Legal Questions Answered By Griffin & Murphy, LLP

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Griffin & Murphy, LLP, is a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. concentrating its practice in real estate law (including development, finance, leasing, zoning and condominium conversions), as well as estate planning and probate, civil litigation, and business law. The attorneys of Griffin & Murphy, LLP are licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Griffin and Murphy, LLP was founded in 1981.

Please send any legal questions relating to real estate, rentals, buildings, renovations or other legal items to princeofpetworth (at) gmail (dot) com, each week one question will be featured. You can find previous questions featured here.

Has this every happened to anyone else?


I have been renting a condo unit for approximately the past year and a half. When I first started living there I signed a standard one-year lease with the landlord. After the first year I did not sign another lease, but continued living there and paying rent.

The real estate agent who helped me find the condo recently notified me by phone that the owner wants to sell the unit. I’m not especially distressed at the prospect of moving (I was going to move-out this summer anyway), but I am wondering what my rights are, and particularly how much time my landlord is required give me to find a new place to live. Do I need to allow him to show prospective buyers the unit while I live there?

My landlord and I have always been on good terms, but I’d like to make sure I know all my rights as a tenant in good standing before we move forward.


If you stay in the condo after the expiration of your initial lease term, you are occupying the condo pursuant to a periodic tenancy. The periodic term is determined by the manner in which rent was due under your written lease. Assuming your lease called for you to pay rent on a monthly basis, you have a month-to-month tenancy. As the tenant, you can terminate your month-to-month tenancy upon providing 30 days written notice to the landlord. The 30 day period must expire on the first day of the month on which the tenancy commenced. For example, if you wanted to terminate the tenancy effective May 1, you would have to provide written notice of the termination to your landlord by April 1. Even though the lease agreement has expired under its own terms, the periodic tenancy will be subject to all of the terms and conditions in the original lease (except, of course, the expiration date of the lease term). Continues after the jump.

Although the notice period that a tenant must comply with in order to terminate a month-to-month tenancy is fairly straightforward, a landlord in D.C. has very limited rights to terminate a tenancy. The Rental Housing subchapters of the D.C. Code provide that a landlord cannot evict a tenant, notwithstanding the expiration of the tenant’s lease or rental agreement, except in the case of very specific circumstances. One example of an exception would be where the landlord has entered into a contract to sell the rental property to someone who intends to use it for immediate and personal use. In such case, the landlord would have to give the tenant a 90 day notice to vacate in advance of the landlord’s action to recover possession of the apartment. The 90 day notice period would commence after the expiration all of the notice periods provided for in D.C.’s Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act.

If a landlord did not want to sell its rental property but just wanted to terminate the existing tenancy, the landlord could raise the rent on the rental property once the lease agreement expires (assuming the property is not subject to D.C.’s Rent Stabilization Program), which might force the tenant to leave on his or her own accord. However, a landlord is not permitted to raise the rent in retaliation against a tenant.

Regarding your concern that your landlord may want to show the condo to prospective purchasers, you will need to examine your lease agreement to see if it provides the landlord with the right to do so. The D.C. courts have held that unless authorized by the express or implied terms of the lease agreement, a landlord may not interfere with a tenant’s right to exclusively occupy a rental property for purposes of marketing it for sale or rent without breaching the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment in the lease agreement.

This response was prepared by Mark G. Griffin and Patrick D. Blake of Griffin & Murphy, LLP. The material contained in this response has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for a consultation with a qualified attorney. Nothing in this response should be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Griffin & Murphy, LLP or as rendering of legal advice for any specific matter.

33 Comment

  • Would be nice also to have the answer cover how the Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act applies here….

  • Very thorough answer that perfectly illustrates why you would have to be crazy to be a landlord in DC.

  • As a landlord I think this law is pretty ridiculous and is in need of a serious makeover. I think at the end of a lease term (be it a year or month to month) both parties should have equal amount of time to notify the other when it is time to leave. What is the thinking behind the 3 month plus time for the “tenant to purchase act” which I am assuming is not a week or two.

  • “My landlord and I have always been on good terms, but I’d like to make sure I know all my rights as a tenant in good standing before we move forward.” I just hope that the tenant is not really looking to take advantage of the landlord just because the DC law might allow it. Just saying.

  • why the hell are you posting this question if you are moving out? what happened to general good moral behavior and courtesy? why does everything these days goes by a written contract? it seems like you are trying to take advantage of the situation.

    • since when does asking what one’s rights are constitute questionable behavior?

      the person is asking simple basic questions that will affect his life.

  • I would never be a landlord in this city. I have had my fair share of good and bad landlords, as a renter here, but the laws are in many cases absurd. I think it is important to protect people from being kicked out of their home, for sure, but absent an active/current lease, why is the tenant afforded the right to bail with 30 days notice, but the landlord seems almost forever beholden to being a landlord.

    Maybe I am not understanding this correctly, but what happens if…

    1) A landlord just doesn’t want to be a landlord anymore? What if he just wants to use the basement apartment as storage? A rec room?

    2) What if the apartment needs major renovations to be attractive to a future buyer?

    3) I assume if there is a lease, after the lease ends, either party can refuse to renew it, right? What if the landlord above just wants to try a different tenant?

    Seems like DC is intent on forcing business owners’ hands. Has anyone else seen Bowser’s new bill where she wants to force mortgage companies to negotiate with deadbeats before they can foreclose AND THEN allow the deadbeat to rent the property from them at market value. What if mortgage companies don’t want to be landlords? What if they don’t want to rent to proven deadbeats? Who cares, it’s DC, right? And from a neighbor POV, the folks on my block who own tend to be great people, take care of their homes, etc. The few that rent? Complete opposite

    • 1) These are two separate questions. If the landlord just “doesn’t want to be a landlord anymore,” well, tough. I may be a renter, but my apartment is still my HOME, and being forced out can be a seriously disruptive life event, especially if you’re talking about elderly, long-term tenants, or if you’ve been priced out of the neighborhood and have to move to, say, Maryland.

      If the landlord wants to re-inhabit his basement apartment, he can do so legally after giving the tenant the prescribed amount of notice.

      2)If the apartment needs major renovations, the landlord can also re-coup the apartment after the proper amount of notice (120 days in DC).

      3)A landlord and tenant can chose to renew the lease if they so chose. In my experience, most leases revert to a month-to-month lease. Apparently landlords can’t just kick someone out because they want to “try a different tenant,” but they can raise the rent so high the tenant will leave. I would imagine, though, that the landlord can’t then turn around and rent to a different tenant at the lower price.

      City laws protecting renters are important. You’ve probably never been forced out of an apartment yourself — it’s nasty business. I wouldn’t choose to be a landlord here (or anywhere) either, but I think this city’s laws are totally valid, as they protect a large group of people who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to buy.

    • As a landlord, solving the no-lease thing is simple. Don’t do it if you don’t want to go month-month, always operate under a signed lease that specifies what happens when the lease is up, time frame for renewal, etc. Lastly stick to it, if you get any indication the person isn’t going to move (ie, not letting you show even though it’s in the lease) send the required official notice to quit at end of lease, etc..

    • In regards to #1 I assume you are talking about a basement rental unit. There is a completely different set of laws for someone renting part of their home that give the landlord much more rights. For example, they do not have to follow equal housing guidelines, if I don’t want to rent my basement to college students or women, I don’t have to and the law won’t stop me as long as I live in the same building. I think DC draws the line at owner occupied housing with buildings that contain four units, more than that and all the other laws apply.

  • good morning,

    1 and 2 of your questions can be answered by the landlord saying they wish to re-occupy which is fine.

    number 3 – i dont know about

    wrt to TOPA – that is a process that could be drawn out up to 270 days or more by a savvy tenant without any risk.

  • All of the anti DC rental law arguments I’ve heard /so far/ fit the profile of people who want to rent a place out when it’s in a slummy neighborhood and then quickly flip it when the neighborhood gets hot. I’m not sure I support throwing someone out on the street who’s been living in a place for 10 years with 1 months notice just because you want to make a quick sale. If you want to be a landlord, DC is saying you better be in it for the long haul and not just trying to flip a place in a hot market in the summer.

    And just for balance, I think that rent control is an awful idea.

    • I’m sorry but why isn’t one month’s notice from the landlord sufficient if the tenant has decided to go to a month-to-month lease which allows him or her to walk away with only one month’s notice? D.C.’s law is bass ackwards. In every jurisdiction that I am aware of, once a tenant goes “month-to-month,” both parties have the right to terminate the agreement with a months’ notice. Hence the term “month-to-month.” It seems ridiculous to me that a tenant can put themselves in a position where they can move with 30 days’ notice, leaving the landlord scrambling to find another tenant, while the landlord has to give the tenant protections that should only be reserved for a tenant that has committed to stay for the full term of a lease.
      I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am not a landlord and have no intention of becoming one. But this seems ridiculous to me.
      And to your original point – I have heard of just as many horror stories about landlords who can’t get rid of problem tenants (including some who have not paid rent for months without reason) as horror stories about longtime residents being evicted for the sake of gentrification.

      • Let’s get to brass tacks, the landlords are trying to avoid rent control by throwing one set of tenants out and replacing with a new set at the new market rate. There is no law saying that someone can live rent free. Eventually the payment has to come through or you are allowed to take the person to court to recover the money. You run a business, act like a business person, not a baby. Most of the landlords who don’t get judgments in their favor have broken one or more of the tenants rights laws.

  • ” the landlord could raise the rent on the rental property once the lease agreement expires”

    Since the current lease is a month-to-month lease does it mean the landlord can raise the rent every month?

    • The lease for my tenant is month-to-month, but specifies that rent can’t be raised before a certain date (12 months after they move in).

      • But the question is, after they are month to month, can you raise the rent in January, and again in February, etc.

        • yes, as long as there’s notice each time. can’t just spring it on them a day before rent is due

  • I have never considered an apartment my home. They have always been temporary because I haven’t owned it. Stability in all aspects of life, comes from digging deep, establishing roots and investing, financially and otherwise.

    I think a tenant should feel comfortable in the apartment for the duration of the lease. If that is one year or one month, so be it. Why does a tenant get the benefit of a month to month lease, but the landlord does not? Is that really equitable? What about landlords who need the rental income to make their own mortgage payment? What protects them? And their home?

    • Stability in life shouldn’t come from being able to purchase a home. We should all be so lucky, but some of us (even with a stable job and graduate degree) can’t afford a mortgage in an urban center like Washington. Being forcibly displaced is a life-altering experience, and it’s certainly not going to breed the stability you suggest.

      The tenant deserves the benefit of a more notice on a forced displacement, because it’s an incredibly inconvenient and destabilizing event. The landlord, on the other hand, can re-rent the apartment almost immediately at a market rate, with very little disturbance to their life or income. The 30 day notice law is what protects them.

      • You speak of forcible displacement as though we were sending people off to refugee camps. Rather, a commercial relationship is simply coming to an end.

        When I was on a month to month lease, I simply assumed it was just that, month to month and that I as the tenant could end the relationship with 30 days notice AND/OR the landlord could end the relationship with 30 days notice. Indeed, this happened to me. My landlord decided to move his brother in and asked me to leave. He gave me a letter, told me I had 30 days and so I found a new place to live and moved. It wasn’t convenient, I was in the middle of final exams at grad school, but it seemed fair to me. Why should he be stuck with me. Even if I knew my rights, I wouldn’t have forced the issue.

        I don’t think it is as easy to find a tenant as you imply, especially in light of DC’s notoriously tenant friendly laws. I have heard time and time again that finding a reliable, financially stable, respectful tenant is very difficult here. 30 days is clearly insufficient time to place an ad, gather responses, show the apartment (especially if a tenant is being difficult), conduct interviews, run background checks and negotiate a final deal. Sure, if you want to rent your slum to someone on Section 8 with a government guarantee, no big deal, but otherwise, see above!

        I maintain that stability is a byproduct of investment, plain and simple. I don’t think anyone who rents should consider that situation to be permanent, such thinking is foolish. When you own someone, it is permanent because you’re in control. When you are involved in a relationship with others, that stability diminishes. Think about it like this. If I own my own home outright without a mortgage I have maximum stability. If I own my home by myself with a mortgage, it is up to me and the mortgage company and there is less stability; think foreclosure. If I own my home jointly with my wife and there is a mortgage company, even less stability; think foreclosure and/or divorce.

        There are risks inherent in all that we do, renters in this city need to start bearing some of those risks.

        • I don’t characterize forcible displacement as anything other than what it is. When you live in a rental house for years, even decades, you make that space and neighborhood your home. Then when your landlord decides they want to “try something new,” you suggest that in a matter of 30 days, the tenant must troll advertisements, tour a number of apartments in their price range (often impossible), pay to hire a moving truck and/or company, clean their former apartment, and make a new home somewhere else, often paying double rent for a period. In many cases, the tenant can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood they’ve made home, and must adjust to a new environment, and may pay more in public transportation costs. Imagine if you had been a retiree on a fixed income, or a working family with children, rather than a law student.

          I think it’s pretty clear that a displaced tenant and his/her landlord do not bear an equal burden of inconvenience when it comes to terminating the lease with 30 days. The landlord’s ad placing, open house holding, and credit check running simply don’t rise to the same level as a major move and all of its associated costs.

          Renters rights simply provide a little stability cushion for those who can’t afford to buy. And I think that’s fair. It may be foolish to think your rental situation is permanent, but it’s not unreasonable to expect that you’d get a few months to find a new home if you ARE displaced.

          • Why then won’t you afford the same rights to the landlord? I am not suggesting we get right of renters’ rights, just suggesting that perhaps landlords should have some too.

            I flat out disagree with your assertion that a tenant incurs greater inconvenience and expense than the landlord. For the sake of the argument, I can concede that their equal.

            As you indicate, a tenant needs to “troll advertisements, tour a number of apartments in their price range (often impossible), pay to hire a moving truck and/or company, clean their former apartment, and make a new home somewhere else, often paying double rent for a period.” That said, a landlord needs to place an ad, show the apartment, host an open house, have someone clean the apartment/make repairs/update, and may go at least a month without income. It simply isn’t any more difficult for a tenant than it is for a landlord.

            As for your argument “In many cases, the tenant can no longer afford to live in the neighborhood they’ve made home, and must adjust to a new environment, and may pay more in public transportation costs.” If that is the case, all the more reason for the landlord to want to move onto greener pastures, no? Why should the landlord take a hit on the market value of his property just to allow someone to continue to enjoy the neighborhood? How on earth is that the responsibility of the landlord? If they cannot find something in the neighborhood that they can afford, then they can’t really afford to live in the neighborhood, can they?

            For what it is worth, I think I do understand the experience better than what you give me credit for. Not that it matters, but I was a grad student, not a law student, so no real dreams or aspirations of wealth, I suppose. That aside, I was working full time while studying full time, that is to say, I had zero time for anything not related to work or school. I was also flat broke, everything I earned went into paying for grad school (which by the way better positioned me to buy a house and gain greater stability… all about choices). Getting ejected from my housing situation was a terrible inconvenience, but I managed to figure it out… even making the scary, scary move from Georgetown to Tenleytown, where after some months I managed to gain my bearings and find food and water again. Sarcasm aside, in less than 30 days I attended open houses, scoured the web/newspaper, visited places, signed a lease and coordinated a move, all with less time and probably less money than a retiree on a fixed income. Why? Because I recognized that the place I was living wasn’t mine… it belonged to someone else, to do with what he wanted, within the confines of our agreement. I don’t think the law should hold him hostage, even if it would benefit me.

  • Here is what I want to see changed: tenants and landlords both should get the same number of days for terminating relationship 30, 60, 90, whatever, just the same number of days. Also, if tenant doesn’t pay rent landlord should have the right to cancel lease and send him/her packing in 30 days or less, not the 4+ month it apparently takes now to evict. Tenant should be allowed to cancel lease if landlord is not providing what is promised on the lease, also within 30 days. Landlords have mortgages, taxes, and other expenses to pay and the 4+ month it takes to evict a non paying tenant is not fair at all. Would the city then wave the realstate tax? I don’t think they will. Also hopefully landloards are allowed to sue and get their unpaid rental income by going to court.

    • Just don’t be a landlord if you’re not willing to deal with these headaches. For most residential leases in DC, there’s no 30 day notice required, you can sue immediately when the rent is unpaid. Sure it takes 3 weeks for a court date to be set (so the tenant knows about it) and then if the tenant asks for a trial, it will take longer. I don’t think you want a situation where landlords can just throw people out without using the legal process.

  • Cold cold landlords here.

    Maybe to ya’ll landlords, renting property is a commercial transaction. To tenants, though, its their home and their lives. Not everyone can be a home owner or landlord, but everyone needs a home. If you choose to provide that home for them (and make good money off of them doing so) then you must abide by the social contract that comes with it and that you bought into. When you purchased the property, these were the laws. You knew the playing field. I really don’t think its nice to purchase property under one set of rules then try to change those rules post purchase to disadvantage other people.

    Property rights must have some limits when there is such a power imbalance between the have’s and have not’s. It’s government’s job to decide those limits. The government is chosen by the people. The people have spoken. Suck it up whiners. As the say, Caveat Emptor.

  • As long as its not rent controlled (which, if the landlord ownd 5+ units, iit is), a landlord can just say, your rent is not 10,000 a month. So for most landlords the temr of a lease is for practical purposes, at will of either party. Of course, the tenant could refuse to pay the new rent and then the landlord will have to evict. If the landlord is trying to sell the property, this is how a tenant can extort money from the landlord, by simply dragging the process out.

    TOPA is a well intentioned but ridiculous law.

    I have been a landlord for many years and the way I get my tenants to move out when I want them to is to (a) be nice and (b) pay them a few hundred dollars.

  • Good Morning:

    You say “It simply isn’t any more difficult for a tenant than it is for a landlord.” I find that totally ludicrous, so it’s not worth laboring the point any longer.

    The implications of what you’ve said so far are that stability is a commodity only afforded to the wealthy, and that if a (presumably less wealthy) person is priced out of the neighborhood they’ve called their home for years, they don’t deserve to live there.

    I’ve also been displaced in a similar situation. And while, yes, I’ve survived, I had to move across town to a less desirable neighborhood, pay double rent for a week, pay for a moving truck, pay an extra $1.50 a day in transportation costs. It was a traumatic and expensive experience.

    At the end of the day, the law isn’t holding the landlord hostage. It’s affording the presumably less-advantaged tenant a little more TIME. That’s it. They still pay rent, the landlord still makes a profit. A rental is only a business for one party in the transaction — for the other, it’s a home. To not see why we would privilege the tenant in such a situation is blind.

    • The implication of what you are saying is that once you rent a home or apartment in a neighborhood, you are entitled to live there forever – or at least as long as you want to. There is a name for a person who has a permanent entitlement to the use and enjoyment of a home -it’s “owner.”

      • I have never suggested that a renter is entitled to stay in a rental apartment (or neighborhood) forever — all I’m saying is that the inconvenience of having to move against one’s will is sufficient enough that a tenant should be granted more than 30 days to make those arrangements. Thankfully, in our city that’s usually the case.

        • No one wants to walk away from a great deal..(it could be cheap rent, it could be convenient to your work, and or close to places you hung out, etc) but as you pointed out it is a business and both have to benefit from this transaction, otherwise the tenant won’t be there in the first place. That said, my only request is that both parties should have an agreed upon timeframe 30 or more days to give the other notice when deciding to terminate relationship that way the tenant can find the next home and the landlord can find the next tenant or have time to do whatever he/she want to do with the space.

          • Just jack up the rent if you want to get rid of a tenant. It’s that simple. Even if you’re rent-controlled, there are hardship petitions that allow you to increase the rent over a certain amount

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