“Absurd fees at DCRA”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Eric P.

“Dear PoPville,

I recently moved out of my 2-bedroom condo and am gearing up to rent it out this summer. I want to make sure everything I’m doing is legitimate, of course, so I applied for a basic business license, which is required in DC to rent out even one unit. The problem is, the application for the basic business license is wildly confusing, especially for a first-timer like me. While filling out one section of the form, I inadvertently put down my NEW address (where I would like to receive correspondence from the city), as opposed to the address of the unit I’m actually renting out. When I called the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs to fix the error, I was told that doing so would cost me $83 — in addition to the $190 application fee I already paid for the basic business license itself. Is this a joke?”

31 Comment

  • justinbc

    Sounds about right. Crazy fees to push paper is what DCRA is famous for.

  • DCRA is an extortionist. Talk to them in person to see if you can get it waived.

    • I second talking to them in person. The last time I had to deal with them (on a tax issue), a visit to their office proved a lot more effective than trying to fix something over the phone. It was as if I was dealing with a completely different organization when I walked in.

  • Over the years, DCRA has been one of the worst agencies I’ve encountered. Getting a response or action from them in the past is like pulling teeth. However, they have improved over the years. With all the speed, red light, and stop sign cameras in the District, the city is generating enough money. Its a fee to take out a restraining order against someone in the D.C. Superior Court.

  • Rent Jiffy. Worth every single penny and then some.

    • Just to be clear, Rent Jiffy is a Property Management company, not a permit runner.

      • Then how did they get me my business license and meet the property inspector? They do not manage my properties (well, singular now…but I’ve used them for two properties). I paid $395 each time. The second time, there was a paperwork problem and they paid the fee for expedited licensing.

        • Rent jiffy bills themselves as a permit runner. I misunderstood that they weren’t in fact just a PM doing this for customers.

        • Jindc,

          Thanks for the plug for RentJiffy! We do appreciate it. It is true we do not do property management but instead deal with all the parts of the licensing process and the three agencies involved.

          One clarification our fee includes the license and filing fees the city charges so therefore there is no separate bill.

          Thank you,


    • Interesting, I would gladly handle the rental license process for a quick $400.

  • Also, the absurd process is one of the reasons so many people have illegal rentals. I know a number of people who have just given up and rent illegally. You can use your SSN to pay taxes on it and just not pay the DC franchise tax. They’ll never really now. We’re legit because of Rent Jiffy. That’s the only reason why.

    • justinbc

      I used LegalZoom to do all my paperwork and it was a breeze, and they handle all the filings for me.

    • I think I’m one of the only people to find it easy to do the paperwork and quick to deal with in-person. I didn’t know these services were an option until people mentioned it here, so maybe not knowing I had any other choice made it go more smoothly. I will add the caveat that I worked nights, so I could go during biz hours whenever I wanted.

      • I found it confusing and my time is more valuable, especially since it’s a business expense I can deduct. I didn’t want to take a day off to wait for the inspector since I have almost no leave (damn my choice to reproduce). I also know that the RJ folks have connections at DCRA so it’s easier for them to get responses. It’s not that dramatic of a mark up, and I’ll happily pay to have my BBL and inspection completed in 10 days or so for no work on my part.

  • I am not sure why everyone has so many issues with this biz license thing. I completed the form online, received the license pending inspection, and – done.

    • Looking for a reason to justify remaining illegal, the world’s most inflexible job, so they cannot get time off during the week to deal, or their place wouldn’t pass inspection. I think the latter is the bigger segment.

      • Or they just don’t want to deal with it. I’d rather spend my time doing other things. Like why I pay someone to clean my house – because the very few hours I have at home, I’d rather play with my dog or child (both of which are choices, I know). It’s a relatively small price to get things done efficiently. If you think you can do it for a business – getting people’s properties licensed – then you should definitely start a business doing it. I’m sure there’s a market big enough.

        • If I didn’t work a day job, I’d definitely consider doing so.
          I’ve never heard it taking a few hours to clean an apt, but if they’re hitting the baseboards, then sure I guess it may take that long.
          You have a PM, so you obviously want to use your time elsewhere; I do too. Someone who is choosing to do it on their own and deal with repairs, payments, etc really has a harder time convincing me that taking a day to go to SW is more than they can handle. If they had a PM, the PM could do it for them, of course.

    • Anon,

      The problem with doing it on DCRAs website is that it doesn’t handle all the paperwork. You still have to go to Tax & Revenue as well as the Rent Accommodations office to complete the other parts. If you don’t then you leave yourself wide open to penalties from Tax as well as a possible cancelled license for not completing all the steps. We found this out very quickly – hire RentJiffy and didn’t mind paying them the $150 to run the entire process. Like others have said I would have them do it. They’ve also kept me up to date on law changes which is a lifesaver.

  • DCRA does pretty good work, in my opinion. Yes, you have to be careful, and you have to take a morning off to go to their offices in Southwest. Their phone response is better than ever (I called this morning to ask about my business license renewal). Folks trying to cheat on taxes and fees: your renters will have you over a barrel if anything goes wrong and you end up in court. If you can’t afford a few hours to get the proper permits, one wonders what you’re going to do when your renters’ water heater goes on the blink.

    • +1

      It’s really something that people are complaining about shelling out a few hundred dollars so they can legally lease an asset worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and collect tens of thousands of dollars.

      What would they do if they need to wake up in the middle of the night, leave their sick children at home, only to find out they spend serious, really serious money to be in compliance.

      • Couldn’t agree more with Sydney and Los. It’s also an important reminder to landlords that there are insurance coverage issues here as well. If your rental property burns down — whether it’s an English basement or a separate dwelling, and whether it’s your fault or the tenants’ or no fault at all — a simple search of the PIVS website by your insurance carrier will determine if your rental is legal. All one needs to do is look for the BBL and an occupancy permit. So who cares about paying an extra 80 bucks.

      • Not complaining at all about the process or about the cost of the BBL. Complaining about the $83 fee they tacked on in order to fix what is essentially a typo. That’s the part that’s outrageous/extortionist.

    • My problem with DCRA is two-fold. First, they don’t address a massive proportion of DC landlords: namely, those who live on premises with shared space with their tenants. You can’t spit in DC without hitting that kind of housing situation, and I am absolutely shocked that this is not specifically addressed by DCRA. There is no distinction between a landlord who “rents” to a roommate and someone who owns and rents out multiple properties in DC and this makes no sense to me. Those two landlords have completely different vested interests in their tenants and properties. Second, the idea of tacking on extra fees to fix a small error on their confusing as shit form (probably because it isn’t formulated for every kind of landlord) is simply extortionist. I actually think that if every landlord in DC suddenly got licensed, DCRA would be completely unable to process that number of applications.

      As far I can tell, being licensed has a very little bearing on the landlord tenant relationship. You are still responsible for keeping your rental up to code and fixing everything in a timely manner. You have very little recourse as a landlord in DC, licensed or not. Basically, it takes an eviction from impossible to only extremely difficult.

  • It’s very important to be up to date on inspections and licensing requirements. With that said, the lease agreement and a landlord’s obligations to the D.C. Government are 2 different things. The landlord’s failure to get in line with DCRA has no bearing on tenant’s obligation to pay.

    • I might also add that a landlord’s obligation to the D.C. Government has nothing to do with an agreement between a landlord and his/her insurance company. If a house burns down and landlord has a proper landlord policy and he/she is compliant with those terms, the carrier has no legal grounds to deny the claim.

    • Tomx,

      Actually not getting the license can have bearing on the lease agreement. By not having the license there are actually several issues:

      1. There is a $2000 fine per unit if the City catches you renting without the license.
      2. A bigger issue is the fact you can lose standing in Landlord-Tenant court. There are several cases where judges have reversed rent paid to the tenant because a Landlord was not licensed. Fact of the matter is DC Landlord-Tenant law is skewed towards the Tenant. By not having the license you can potentially open yourself up to having a tenant live in your property and live rent-free.
      3. By not having the license you actually lose the ability to raise rent by default. You see in order to be exempt from Rent Control, assuming you meet the requirements, you must apply for exemption and meet one of the Claims of Exemption. In order to apply you must get the license as this is Part 3 of the licensing process. By not applying for the license you cannot get the exemption. One might say this puts you under Rent Control but then you run into the issue that you legally cannot issue the rental increase forms since Rental Accommodations will not approve the increases since the property is not registered and therefore leaving you without the ability to raise rent. Again this has been decided in Landlord-Tenant court previously as well.

      Additionally it is a requirement of DC leases that they include your license number and a rent control registration or exemption number. Most attorney’s I’ve spoken too say to not only include the number but to include copies of the actual license and rent control registration/claim of exemption filing since there is a separate portion of the law that says they must be conspicuously posted. They usually say to have the tenant initial a copy version as part of the lease signatures to cover yourself.

      While at first glance you might assume the license has no bearing on the landlord-tenant agreement I am hope you might see how it actually has a large bearing on the agreement and your ability to rent.

      To Ellis’ comment the license can potentially have a bearing on the insurance company as well. Its a liability issue. For instance, if DC requires something specific in its rental property inspection as a safety measure we’ve been told by attorney’s in the past that if injury or a lawsuit were to arise from the issue then your insurance may actually not cover the item since it was legally requires.

      Hope this helps clarify things a little bit.

      – Jonathan

Comments are closed.