty to provide and rendering the property uninhabitable. A tenant who is constructively evicted may terminate the lease and seek damages.

    alot of the time, withholding rent is what really makes the LL jump to. you gotta get him where it would hurt him and threatening his pocketbook is a good way. I’ve only ever had to threaten to withold rent, and have had things fixed.

    keeping everything in writing is also VERY good. in order to get this fixed you MUST be proactive. DC renters have many rights, and just keep after it! you should NOT have to pay to live in a place that is rife with needed repairs.

  • Hey Dear PoP writer: drop me a line at “[email protected]” and i’ll put you in touch with a DC LL&T lawyer that will talk to you for free about legal options.

  • ohh, there is also this thing called “implied warrent of habitability” is a warranty implied by law that by leasing a residential property, the lessor is promising that it is suitable to be lived in, and will remain so for the duration of the lease

    basically, by you paying the rent every month in full and on time, the landlord is aggreeing to maintain his end of the bargain, the “implied warrent”

    yeah, had my own trouble with EJF, basically in the summer of 2006 my basement apartment flooded. what ensued was a laundry list of mishaps, things not being fixed properly… i had carpeting and they HAD THE NERVE TO LEAVE ME WITH THE FLOODED AND MOLDING CARPET….. when i tried to give my notice to leave, it was only 30 days and not the 60 stipulated… basically i got out of all of it because they were morons and i knew my rights.

  • Here’s what you do:
    Find out exactly what your rights are re: this appliance, and everything you need done.
    Make sure you know the legal language of DC’s tenant code. This is available on
    Write your landlord a letter and send it CERTIFIED, so that he has to sign for it, stating what you want done, how long he has to do it, how long it has actually been, when you first contacted him, and how regularly after that, etc etc. Every detail you can think of.
    Also put in the letter what your options are going forward. Say “we can’t fix it ourselves because you tossed it” and here are our other options under DC law: x, y, and z.
    End by saying that you would really prefer to solve this amicably, and you think that you’ve been good tenants and deserve what you are owed.
    Insert photos of problems, reference them in the letter

    I have several times found that the certified letter in and of itself is enough to get the laziest of landlords off their ass, particularly if it demonstrates that you know your rights, but are willing to work outside the legal system.

    Good luck.

  • The apartment is not “uninhabitable,” though there are various minor code violations beyond this. The issue is really one of inconvenience, it’s not life threatening. Mostly it just boils my blood to pay rent every month to someone with so little respect for me.

    We are no longer under a lease and can leave of our own free will. But I don’t want to be forced out of my home, and I would be hard pressed to find a comparable unit in size and location for the price.

    I have threatened to withhold rent, among other things, on many occasions. I just have a difficult time pulling the trigger, because I want to see the good in people. LL may be walking all over me for that reason.

    Anon 106: I did exactly that (though via email) in July…. got an email back that it would be fixed by the end of the month… LL did order a replacement, but couldn’t install it because it had the wrong hookups. In any case, that was pretty much the last contact besides constant nagging until this point.

  • PoP Writer — Just out of curiousity, what is this appliance?

  • I’m curious, too. Is it a fridge? A washing machine? A stove?

    PoP Writer, I feel your frustration. But you make it hard for people to give you advice when you rule out almost all the options available to you. You don’t want to consider litigation. You don’t want to leave and find a better place. You don’t want to withhold rent because you see the good in people, even though your LL clearly seems to taking advantage of you and is dismissing your needs, as you say in your first post. You don’t want to contact the state’s attorney because you’re hoping you can solve this on your own. You don’t even want to send things registered mail because the LL lives in your building (I understand that, but sometimes you have to do things a certain way just to maintain a paper trail.)

    Do you see how you’re boxing yourself into a corner, here? It seems like the only thing you’re willing to do is the first thing you asked about, which is go to DCRA and file a complaint and a request for inspection. Since that’s the only option, I really hope that’ll work for you.

  • i know it sounds silly to send something certified return reciept when you landlord lives so close to you but do it through the post office not ups and that way you have a legal record. as to landlord tennant rules you can probally download them these days from a d.c goverment site. my feeling about email is that when things go south to this degree it is better to use the postal service or deliver it by hand and have him sign for it with a note on it “delivered by hand” again keep a copy of what you have given him. date everything! hard copies are more of a pain in the neck but they carry alot more credibility. the bottom line is if you dont follow the steps required by rightly or wrongly the landlord can take you to landlord tennant court(if it gets that far) and sue you for nonpayment and you will be forced to pay all rent due plus all late fees. d.c IS a renter friendly city if you comply with the law. but as in all things d.c. mega amonts of time and patience are required. as this is going on continue to try and work out a compromise with LL and if you do BROKEN RECORD here get it in, yes you guessed writing.!!dont give up and more good luck

  • It’s a washing machine.

    And I see your point Christina, but I was also specifically asking in my letter if anyone had dealt with DCRA and the inspection process, since that seems to be the best option for us. I appreciate learning about the various other methods of solving the problem, but I also have opinions about them.

    Thanks everyone for your advice…. I’ll let you know how things go.

  • If the appliance is a washing machine, your options are more limited, because a landlord does not have to provide a washing machine. Granted, it was part of your agreed upon lease, and you should get some compensation but it is not going to be a code violation.

  • Many people–myself included–choose an apartment based on its amenities; I wouldn’t be happy either.

  • It’s not a code violation in and of itself, perhaps, but the hole where it used to be is.

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