Dear PoP – Landlord and Tenant Edition

“Woodfall’s Law of Landlord and Tenant”, originally uploaded by umjanedoan.

Last Friday’s question of the day has inspired a couple of follow up questions.

“Can you do a post that explains in detail exactly what you need to do (license, inspection etc.) to become a landlord in D.C.? I want something I can use as a checklist. When I go to the D.C. Housing authority Web site they simply talk about how renters can sue landlords, no real map there for someone considering becoming a landlord.”

Sadly, I cannot. However, since the readers knew an officiant for VA marriages, I’m hopeful someone can point you in the right direction.

Now from the tenants point of view:

“Dear PoP,

I live in a group house in Shaw with four other young professionals, and our lease is up at the end of the month. In the past two of the roommates have signed the lease and others have paid them. This has worked well so far, but now at least three of us are considering moving out in the next year. We’re looking for a lease agreement that lets tenants be directly responsible to the landlord for their own rent, but also gives them a reasonable way to leave while protecting the landlord’s income and property. Perhaps a lease that lets tenants vacate if they give notice and identify a replacement that the house approves of.”

A little help?

6 Comment

  • Why would any landlord want to do that? If more than one of you is seriously considering leaving, then dont sign a new lease. If there is no new lease then the old lease automatically becomes month to month. As long as you continue to pay the rent on time, your landlord should be cool because it is a bitch to try to kick someone out of rental property in DC. When you are ready to move, give proper notice (usually 60 days but read your current lease) and your landlord shouldnt have any complaints.

    Trust me no DC landlord wants evict a tenant who pays on time and takes care of the property. Its just too much of a hassle.

  • Hmm, thoughts on both items.

    First, to become a landlord you need to file for a Basic Business License with DCRA. All info online here:

    Second, the reason you never see this type of agreement is that it’s a pain in the butt for the landlord. Tenants coming and going is a huge annoyance, and so is having to deal with different checks from every tenant especially if some are late. I’ve been pretty tolerant of both these things in teh past and have learned my lesson. No more!!

  • i agree that few landlords would want a lease that holds individual tenants responsible for their portions of the lease–what a pain to have to sue each one; it’s much easier for them to hold people jointly and severally liable and make each person on the lease ultimately responsible for all the rent. Also, I imagine that figuring out security deposit refunds would be a debacle if there were 4 separate leases–who would you hold responsible for damage?

    one work-around for the tenants might be a lease where they’re all on it, they’re all jointly and severally liable for the rent, but each tenants is allowed to assign (assignment is better than subleasing) their lease. If the landlord is cautious, he’ll want to approve any assignee, but the tenants might get lucky and the landlord might not include that in the lease). Then the roommates could have a separate agreement among themselves saying that any asignees have to be approved by the remaining roommates (you might want to add something like “the remaining roommates will act in good faith and accept all reasonable asignees”…it’s pretty meaningless, but it might help people get in the right frame of mind).

  • Many landlords in this town, myself included, are not licensed. We tend to be homeowners that rent our basements (owners of multi-family residential that lack a license — that’s a different story). If I could have gotten a certificate of occupancy and a license without a massive additional outlay (for me, more than $10,000), I gladly would have. But it’s difficult to do that in an old row house without significant changes to the home’s systems. We’ve built a safe, clean, middle of the road unit that we offer for middle of the road rent, have complied with every requirement that doesn’t cost a ton of cash, are selective in who we rent to, and thus have not have any problems. If we ever wanted to evict a tenant, however, they’d be able to defend against our claim by pointing out that we lack a license. That’s the risk we run, but it’s a risk that’s commonly accepted by DC homeowner/landlords.

  • In some ways that type of lease is a pain for the landlord, but it’s definitely done. For a landlord with 4 or 5 bedroom house it can be hard to find a family or a large enough group to afford the rent. I have a friend who lives in a 5br house in Columbia Heights and each of the rooms is bascially rented out seperately — she didn’t know any of the other tenants before she moved in. Each tenant basically has their own lease and people have come and gone. You’ll have to ask your landlord to see if they would be up for it — they may not — but it’s definitely done in DC.

  • To be a landlord, you have to commit a certain percentage of your life toward waiting in line at DCRA to get a Certificate of Occupancy. You also need a business license, but that’s pretty quick and easy, and you can do this while getting the C of O. Last I checked, you can’t really do any of the work ahead of time online or over the phone, because that would be too easy.

    In terms of the tenant’s question- I can’t offer any advice other than to be weary of a landlord who will do this. They obviously are either doing it because they can’t rent out their property in any other way (red flag- what’s wrong with them/their property??) or because they are not prepared for or aware of how much of a liability this could be for them (another red flag I’d think- I wouldn’t want to rent from someone who was this much of a flake).

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