“she is going to have the closets and bathrooms renovated and my rent will go up. Is this legal to do to a tenant during a lease?”

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Photo by PoPville flickr user weheaton

“Dear PoPville,

I live in a condo, as the Craigslist-found roommate of the condo owner. I have a lease with terms for paying X amount through June 2017. The condo owner informed me a couple weeks ago that she is going to have the closets and bathrooms renovated (which includes the closet and bathroom that I use exclusively), and that my rent will go up when these capital improvements are completed.

She pointed to a section of the lease that says “The Landlord may increase the Rent for the Property upon providing to the Tenant such notice as required by the Act [DC law].”

She will not give me a break on rent for the time in which I am not able to use the bathroom I am paying for, and this rent increase is taking place during the lease term, when I was obviously not expecting it. It’s a condo, so exempt from rent control.

Is this legal to do to a tenant during a lease? I am having trouble parsing the DC code on exempt housing. Next stop DC Landlord-Tenant Resource Center?”

33 Comment

  • I don’t think a landlord can increase the rent mid-lease, but I’m not an expert. Though, since it’s exempt from rent control she can jack the rent way up in June.

  • Seems like she is trying to get rid of yah. I’d threaten to break the lease and move if possible. This time of the year- though sucks to move- there’s a lot more rental inventory. But I don’t think it is legal for her to raise rent mid lease. improvements or not.

  • Legal to raise the rent IF she has not raised the rent within the last 12 months (or if your tenancy is still not yet at the 12 month mark). Landlords are only allowed one increase per 12 months.

    • The short answer is that – yes, it can be done in the middle of a lease. BUT there are conditions, including the 12-month stipulation mentioned above. The increase also needs to be approved by DC’s Rent Administrator as being commensurate with the cost of the improvements and you, as the tenant, should’ve been served a copy of the landlord’s petition for the rent increase. If you have not received one, let your landlord know you oppose the increase (assuming here that you do), and that you want a copy of the petition seeking its approval. When in doubt, consult the Chief Tenant Advocate.

  • I don’t think rent she can increase the rent mid-lease, but to me it sounds like the rent would increase during the summer. Either way – do you really want to continue living with this person?

  • There’s no provision of DC law I’m aware of that allows a landlord to break the terms of a contract unilaterally and raise the rent. That clause of the lease is so vague as to be meaningless. As for negotiating a discount, you may want to have a discussion about it. The way you’ve described this situation makes it sound as if she is quite unreasonable.

  • Copied this from my own lease. At least in my case it can only happen after the initial agreement has expired but also interestingly note that it says (if a new lease is not entered) which leads me to agree that you cannot just increase mid lease. Hope this helps

    After the expiration of the Initial Lease Term, and in the event that a new lease agreement is not entered into by Landlord and Tenant, Landlord may adjust Tenant’s monthly rent on a periodic basis, in conformity with the District of Columbia Rental Housing Act and the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, and Tenant will receive notice of rent increases in conformity with said Act and Regulations.

  • 6 months ago you signed a lease with her and she didn’t mention her upcoming renovations. I have no idea if it is legal or not but that isn’t really how you treat a tenant. Bathroom renovations cost a lot of money and take a bit of planning. I have never met a person who does one on a whim. Even if she didn’t know exactly when she’d pull the trigger on a reno she knew one was in her future.

    • Agreed. She sounds like a douche’y and shady landlord. You can get a fantastic deal if you’re willing to move over the winter, which is probably the reasonable course of action.
      .
      The reason the landlord is updating the closets and bathroom is because she is getting ready to sell the apartment. If you really want to be a pain in her ass, exercise your TOPA rights. You can either drag out her sale or ask her to pay your for your TOPA rights – it just depends on how much energy you’d like to devote to vengeance.

  • So the landlord isn’t going to let you pay less while your closet/bathroom are renovated, but then will increase your rent?

    There are usually stipulations in a lease that there has to be certain functionality to the premises, and no being able to use your bathroom who seem to be a big issue.

    But really, she should be more flexible, here. If you move out during the renovation period, she has no income and doubtful another tenant would be interested in that space.

    I would seek an amicable exit to this lease, but on your terms. Not a landlord you want.

  • Well it’s not legal for her to not provide you with a bathroom. DC law allows the increase of rent for capital expenditures on rent controlled units, but I believe this requires a hearing etc. Google UIP they do this all the time to force tenants out which may be what she is trying to do.

    Also I’m not sure a condo is not by definition exempt from rent control. If she owns 4 or more units and the building is old enough it could be subject to rent control.

    • I think a lot of people are missing that the condo owner is also the roommate, I doubt she owns more than the condo she lives in with the OP.

      DC is tenant friendly generally, but this seems like the sort of thing you should be able to work out with a roommate. If you are living with the landlord and they can’t be reasoned with on this, I think you have bigger issues than the rent increase. I also suggest looking for alternate housing.

      • Ooof, good point. I missed that the landlord was also a roommate.
        The landlord should let OP out of her lease and find new housing OR give her a discount on the rent for loss of use and privacy. My guess is that the landlord needs OP’s rent to fund her renovation project. But that’s not how the world works. She’s being exceedingly greedy.
        OP: your landlord-roommate has already shown that she doesn’t respect your comfort, intelligence, or your money. She’s shown who she really is. Find a new housing arrangement and wish your landlord the best with her project. If she doesn’t return your deposit, threaten to take her to landlord-tenant court.

        • Eh, whether the owner is a roommate or not – they still have a landlord-tenant relationship and a signed lease. DC code still applies and – no – you can’t walk away from a lease simply because you have a disagreement with the landlord. As posted above, it’s possible to raise rent in the midst of a lease, but it needs to be within certain conditions and approved by DC’s Rent Administrator.

          • But the landlord can’t take away amenities and charge the same rent. That is specifically not allowed under DC landlord-tenant law. All amenities in place at the beginning of the tenancy must be kept in “working order” for the duration of the tenancy.

  • This is laughable. She won’t win in tenant court. It’s going to create pretty crappy living environment, but I’d ask to be let out of lease and if not then you’ll take her to tenant-landlord court and let them decide.

  • All of the terminology being used is wrong and confusing the issue. A lease is a lease. Rent control and landlord/tenant laws are irrelevant unless the lease violates those laws. The lease controls. She absolutely cannot breach the lease by increasing the rent.

  • Andie302

    If you can, try to find out if she has the proper business license for your rental. If not, she could potentially get in trouble with the city. If you’re not willing to live through the renovation, I would ask her to break the lease and point to the clause where it ensures general functionality of the premises (should be in a paragraph somewhere with other general clauses). It sounds like she’s trying to steamroll you and I suspect if she figures out that you’re not going to let her, she will either back down or let you out of the lease so that you can find new housing. Please let us know how it turns out!

    • HaileUnlikely

      For whatever it’s worth, I have made a good faith effort to learn what the licensing and related requirements are for roommate-type situations (landlord and tenant live in same unit, share things like living room, kitchen, maybe even a bathroom) and have basically given up. I’m not a lawyer or a real-estate professional, but I’m reasonably confident in saying that I’m not significantly dumber than the average homeowner with an extra room in my house, and between the actual DC Code, DCRA website, and inquiries to DCRA, to the best of my ability to piece together from all sources, the law does not explicitly address this type of situation, and the extent to which laws and regs written for conventional rentals are also applicable to roommate-type situations is far from clear.

      • The glaring hole in DC Tenant law is (1.) how to regulate non-owner roommates sharing a space (e.g. group house) and (2) how to regulate an owner sharing her home with non-owner roommates. It’s basically the wild west and you won’t get a straight answer on any of this. RACD needs to draft some laws that make sense for the living arrangements of the 21st century.
        We had a helluva time getting rid of an unwanted tenant in my old group house who was overseas for the summer and illegally subletting her room. She basically threatened to sue the landlord – who didn’t live in the house – if us other roommates did not allow her to move back in. Crazy pants.

        • Did she leave on her own or did the landlord evict her? This is one of many reasons having more than 1 roommate scares me.

          • The landlord threaten to counter-sue. She backed off.
            Basically, the summer also coincided with the signing of a new lease, so we just moved her stuff out of the house and into storage and got a new roommate while she was overseas. Landlord was (rightly) pissed off because she had been subletting her room without permission, plus she was hoarding food in her basement room and it was attracting vermin. I think she went to the OTA when she got back to DC, but they were not helpful to her as she was no longer on the new lease. She also left her car on the parking pad for the 3 months she was gone and refused to pay for parking. We dodged a bullet.

          • You can always re-claim a room for personal use with a 90 day notice, if you’re living in the same unit. Totally allowable.
            As I said, this is a huge grey area of DC tenant law. It seems that OTA is willing to look the other way so long as the landlord isn’t forcing out an uncooperative roommate. As long as the roommates are directing the situation, it appears to pass muster and OTA would not interfere.

      • Andie302

        I completely agree that it’s 100% unclear – and I suspect that the landlord/roommate may know that as well. I don’t doubt, however, that someone from the city would try to say the rules were one thing or another and penalize the landlord in some way. If I were in the landlord’s position, I wouldn’t want to go down that rabbit hole.

  • You are within your rights to withhold 100% of the rent, pro-rated by the day, for each and every day you do not have full and complete peaceful enjoyment of the rented premises due to the actions of the landlord. So, for example, if your rent is $1,000 per month, and there are 31 days in the relevant month, you can withhold $32.26 for each day of the month where the landlord willfully and purposefully deprives you of the full and complete peaceful enjoyment of the rented premises, say, by demolishing your bathroom or closet. The landlord will have to sue you to get the rent for those days, and will have to prove that the deprivation of the rented premises could not be helped (i.e., the landlord was repairing damage from a flood or fire) to be entitled to repayment of those funds. You are also allowed to decline mid-lease upgrades, and to notify the landlord in writing that if he or she chooses to do so, you are declining any additional rent for these improvements, and you will continue to pay rent as agreed in your lease.
    .
    That being said, you also have every legal right to drive the speed limit and not one iota beyond it in the left lane of the freeway, or to yell “make America great again!” in the middle of a black lives matter protest, or to stand on public space in the middle of a sidewalk right between two people who are about to start shooting at each other. Just because it’s your legal right doesn’t mean it’s smart.
    .
    So sit down with said roommate / landlord and tell them you’d like to cut to the chase – you are assuming that this is an effort to get you to move out for one reason or another. If that’s the case, tell them you are happy to vacate, assuming they will let you out of the lease whenever you are able to find a place with no notice and return your security deposit in full immediately and agree to bill you for any damages after you have left. If you really want to go after him/her, ask them to split your moving truck costs as well. Tell them that this is a fair resolution to the issue, and that you’d like to handle it like an adult and just look for a new place and move on. If they disagree with that, though, tell them that court is the only alternative you will consider, and that if you end up going that route, you will be pursuing the maximum in damages. Any condo owner will happily agree to those terms, as court will quickly demolish their renovation budget.
    .
    Good luck!

    • Ally

      This is true, but my understanding is that you have to formally pay that withheld money into the courts (you can’t just withhold it and keep it.

  • Andie302

    It occurred to me after my initial response that this may also be a tactic for the landlord not to lose the income of a tenant while the renovations are ongoing. Maybe she figured that if you’re in the middle of your lease and comfortable that you wouldn’t object, and she could make improvements that are vastly inconvenient for you while still collecting and then raising your rent.

  • Definitely illegal. You have a contract that you are going to pay X amount through June 2017; regardless of whether or not this condo owner is exempt from rent control, she must honor your contract and only charge you X amount through June 2017. There is no law that permits her to break her contract and do otherwise. Furthermore, there is no blanket exemption of condos from rent control regulations. If she only rents out one (her own), then she likely qualifies for the “small landlord” exemption under rent control law. Or, if this is a fairly new building, it is likely exempt. However, the owner has to file paperwork with the Rental Accommodations Division in order to be afforded the benefit of any rent control exemption. Finally, during the time when you are not able to use the bathroom, you have a good argument that you should get a reduction of the rent charged, as you are not getting the full benefit of what you bargained for when you originally leased the space. While other posters here are saying the law is murky in DC when you have an owner with roommate, if you signed a lease that specifies you are paying monthly rent to the landlord/owner to occupy the premises as a tenant, whether shared or not with that owner, any judge in DC is going to treat this as a landlord-tenant relationship. Plus, the letter she wrote you is even more evidence this is a landlord-tenant relationship, not some other kind of arrangement where you would not be afforded all rights you have as a tenant in DC. I would suggest going to OTA if you want follow up advice.

  • The landlord is pursuing a really foolish course of action here — both in terms of not reducing the tenant’s rent during the period the work will be done, and in planning to raise the rent _within the lease term_ after the work is done.
    .
    OP, if I were you I would ask to be released from the lease without penalty and find a new place. If the landlord resists, then talk to the Office of the Tenant Advocate. (Or talk to them beforehand so that you’re pre-armed with the information in case the landlord says no.)
    .
    In theory you could dig in your heels, but I don’t think this is worth fighting for, especially given that you have to live with this person. Much easier on you if you can just leave this person and the whole angst-y situation behind.

  • nightborn

    People suck. Much as I’d love to renovate my rental while my tenant is living there absorbing the costs, legalities aside, I recognize that this is her home and I would not want to cause her that sort of discomfort!