Dear PoP – illegal rental?

Photo by PoPville flickr user BrennaLM

“Dear PoP,

I recently moved out of a rental that I had lived in for two years. It wasn’t in the best condition (i.e. mold on the walls) and getting anything fixed was a prolonged battle (for example, it took about two weeks for my heat to get fixed last winter). I have a feeling my landlord is going to try to keep my security deposit (she’s just that wonderful of a person).

I’m fully ready to sue her for it (as I had to with my two previous landlords), but I was wondering about something else. I’m pretty sure that she never got the proper permits/licenses to rent the place. It didn’t show up on DCRA’s online database, plus the condition of the house would indicate that an inspection never took place (it was a really good location/price). I’ve heard that if she does not have everything in order that I could get my rent for the past two years returned to me. Is this true?”

Hmm, I’d be surprised if you could get your rent returned, that seems unrealistic. Has anyone else dealt with a situation like this?

100 Comment

  • I heard something similar, but can’t vouch for the truthiness of it. It’s an example of the DC laws regarding rentals being heavily skewed in favor of the renter.

    How on earth you would deserve 2 years of rent paid back to you simply because the landlord didn’t have the proper permits is beyond me (even if the place is a dump, your choice to stay in that dump for two years).

    I hope that even if the law entitles you to this, that you don’t pursue it. Get you security deposit back (which I agree you deserve if you didn’t trash the place) and call it a growing experience.

    I agree the landlord should make repairs, fix the place up and get the permits, though.

  • Sounds like this person is trying to screw over their landlord (as he had done with his previous two).

    • Suing for your security deposit is far from “screwing over your landlord.”

      • Quite right.

        • Yeah but trying to get 2 years worth of rent back – were you were willing to stay at the time because the “good location/price” is pretty much screwing over the landlord.

      • It’s sad that you have to sue for security deposits just to get them back. I’ve learned my lesson with that and won’t rent at a place that requires one. More likely that not you won’t get it back.

  • Whoever told you that is an idiot. At most the landlord can get fined. You are entitled to nothing because of the fact that the apartment was illegal. You received the benefit you paid for– an apartment. If you didn’t get the value because of an inhabitable situation, then you needed to withhold rent until it was resolved. If people could recover all their rent during the time an apartment was not propertly licensed, illegal units would be rented at a HUGE premium– because renters would be fighting to get in the door — RECOVER ALL RENT AFTER YEARS!!! You’re nuts for even thinking that was viable.

    • your grasp of economics is troubling…

      • Seems to make sense to me. Everyone would want to rent an illegal apartment knowing that they could likely get back all rent paid if they sued and won.

        • but what landlord would advertize an illegal rental unit (and therefore charge the premium for it), knowing that whoever paid that premium would sue and get it back afterward??

  • Its a counter law suit coming back to you. How after two years you suddenly realize its an illegal rental and decide to sue the landlord?

    I am not much of a lawyer but if it is an illegal transaction, I am sure both parties could be held responsible to a certain extent.

    • Not likely.

      • wanna elaborate, RD? you’re always buggin’ about people who don’t offer counter examples when they respond, but you love to just lob a grenade and split!

        • Read further down. Once a DC judge has figured out your rental is not legal and you don’t have a BBL every judgment is going to go against you. The system is set up to deal rather harshly with landlords with illegal apartments.

          • Ragged dog this is absolutely not true. Sued an illegal landlord in small claims court last year and lost.

    • He explained how he “suddenly” realized it was an illegal apartment

  • You are a jerk for even asking about getting your rent back. You got what you paid for and deserve nothing more. If you don’t like the place move on.

    • No, you’re a jerk! You big jerk.

    • you are a jerk for making such a jerky comment.

      • you’re all a bunch of jerky jerk-faced jerkoids with jerkahoy cookies on your breath! jerks.

        • – I don’t like your jerk-off name. I don’t like your jerk-off face. I don’t like your jerk-off behavior, and I don’t like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?

          …I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening. *gets hit in the head with coffee mug*

          I love the big lebowski.

          • “The Prince of Petworth draws a lot of water in this town. You don’t draw shit, Lebowski. Now we got a nice, quiet little capital community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet.”

        • You jerks have never lived in an illegal rental. Yes, they probably can get all there money back and the landlord will get a hefty fine. It’s called economic benefit analysis. The landlord never should have been renting the unit without proper permits and hence the landlord was unjustly enriched while you lived in an unpermitted rental and inferior housing.

          • Unjustly enriched? Ha! That’s some 1L stuff. What you should have taken away from your first year in law school is that a court won’t award you more than you deserve. In this case, the person got two years of housing and won’t be able to get the rent returned.

          • We do it in my agency all the time. When you violate the law, you get sued for the economic benefit of not being in compliance. It’s the cost of being in compliance or amount saved by not being in compliance plus interest.

            So here, the cost of getting the permits + the economic value of the rent while unpermitted + interest.

            It’s the economic incentive to comply with the law. 1L my assets.

          • Um, no. It doesn’t work that way. Please get your money back from your law school since they clearly were unjustly enriched at your expense.

  • Actually this person is not nuts. We met with a realtor this week about renting our apartment and was told exactly the same thing. He warned us to be very careful when renting. Apparently you have to get a business license from the city and a c of o – even if renting a condo.

  • I think it’s greedy of you to demand all your rent back. But if you want to get your deposit in a timely basis, I would threaten the landlord with reporting him/her to the DCRA.

  • Thanks to everyone for assuring me that the internet is chock full o’ judgmental jerks!

    I asked this question because I was curious. I had a third-hand story about this happening to someone and wanted to see if it was true.

    I am, in fact, suing my landlord for my security deposit because it is owed to me. I left the place in significantly better condition than I found it, and she has not notified me in the 50 days since I moved out of her intent to keep any or all of it (she is supposed to do so within 45). I haven’t “screwed over” any landlords. I have had to ask the courts to stop them from screwing me as two of my previous landlords attempted to keep the entire security deposit for no reason.

    Also, I notified DCRA as soon as I suspected it was an illegal unit (and a few times after that). They did nothing.

    All I wanted to know is if what I had heard was true. Turns out that yes, in fact, this site’s readers are a bunch of losers that have nothing better to do that pile on a person with a simple question.

    • I think that the DC government in general sucks. The DCRA too. I live in DC and would hate to see this happen, but I think both the government and the DCRA deserve a good ass kicking (like class action lawsuit) for not doing their effing job.

      They have no problem giving out a million parking tickets, but when it comes to making sure that people are actually safe, etc.. they don’t really give a shit. My neighbor is operating an illegal rooming house; I reported it and they did absolutely nothing. And just last week there was a fire at an illegal rooming house, reported on this very website.

      DCRA is also supposed to protect us from unscrupulous builders by making sure that they post a bond with the city, so that we can collect from it if they don’t honor their warranties. Guess what? the DCRA isn’t doing its job either. I hate lawyers but I wish a class action lawsuit would get started.

    • Oh darling.. this is fairly tame compared to some of the other comment strings on this site!

    • No doubt! Judgemental is the name of the game here.

      Remember the poster who just wanted advice on getting sod for the yard? He/she got ripped a new one for even considering such an evil product that would destroy the environment, waste precious resources and pollute children’s drinking water. How dare he/she even deem to hold their head up in public!

      oof! Raise your hand to ask a question and get it lopped off!

    • Well, from the question you do sound like kind of a litigious jerk. There’s no way you could get your security deposit back for three apartments in a row without suing? That’s crazy to me. I’ve always found these things could be solved with a few strongly worded emails and some basic knowledge of DC rental requirements.

      • then you must be able to afford to live in well managed apartments. If you ever had to rent a low-end apartment then you’d know that generally you have to either sue or threaten to sue. And generally a slum lord is banking on the fact that people who can only afford to live in their slum apartments don’t have the money or knowledge to sue.

    • I’m sorry, but to sue over not getting your security deposit back is just slimey. Not getting your deposit back despite leaving your place in pristine condition is just standard practice. It should be assumed and is a cost of renting an apartment. To sue is just slimey.

      • are you being sarcastic? I’ve always gotten mine back (and I moved a LOT), and have rarely heard of friends not getting theirs back…although none of those sued for it – they just grumbled and dropped it after a few strongly worded demands.

      • HOW is that slimy? you signed a contract that says you will get your security deposit back if you leave the apartment in the same condition you got it.

      • Whaaat? Landlords would love people to think that. They are supposed to put the money in an escrow account – in fact, you are owed not just the deposit but accrued interest.

      • Sadly, EPF is absolutely correct. I wouldn’t say suing is slimy, but I agree that it’s better just to build the despoits into your renting costs since you’ll probably never see it again. Or rent from a place that doesn’t require deposits.

      • Since when? A couple of times I’ve tried to hold back a portion (less than half) of a deposit when the tenants left the place filthy, and got immediate and massive threats from them (and yes, I have my license and my place is registered). So I was the one who gave up and ate the bill for cleaning and trash hauling. Though I do have some co-workers who have been treated shabbily by landlords withholding their deposits. Guess there’s bad behavior to be had on both sides.

  • In theory a renter in an illegal rental can use their leverage to “extort” the landlord up to the value that they would lose by being reported to DCRA. Realistically that value isn’t a lot (i.e. probably a security deposit but certainly not two years worth of rent), in part because DCRA is unlikely to do anything if the landlord is reported. If the renter tries to ask for too much and isn’t smart about making the veiled extortion threats, it’s in the landlord’s interest to press charges against the renter for extortion, or at least threaten to.

    Too bad DC doesn’t have reasonable standards for what is a safe rentable apartment, i.e. their silly requirements about ceiling height that almost no apartments can comply with and that have no bearing on safety. Their current unreasonably high standards make people less safe by making the whole process extra-legal for most people, so in those cases no one does any type of safety inspections and both parties are forced to use extra-legal means and threats to resolve a dispute.

    • Actually once you take the landlord to court for the unpaid security deposit, the lack of a BBL/occupancy license will be exposed and the landlord could have a major judgment go against him/her just because the judge wanted to prove a point.

      • “Actually once you take the landlord to court for the unpaid security deposit, the lack of a BBL/occupancy license will be exposed and the landlord could have a major judgment go against him/her just because they were operating an illegal business in addition to stealing their tenants’ security deposits.”

        Fixed that for you.

  • I think what you see is a lot of scared slumlords on this site!

    Don’t let them scare you off. An experienced DC RE lawyer will answer this pretty quickly.

  • Actually, it’s true. (I work in Prop Management and deal with such things everyday.) If the unit is not registered with the city and owner does not hold a Basic Business License (expired doesn’t count) then the tenant can ask for, AND BE ENTITLED TO, the rent back. It’s very rare and not likely a judge will view that as a workable solution for both parties. But it could happen.

    Also, DCRA will do NOTHING if you have moved out of the apartment. Withholding rent, though sometimes effective, is weakening your position should the disagreement end up in court.

    If the owner rents on their own, they may simply be ignorant of the change in city requirements for leasing, it’s only been a couple years. Take heart, the city will find them and charge considerably for back taxes for their failure to comply. Their day is coming.

    • I’m glad to hear that the city offers that as an option. I have no sympathy for this landlady and hope she gets whats coming to her.

  • Actually, I don’t think you can specifically sue for all the rent you have paid, but there is DC precedent for ordering a landlord to repay all rent from an illegal rental. In that situation, however, I believe the landlord had tried to sue the renter for unpaid rent. The judge said the rental was illegal and ordered the repayment of all rent. I will try to find the case name.

  • All the BS about DCRA not knowing what they’re doing is 50% fact/50% fiction.

    Like any agency, they have troubles, but people die in illegal apartments every couple of years due to fire and egress code violations. It’s not a joke.

  • Somehow I’ve made it through my whole life and never sued anyone. And this guy has sued his last three landlords? What’s wrong with that picture?

  • I’m a lawyer but haven’t practiced in a few years. I did some landlord/tenant work a few years back, and — as crazy as it sounds — the OP is correct. I’m pretty sure that the failure to register has to be willful, and I’ve only heard of it being done in egregious cases. In the cases I’ve heard about, it’s usually a landlord with multiple warnings and code violations.

    I think the law has changed recently (or maybe the Council just talked about it), but it used to be that only landlords could file cases in Landlord/Tenant court, so a tenant had to go on a rent strike, get sued for eviction and back rent, and THEN claim willful failure to register. The other way was to file a tenant petition with DCRA and go the administrative hearing route, but those would get bogged down so much more than cases in Superior Court, if you can believe it.

    • Oh, and it really isn’t a Basic Business License issue. Before BBLs were required landlords still had to register their properties with the Rental Accommodations office.

    • My aunt had a tenant in an illegal apartment (last year) in her basement. She locked the gate that provided access to the front street because he kept leaving it open and her dogs kept getting out. He stopped paying rent. She tried to evict him and the judge ruled in favor of the tenant. She was stuck with a renter and no income. Even though it was an illegal apartment, he could stay as long as he wanted to.

      She ended up having to buy him out. She lost everything he paid and then some.

      • Yeah, the sad truth is that almost no basement apartments in DC meet code, so almost none of them are registered. Most of the landlords of basement apartments live in the unit upstairs and aren’t big-time property moguls. While I understand the reasoning behind most code provisions, I wish there were a way to legitimize these units and add some sanity to the system.

        • The problem isn’t the system. You have to be an educated buyer. Like the tenant who checks his landlord’s BBL status prior to leasing, a home buyer needs to check for a basement C of O prior to laying out the EMD.

          The truth is, many of these people bought houses without being educated about the legal requirements regarding basement apartments. That’s their fault, and they own the consequences.

          As far as “almost no” basement apartments being legal in DC — for one, that’s not true, and second, it’s no excuse. If you can buy a 3 level house in DC, you can certainly afford to spend the money it takes to make it legal.

          Tip: legal landlords ALWAYS receive greater rental income, by thousands of dollars a year. And they aren’t beholden to renters like Ragged’s aunt’s.

          Think of legality as the price of doing business. It’s insurance against bad tenants as well as building problems: mold, fire hazards, costly leak situations, etc. It’s your house, why wouldn’t you want to keep it in great condition?

  • I like money.

    Basically what it boils down to is that if you also like money and you can get back two years of rent from a sloppy landlord…why not? Do it.

    Think of all the flat screen t.v.s you could buy.

    Sharks and fishes. Just saying.

    • …with two D’s for a double dose of your pimpin’?
      You see, a pimps love is very different from that of a square.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Alright calm down everyone. He was just asking if it was true. He was only talking about getting his deposit back. Just calm down and breathe. It is a simple question, that’s all. Name calling is not necessary or helpful on either side.

    • PoP,

      I agree the discourse has definitely fallen to its knees here, but you can almost hear the salivation in the OP’s voice when he asks: could it be true, do ya think, that I could actually get all my rent back for the past two years?

      Why ask the question if he not interested in pursuing it?

      That being said, it’s no surprise (as I said before) that he’d lose his hand when raising it to ask a question in this forum.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        Like many topics that become heated comments are a mix – some are helpful, some are supportive, some disagree politely and some less so but it’s always a mix. Folks sometimes too easily dismiss/ignore helpful comments because they see negative ones.

        • POP, I would humbly note that you allowed one person to pose a very one sided perspective, posed as a question, which raised lots of questions in many people’s minds.

          While I recognize that bloggers do not feel the same obligation as the “lamestream media” to try to elicit differing perspectives, this blog has become big enough that you ought to make the effort.

          A conversation with a landlord (and especially this guy’s landlord if you can reach them) would have made this post less one sided, offered more insight, and likely caused less vitriol.

    • Economic benefit of breaking the law and/or unjust enrichment theory. The landlord should not have been renting without permits. Any such profits might in fact be recoverable.

  • A frustrated tenant with either bad luck with his past three landlords, or a troublemaking opportunist that relishes in confronting his landlords; more likely the latter.

    It’s a wonder why anyone bothers with the hassle of being both landlord and parent to tenants in this city.

  • Wow, you sound NUTS!

  • Landlords need to have C of Os, BBLs — the lack of which is like driving without a licence or vehicle inspection. They create a huge safety liability for their tenants in not having these things.

    Like others have mentioned, it’s unlikely but possible to be refunded rent. I’d take the LL to small claims court for the deposit only. It’s very affordable, and judgement will likely be in your favor if they don’t show at the hearing. DC can also have funds withdrawn from their account if it gets real ugly.

    Meanwhile, the tenant should now realize what cheap rent means: illegal apartments, mold behind walls, shady characters. Any time you think you found a great deal, question it — look it up on the DCRA database before you think about a lease. Only rent legal.

    • “Illegal apartments” are also often fine living spaces but don’t adhere to extremely strict code — ceiling might be too low, there might not be three-way switches in the proper places, etc. With the prohibitive prices of rowhouses in my neighborhood, the only way for me to pay my mortgage is to “illegally” rent out my english basement — an area I recently renovated and is quite an awesome apartment.

      To make it a legal rental would cost in excess of $8K, and that’s getting the work done as cheaply as possible. It’s up to individual tenants to assess the situation before they move in, judge the apartment, make an adult decision about the character of their potential landlord, and then decide to rent the illegal apartment.

      Not everyone with a non-registered apartment is a slumlord. There are financial facts of life that often preclude registration. It happens all the time and everyone just needs to be adults about it.

      In this instance specifically, I think Kevin is trying to get something for nothing, and I suspect a judge would agree. He lived there for two years and didn’t attempt to move out. He’s an adult, and he made an adult decision to rent the apartment that he did. The landlord should pay you the security deposit, but then you ought to just move on.

      • I sense this guy rents out his illegal apartment. Seems like this struck a nerve. why oh why do we want safety standards for where people live. especially where people of limited means live. why oh why?

      • If you have to rent out an illegal apartment to afford to pay your mortgage, then you are obviously living beyond your means!

      • “Not everyone with a non-registered apartment is a slumlord. There are financial facts of life that often preclude registration.”

        In your case, though, it sounds like “financial facts of life” translates to “living beyond ones means.” If the only way for you to afford your house is to operate an illegal business, you cannot in actuality afford your house. It sounds like you’re trying to “get something for nothing,” that is to say income from an illegal rental unit.

        “It’s up to individual tenants to assess the situation before they move in, judge the apartment, make an adult decision about the character of their potential landlord, and then decide to rent the illegal apartment.”

        You should reread your little lecture about personal responsibility and take it to heart. Were I a possible tenant of yours, I would make the “adult decision” not to rent from an unlicensed landlord. After all, if you can’t be bothered with the time or expense to get your place up to code, what incentive do you have to fix my toilet when it breaks?

      • you know, the government doesn’t just pull housing code regulations out of its ass to make life difficult for homeowners who want to rent their basements.

        Having ceilings that are too low can impede ventilation and pose a fire hazard. Overloading electric outlets/circuits (for example, by having too few) can cause a fire.

        $8k is a small price to pay to get a legal apartment compared to the cost of settling a wrongful death suit (you’ve likely voided your homeowner’s insurance, so don’t count on them to help you out) when your basement catches on fire.

  • What’s that saying: hate the game, not the player?

    Would all of you saying this guy is selfish really turn down tens of thousands of dollars given to you at the expense of someone who broke the law just because you didn’t really feel it was right for you to have that money? Haven’t you ever disagreed with tax policy but took every break you were entitled to?

  • The fact that “Kevin” has pursued three lawsuits in a row with three different landlords is a huge warning flag. Sooner or later everyone has one bad experience, but three in a row? Who even has the time to do that, other than a professional litigant? It’s one reason if you’re a private homeowner, you should never ever rent your unit out to someone without personally talking to past landlords.

  • Actually, I’d wouldn’t mind reading some more of the no nonsense, politically incorrect straight talk from Mistr Knucklz on more of these posts.

    Bring it on.

  • There have always been below par sub standard housing in our city.

    They are usually priced accordingly.

    If we make more and more difficult for property owners to rent out a basement apartment or a duplex that’s sub standard to a few college students than it’s no wonder why it’s hard to find affordable housing.

    Those that provide affordable housing are not welcome here for a host of reasons. It’s as simple as that.

  • what did you say your last name was?

  • Remember: gentrification kills?

  • DC definitely needs a more streamlined process for dealing with basement apartments and the non-professional landlord. We have a legal basement apartment. We renovated it in order to receive a C of O. Getting the various sign-offs from the plumbing, electrical and construction inspectors for DCRA made getting the C of O a 7 month process after construction was completed. Even getting the original building permit was a nightmare since DCRA lost (yes, lost) our original permit application.

    Once you have the C of O, in order to file for a BBL, you have to (a) get a tax registration certificate from the Office of Tax & Revenue (apply on-line and then go stand in line to pick up), (b) file out the “Clean Hands certification” stating that you do not owe the district more than $100, (c) fill out the BBL form and (d) fill out the Rental Housing Registration (and Exemption) Form. The BBL is a multi-page form—most of which does not apply to the non-professional landlord. Assuming you can figure out what they are actually asking for on the form, and get it filled out, you then get to stand in line some more at the DCRA permit center and then go pay several hundred dollars in fees.

    But you’re not done—-assuming you are a non-professional landlord looking to rent out a single basement apartment–you are exempt from rent control. Yet, you still have to drive over to Anacostia and register your unit anyway with DHCD.

    Then they send the inspector out to inspect your unit. If you fail the inspection, you have about three weeks to get whatever it is fixed—otherwise you have to start the whole application process all over again and pay the several hundred dollars in fees all over again.

    So all in all, you have to slog through a pile of paperwork, pay several hundred dollars, and visit no fewer than three separate DC government offices. Is that the cost of doing business? Yes. And I did it. But luckily I have a flexible job and could take off the days necessary to go stand in line in DCRA, meet the inspectors, etc. But I completely understand why people just bail on the process.

    DCRA could easily develop a one page form for the non-professional landlord that could be filled out and submitted on-line along with the fee payment. There would still need to be an inspection, but the process could be simplified greatly.

    And thanks to Kevin, I am now adding a provision to our rental application requiring prospective tenants to disclose whether they have been involved in any lawsuits within the last 7 years.

    • A couple of months ago, Kojo Nnamdi (sp?) had some folks from the DC government on his show to talk about making your basement legal for rental. What followed was riduluous….the standards they hold you to are absurd. I could buy a $1 million fixer-upper and nobody cares if I meet code, but if I have a tenant in my basement and charge him $300 a month, the numbers on his sign that faces the street (3204 Georgia, for example) must be a certain size. I’m not joking…that’s a real regulation.

      They treat renters like absolute children who don’t know their own best interests, while buyers are on their own.

      • You’re not charging $300 though. You’re charging at least enough to make it worth your while, or else you wouldn’t do it. So do it right and you won’t get sued.

    • Very good explanation – remember we have a mayoral election coming up! Ask every candidate what their specific plan is to allow private landlords to obtain a permit in a sane, rational and timely manner.

      This means 1. online or mail application 2. Prompt inspection – (no more than 2 weeks after receiving the application) 3. Immediate provisional occupancy permit (unless major dangerous conditions are discovered) while waiting final certification.

  • The first rule of equity is that you can’t come to a court without clean hands. If the landlord can show you took no steps to ensure that he was registered, he may be able to show that the agreement (oral or written) you had regarding renting the apartment was not a legal contract, and is therefore unenforceable, since both you and your landlord knew the basement was not a legal unit. Then you not only don’t get the rent you paid, but you don’t get your security deposit. The city may take his ill-gotten gain from the rent, but YOU won’t get it. See, among others, Capital Constr. Co. v. Plaza West Coop. Ass’n, Inc., 604 A.2d 428 (D.C.1992) (home improvement contractor who accepted progress payments when it was not a licensed contractor violated D.C. regulations and could not enforce the contract);  Fields v. Hunter, 368 A.2d 1156 (D.C.1977) (liquor store owner not entitled to money owed for goods sold and delivered where agreement was sale of liquor on credit in violation of D.C. statute);  Credit Finance Serv., Inc. v. Able, 127 A.2d 396, 398 (D.C.1956) (“unlawful interest charge results in voiding the contract and disentitles the lender to any recovery”);  Hartman v. Lubar, 77 U.S.App. D.C. 95, 96, 133 F.2d 44, 45 (1942) (“an illegal contract, made in violation of a statutory prohibition designed for police or regulatory purposes, is void and confers no right upon the wrongdoer”), cert. denied, 319 U.S. 767, 63 S.Ct. 1329, 87 L.Ed. 1716 (1943).   See also Richard A. Lord, Williston on Contracts § 12:4, at 23-24 (4th ed.1995) (it is an “elementary principle ․ that one who has participated in a violation of the law will not be allowed to assert in court any right based upon ․ the illegal transaction”);  Restatement of the Law of Contracts § 598 (1932) (general rule in contract law for the effect of illegality on a contractual arrangement is that the arrangement is unenforceable by either party).   With regard to leases in particular, this court has found that leases executed by the landlord with knowledge of existing Housing Code violations are void and unenforceable.   See, e.g., Brown v. Southall Realty Co., 237 A.2d 834 (D.C.1968);  Diamond Housing Corp. v. Robinson, 257 A.2d 492 (D.C.1969).

  • oh my gosh so many of you know nothing about landlord-tenant law.

    If you were still living in the apartment, you could withhold rent and assert housing code violations as a defense in an eviction case, or sue affirmatively at regular superior court or, more likely, its new housing conditions calendar (which only does injunctive relief).

    Even after you’ve moved out, if your apartment isn’t exempted from rent control (and if your landlord didn’t get a BBL, s/he didn’t bother applying for a rent control exemption either) you can file a tenant petition at the Department of Housing and Community Development. It will be heard at the Office of Administrative Hearings. You can get a rent abatement based on the housing conditions (temporary/permanent reduction in services) and/or failure to register with the Rental Accommodations Division. You probably won’t get a full rent abatement–it’ll depend on the conditions and lots of other things. There are some situations where treble damages are allowed; they’re listed in the Rental Housing Act.

    The Office of the Tenant Advocate and the Landlord-Tenant Resource Center are much better places to go for advice than a blog.

  • PoP had a posting on so-called illegal apartment rentals a little while back:

    Some of these comments are very self-righteous, probably most often made by posters without a mortgage. Just because an apartment is registered properly doesn’t mean it’s not a deathtrap, and vice versa. I’ve lived in perfectly legal shitholes. There’s also the issue of whether there are internal stairs, and the fine line between having a roommate living in the basement and renting out an illegal apartment.

    People ought to consider that DC regulations are often overly burdensome and amount to poor public policy. I’d much prefer to rent a sweet, unregistered basement for the same price as a registered slum.

    • Once again the “posters without a mortgage” false argument. I love how renters who want landlords to follow the law are painted as the irresponsible ones versus homeowners who are under water because they bought a house they couldn’t afford.

      Again, if you can’t handle a mortgage, don’t buy a damn house! Home ownership isn’t a right. I wish I could afford to buy, but I can’t. The solution isn’t to buy a house you can’t afford and then break the law to afford it.

      • Have you been following what happened to the housing market? Because it made the news.

        And perhaps my people-without-a-mortgage comment isn’t such a “false argument”(?) if it rings so true with you. How many homeowners do you know who rent out their basements? You are, in fact, quite self-righteous. Condemning everyone in Washington, DC who needs to rent a room or a basement to make ends meet makes you a remarkably unsympathetic character.

  • Oh, the drama! I guess this is to be expected in a town full of lawyers who each think they know it all just because they overpaid for some law degree.

  • For anyone interested in renting out their basement legally, DCRA just launched this site recently

  • I just went through this to sue a landlord for an illegal apartment that had numerous problems that surfaced after I moved in. All I wanted was to get out of the lease and get my deposit back. After MONTHS of hearings and a couple grand in legal fees, the judge finally told me that if we kept going, I might end up with nothing, and then turned and told my deadbeat socialite landlord that if we kept going, he could rule in my favor and give me upwards of $20k in various judgments. He then said that the way the laws were written, he could also make it where NOBODY walked out of the courtroom happy, and that we should take that as a hint and go settle privately. So, yes, you MAY end up with a good settlement. But typically, just pointing out to the landlord that things could go really badly and be very expensive for both of you if you sue is enough to get them to void the lease and give you back your deposit. I wish I’d just *threatened* to sue before I actually did it….

  • Do not listen to these people, they do not know what they are talking about. In NYC , you can sue for your rent back and in NJ the state, the landlord is responsible for paying 6 times your monthly rent for moving expenses. Contact legal aid, which helped me since I was in a similar situation, also call DC’s zoning office and they will send you a faxed letter stating whether or not the unit was legal or illegal.

  • I have a related question. I am currently renting a room in an illegal rooming house and have a yearlong lease. I don’t want to screw over my land lady or anything, but I can leave whenever I want right?

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