Dear PoPville – Landlord or Tenant’s Responsibility?

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“Dear PoPville,

I just moved into an English basement and, as you would expect, it is a little damp and humid. I looked into getting a dehumidifier but have found that decent models can be quite expensive. My question for the PoP community is: Is purchasing a dehumidifier the occupant’s or landlord’s responsibility? Are there any codes on this, regarding providing a healthy living space? Have any basement dwellers had their landlords provide a dehumidifier for them?”

43 Comment

  • I live in an English basement and after some of my clothes and shoes started growing mold last spring, I asked my landlord to buy me a dehumidifier. He bought a pretty nice one too and it works great.

  • I don’t know the answer to your question but my experience with dehumidifiers is that they suck up a lot of electricity, undercutting any value they bring. There might be some more efficient models out there in recent years, but try some DampRid first.

    • Foolish. The damp rid will be cooked in 3 days. Buy the dehumidifier and use the timer and the % humidity features to save power.

    • I am a landlord of an English Basement. My tenant noticed that mold was begining to grow and he had already bought a dehumidifier that wasn’t doing the job. I ended up putting in a built-in dehumidifier that automatically turns on when the humidity level rises past a certain point. It works great and no more mold. The “fix” turned out to be very expensive, but I am glad I was informed about it by my tenant.

  • Tenant’s. It is like renting a house without an AC then in the summer asking the landlord to buy you an AC. Caveat Empetor. But I am sure if you ask nicely the landlord might find it in their interest to assist you.

    • There is a maximum temperature allowed by DC’s tenant code. Anything above that and the landlord has to find a way to get the temperature down.

      • That is not true. IF the lease promises AC, then it has to be able to get the temp down 15 degrees from the outside temp, but that’s it. There is a minimum temperature, though. has the housing code. It’s in chapter 14. It’s actually pretty readable.

    • I have had landlords in DC provide window units when there was no central A/C.

  • I think that’s a good idea. Purchasing dehumidifiers, air and water filtration systems, separate a/c units (if needed), and other things that make a rented living space better are a landlord’s responsibility. Landlords have a responsiblity to provide these things for their tenants. But check your lease first.

    • A landlord’s “responsibility”? You’re joking, right? I bet you think a bed, tv, and a coffee machine are the responsibility of the landlord too, because they make a rented space “better”.

    • Completely wrong. Unless expressly stated in the lease, the LL has no legal responsibility whatsoever to provide anything beyond heat, working plumbing, and stuff like that. However, a savvy LL might consider buying this to improve and maintain the space, and to have a happier tenant. If your resists, consider offering to negotiate another year on your lease in exchange.

  • I don’t think there’s any local code on this, but you should consult to satisfy yourself on that point. Other than that, who’s responsible would be laid out in your lease, which I assume to be silent on the point, since you’re asking the question. You may want to push the issue under some habitability clause in the lease, especially if the moisture is excessive and mold is an obvious issue, but odds are that a reasonable retort is “you rented a basement, at basement rates. What did you expect?” (And truthfully, what DID you expect?)

    That said, I’m a landlord, and when my tenant in the basement complained of a musty smell, I shouldered the cost of a pretty nice dehumidifier. If you determine that there’s really no legal answer — either in the local code or under your lease — my suggestion for an amicable solution is that you ask your landlord to provide one. Point out that the purchase is tax deductible to him, so he can avail himself of an effective discount not available to you, and you don’t anticipate you’ll need your own dehumidifier after you move out but he very well may want one in this unit moving forward, so it makes more sense for him to be the owner/responsible party. Offer to pay $50-100 to defer the cost if that helps and gets you a bigger/better unit.

  • Your description of a “little damp and humid” contradicts your assertion that the humidity has created an unhealthy living space. Here’s a thought: try politely talking it over with your landlord rather than trying to equip yourself with a non-existent portion of the D.C. Code regarding the landlord’s duty to provide a dehumidifier for English Basements.

    • Exactly. Had this situation exactly in my last place. Instead of figuring out how I could legally have the landlord take care of it I wrote a polite e-mail and within a week we had a brand new dehumidifier at no cost.

      It’s amazing how far a politely worded e-mail or phone call can get you!

    • Yeah, I expect OP is being a little overly sensitive on this and it’s not really an issue of a “healthy living space” so much as an optimal living space. I get the sense OP moved into an English basement and now has some buyer’s remorse.

      But regardless, particularly in a situation in which OP just moved in, scorched earth is not the way to go. A polite email or call works wonders with most landlords. Escalate when it’s time to escalate, but not before.

  • I’d have to say that unless it is spelled out in the lease, it is no one’s “responsibility.” It’s a negotiating point. I would have provided one for my tenant, as it helps keep the upper house dry, too. But he chose to use his own a/c instead. If you are on shared electric, it might be in the landlord’s interest to get a good, high efficiency one.

  • I’d agree that whatever the solution is (a dehumidifier, DampRid, or just proper insulation and ventilation) it is always your landlord’s responsibility to give you a safe and healthy place to live in. Research your rights, the healthy air quality minimums, buy a test and see if you have any spores or excess moisture, or ask your landlord to send someone in to test. Feel welcome to suggest solutions to your landlord in a polite and positive manner, and always phrase things in not only in terms of your comfort, but in terms of how it increases the value and longevity of the unit.

    In getting an idea of what your rights in this case actually are call the DoHCD, their number is 202-442-9505. Then you can proceed from there.

    • And to elaborate, there is a difference between general comfort and health ans safety. If the unit is producing mold or other unhealthy items, it is always the landlord’s responsibility to fix the problem. If you are just uncomfortable but your apartment functions within a normal zone accepted by the city, then it’s a gray area and likely your responsibility ultimately but doesn’t mean the landlord won’t help out.

      • 90% humidity is optimal for human lung efficiency.

        The only way this is the landlords issue is that humidity => mold. Mold *is* his responsibility and I’m sure he’ll be grateful that you brought this issue to his attention.

  • Also, because of the length of basement units, you might want to consider buying a few small ones to place in different, disconnected rooms rather than a one large one to place in the living room. E.g.,

  • Dear PoPville,

    I just signed a lease to live in an attic apartment that doesn’t have airconditioning and golly gee, who would have thought, but its hot.

    What do I do? I should definitely sue right? I mean there has to be something in some part of the DC code that completely excuses me from ignoring my due diligence, reading a lease and renting this place of my own free will and lets me get a pay day from my landlord right? I mean, aren’t leases really just real estates version of monopoly money?

    I mean, who would have thought an attic was hot?

    Looking forward to the responses, especially the ones that tell me how to sue because its inconceivable that living in an attic might be hot.


    • Seriously. I cannot even read these things any more.

    • Lay off the OP – he or she is gathering info more than anything else. In the OP’s shoes I would want to know if there were any relevant municipal codes, even if I weren’t planning to use them. Most likely he or she will follow the very reasonable and useful advice of other commenters (including the landlord). Sure it’s better to do the footwork and exaluation before signing the lease but better late than never.

      • Dear Popville,

        I just signed a lease to live in a basement apartment that only has one window and I want more sunlight.

        What do I do? I should definitely sue right? I mean there has to be something in some part of the DC code that completely excuses me from ignoring my due diligence, considering what actually living in a basement entails and renting this place of my own free will, and lets me get a pay day from my landlord right? I mean, c’mon, why do I have to read a lease?

        I mean, who would have thought a basement was dark and that it wouldn’t be filled with tons of natural light?

        Looking forward to the responses, especially the ones that tell me how to sue because its inconceivable that there would be a lack of natural light in a basement Thanks!

      • +1.

        Seems like people on this board often assume the worst of any tenant asking how to approach his/her landlord about some issue.

        Sure, maybe some of the time the tenant is looking to take advantage of the landlord (or the situation)… but in most cases, it seems like the tenant is new to renting (or new to renting directly from a landlord, as opposed to in an apartment building) and just wants to get some information from people who are more knowledgeable.

        Sheesh. Not nice to mock someone who asks a good-faith, honest question.

        • That was a +1 to Sameasiteverwas, BTW.

        • +1 … I’ve seen this with a few of this posts. I don’t know where it comes from … maybe PoP has a lot of readers who are landlords to terrible tenants and they assume all tenants are as bad as theirs?

        • I am not assuming the worst about the OP, but jeebus H, use some common sense. The landlord is just another person, and they have every interest in maintaining their property as an investment.

          Approach the landlord and talk to them before consulting a neighborhood blog for advice from anonymous posters. The OP is turning a fact of life in to a problem when it could all be averted with a simple conversation or email.

    • Dear PoPville,

      I have no opportunities in my life to feel superior. Please create a forum where I can demean people for no reason, ridicule them for honest questions, and pass up the option of declining to respond in lieu of obnoxiously detracting from the conversation. My ego and I will be fully–and senselessly–fulfilled.


  • I also live in an English basement. I noticed a bit of mold beginning to form mid summer. My lease is silent on humidifiers, other than the standard habitability clause.

    I politely approached my landlord about the problem, and he was grateful that I brought it to his attention. Mold could destroy the value of his property, and after speaking with him, he had a good humidifier for me in less than a week.

    Talk to your landlord. It’s in his best interest to help you. Don’t break out DC code on him.

  • PoP is trolling us.

    • OP, this is good advice!

      Get your landlord to buy the humidifiers and the piano. I mean of course the inhumanity of a music-free basement apartment has to be dealt with IMMEDIATELY! And you can probably get him to throw in piano lessons too if you threaten to call DCRA.


  • As others have said, the obvious answer here is to withhold your rent and sue.

  • Just get a DC Housing Inspector to come by. If it is a housing code violation, he/she will cite the offending party and then your question is answered.

    • Good luck with that one. When the housing inspector finally gets there your long-dead body will be covered by the mold you are so worried about.

      Seriously, unless you are renting from a slumlord just ask your landlord to get you a dehumidifier and/or to split the cost of buying one. Most landlords are reasonable and will be happy to work with you; those who are not will only get more difficult when you sic the DC government on them.

  • My experience with dehumidifiers is that they put out too much heat to be very practical in the summer, which is when you really need them. Unless you live in a chilly basement and/or love heat, what you need is an air conditioner, which will both cool and dehumidify.

    • Thats why I opt for the 5 gallon bucket, some rock salt, and a few other household supplies…cheaper and zero heat/energy us.

  • I’m not sure legally whose responsibility it is, but I live in an english basement and our landlord provided the dehumidifier. It is actually written into our lease that during humid weather we will run it to prevent the growth of mold in the apartment.

  • I am a landlord of an English basement. While I’ve never gotten a complaint about it being damp, I would appreciate a courteous email/phone call to let me know that it was overly damp and I would gladly buy and install a dehumidifier to help with the issue.

    I wouldn’t do this b/c I want to protect my investment or out of fear of law suit, but b/c I’m not an unreasonable slum lord who’s simply using a tenant to make an easy buck.

    I think you’ll find most landlords would likely have the same attitude. As suggested by many others, just ask him if he can fix the issue through a dehumidifier or other means. I think you find him to be more than helpful.

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