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Dear PoPville – how much can rent be raised in 1 year?

by Prince Of Petworth May 19, 2011 at 2:30 pm 60 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user Lauren PM

“Dear PoPville,

I have a question and was thinking your trusty readers might have the answer. I’m moving into an efficiency in an older building in Columbia Heights. One of the documents presented to me while signing my lease shows “Disclosure of Basis of Rent Charged” and has the rent increases over the past 5 years. Now, this is a big company, and I’m sure they know what they are doing, but it seems from what I know, limited as it is, you shouldn’t be allowed to raise the rent $130 in one year (from 833 to 963). They are saying that it calls under section 213(a)2 Vacancy Highest Comparable, citing an apt on the floor below. Is there a limit as to how much rent can be raised in this situation?”

Anyone know how much rent can be raised in a year?

  • mv

    There are exemptions, such as if it was built after 1975, federally/DC-subsized rental unit, if the owner is not a corporation and the owner doesn’t own more than 4 units… If these exemptions don’t apply, the rent can be raised a maximum of 10% (if elderly, 5%).

    Also, the rent can be raised to meet a comparable rental unit, but not more than 30%, after the unit becomes vacant. That is probably why it was citing the apartment below.


    • ess

      Close. If the unit is rent controlled (meaning the owner qualifies for an exemption AND requests the exemption with DHCD) then the owner can raise the rent CPI + 2% each year, or CPI if the tenant is elderly or disabled. This year, the CPI is 2.2%, so for most rent-controlled tenants their increase will be 4.4%.

      If CPI + 2% is more than 10% in any given year, landlords can only take a 10% increase (5% for elderly or disabled).

      There are some other reasons why landlords can raise the rent more than CPI+2% (substantial rehab to the building, a certain % of the tenants agree to the increase, etc.) but they have to petition the Rent Administrator and give the tenants notice.

      All of this is for existing tenants. To determine what you’ll get charged as a new tenant, the vacancy increases are as Former Lawyer said below.

      If the unit is exempt from rent control, the landlord can charge whatever s/he wants, although it’s illegal to raise rents during the term of a lease, or after a lease ends if it’s retaliation for exercising your right to convert any lease to month-to-month.

      http://www.law.georgetown.edu/clinics/hi/documents/TSG_english.pdf spells it all out pretty clearly.

      • A

        I did not know there was a right to convert a lease to month-to-month. I would have liked to have done this last year when my lease was up, but it was only an option at a much higher rent.

        • Marcus Aurelius

          Tenants don’t have a “right” to convert their lease to month-to-month, that’s just what a longer term lease will typically revert to in the absence of some other provision in the contract. I don’t think it’s unusual or unlawful to charge more for month-to-month (less economic certainty for the owner). In DC, if you stay in your apartment after the lease ends, the lease provisions continue in effect, but the landlord can raise the rent with 30 days’ notice.

          • ess

            It’s a right in the sense that if you say “well, now that my lease has run out, I don’t want to sign a new one…I just want to go month-to-month,” they have to let you. They can’t evict you for that.

            They can raise the rent, but they have to give you 30 days notice of it. And if it’s a rent-controlled unit, they can only raise it once a year and only by the allowable amount (CPI+2% unless you’re elderly or disabled or they do some other petition).

          • Tres

            Right, the lease continues, making it month to month unless you elect to sign a new lease. The landlord can’t kick you out for not signing a new lease, effectively making month to month the innevitable and only legal consequence.

            Rent control would prevent rents being raised to compensate for month to month status — unless you live in a basement where the landlord likely only owns 2 units — theirs and yours.

          • JP

            Yes, it is a right. I had this issue with my landlord. No matter what type of lease you have, month to month, yearly, or even verbal, as long you keep paying rent the landlord cannot force you to sign a new lease or evict you unless it is for one the specific reasons within the housing code, and even then,, most of those reasons are actions that the landlord, not tenant, initiates (like major rehab, moving back in, selling the property).

          • A

            I see, so it sounds like converting to month-to-month has to be an option, but the landlord is allowed to make month to month more expensive. In my case M-t-M was 17% higher than signing another 1-year lease, so it didn’t really feel like a real choice. But it’s not rent-controlled so I guess that’s allowed.

      • Annie

        Is there some documentation out there about converting a lease to month-to-month? When the lease on our house was up last year, we weren’t given that option so we signed another year lease but when it is up this year, I would definitely like to exercise that option.

        • Tres

          You have to look at your lease. I think all leases in DC will revert to month to month under the law unless you sign a new one.

  • Kalorini

    I’m really interested to see what the comment thread holds. Borger Management has raised my rent $136 last year, and upped it another $90 this year. For an area with shootings/stabbings every week, seems like rent is still too high!

    • joker

      Unless the building or unit is a registered rent control unit, I am pretty sure they can raise their rents to whatever the market allows.

      You may be upset that Borger raised your rents, but you are still there so they obviously didn’t price you out.

      • ess

        it doesn’t have to be registered for rent control. It has to be not registered for an exemption from rent control.

        So if your landlord didn’t register it one way or another (not that I think Borger did that, it’s mostly small landlords), welcome to the wonderful world of rent control!

      • Tres

        Rule of thumb for most of DC —

        Basement apartment, no rent control.

        Apartment building, rent control.

    • GDopplerXT

      I agree, but people keep paying it!

    • Anon

      I’m not asking this to be snarky, but why live there if it’s got shootings/stabbings and high rent? Is it hard to find other places in the city?

      • caballero

        This could be almost any neighborhood, couldn’t it?

        • Anon

          No. Not all neighborhoods are equally shooty and stabby. (Cleveland Park vs CH) However, I agree that they’re more expensive in less shooty-stabby. Or, you could have less shooty-stabby and cheaper by going a little farther out.

          • Anonymous

            yes. almost doesn’t equal all.

      • Anonymous

        “Is it hard to find other places in the city?”

        yes. very hard.

        • Anonymous

          Howso? Is it expensive to move? Yes. Is it an expensive city? Yes.

          However, when we were looking at apartments, there were apartments available at every building we showed interest in.

          Have you tried Craigslist if you can’t afford to live on your own?

          I don’t understand…

      • Anonymous

        because, sadly, the places most people want to live, are also a bit sketchy.

      • Dan

        Sorry, what city do you live in? Rent is very high in the shooty and stabby neighborhoods. The less shooty and stabby neighborhoods are even more expensive. The affordable neighborhoods are all kinds of shooty and stabby.

    • Anonymous

      @ Kalorini, have I got the political party for you …


      Maybe you can start the DC chapter, but you better have a righteous moustache and some sweet gloves.

    • Kim

      Which building do you live in? Is it rent controlled?
      I’m asking because I am about to sign a lease for the Bristol House – I would really not want to move to an apartment that will increase my rent by that much per year.

  • Anonymous

    I thought it was only 5% if you have an old lease. TENAC is supposed to be helpful with this kind of thing, but I have never been called back when I try to reach them multiple times. While DC has good renters’ rights, it also feels like you’re kind of on your own to force the big rental companies to do anything. I have had luck citing things from the dc.gov site and sending letters via certified mail. That usually lets them know you mean business.

    I did have a landlord that was from NY and tried to raise rent some ridiculous amount. I had to fight with him for weeks.

    • Sources

      Can you provide links to the dc government site sources that you used to respond to rent increases? I too am worried my rent will be raised at the end of my lease. Thanks to everyone who posts info here. A very timely inquiry from the OP.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Former Lawyer

    If you’re a new tenant, I think the landlord is limited to 10% over what the previous tenant paid or, alternatively, whatever a comparable unit rents for (up to a limit of a 30% increase). For continuing tenants, a landlord can raise the rent once a year by the Consumer Price Index increase plus 2%, up to a max of 10%.

    Here’s a link to DC’s rent control guide:

  • Tres

    General rule of thumb: 2% in excess of your inflation adjusted salary increase. Inflation runs close to 3% usually (though not in 2010, if I remember), so overall 5%.

    So you could get a 10% increase if inflation got out of hand. That means that until your salary rose again to compensate for the inflation, you’d be paying an outsize ratio of rent/income.

  • Laura

    I’m pretty sure there’s a difference in what can be raised with the same people in the same apartment (for example, an increase when a lease is up & it goes month-to-month), and what they can raise it to when someone moves out and they’re re-renting the apartment.

    For example, my rent increased $22 after I’d been there about 13 months. But when I looked at the same Disclosure memos you mentioned when I signed the original lease, my rent was about $150 more than the previous tenant, and $100 more than the tenant before that. They both sited the comparable vacancy you mentioned.

    • K

      That is how my previous unit worked, too. I lived in an apartment building run by a company. My rent was increased about $20 each year. At move-out, I was paying $1072. However, when prospective applicants came to visit, I overheard them ask the manager how much the unit cost and he said $1250.

  • jcm

    Rent control applies to all rental houses in DC, except:

    Federally or District-subsidized rental units
    Rental units built after 1975
    Rental units owned by a person who owns no more than four units
    Rental units vacant when the Act took effect

    If the unit is rent controlled and vacant, the landlord can increase the rent by:

    10 percent more than was charged to the former tenant, or
    Rent for a comparable rental unit, but not more than 30 percent.

  • Awktalk

    I just had mine raised as well. The document they sent said:

    “Under section 208(h)(2) of the Act (annual CPI-based increase) the increase in rent charged is based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI). For tenants qualified under the Act as elderly or disabled, the maximum increase in rent charged is the CPI percentage but not more than 5.0%. For other tenants, the maximum percentage increase in rent charged is the CPI percentage plus 2.0% but not more than 10.0% The CPI percentage published by the Rental Housing Commission for the rent-control year May 1st 2011 through April 30th 2012 is 2.2%”

    They waited until May to raise my rent, even though they could have done so in January because the CPI for the previous year was 0.05%.

  • wondering

    How can I find out how many units my landlord owns? I know he has our house (upstairs and basement apartment) and another house (which I believe also has a basement apartment), but I’m not sure if that’s it or not.

    • ess

      I don’t know how, but it may not matter. What matters is if your landlord filed a form to exempt your unit from rent control. You can find that out at DHCD, at 1800 MLK Ave SE (and really only there…it’s not online anywhere). If he didn’t, then it’s rent-controlled. And if you learn he filed an exemption and now you think he owns more than the allowable number of units for it, you could call the Office of the Tenant Advocate for help.

    • Tres

      Do a property tax database search for thieir name. Units they reside in don’t count. I’d share a link, but typing on phone. It’s on the DC Gov’t website — easy to Google.

  • Tim

    I’m far from an expert on this, but I believe there’s a rent control exception in which if a unit stays empty for a certain period of time, you can raise its rent to the highest rent in a comparable unit in the building.

    But to be clear, it sounds like you’re definitely in a building that’s covered under rent control and this is simply an exception to that.

  • snob

    So . . . any rental unit that’s built after 1975 is exempt from rent control no matter how many units the landlord owns — meaning that no new construction of any size is subject to rent control? And what if the landlord converts an old building into apartments, as is happening all over the city?

    • Tres

      No. If you bought 4 condos in DC today as investment properties, you wouldn’t be subject to rent control.

  • Andy(2)

    Don’t assume that a big managment company is obeying the rules. I lived in an apartment and a new managment company took over half-way through my lease. They realized the old company hadn’t followed the rules so I got a $200/mo refund on my lease.

    When in doubt ask and do your due diligence.

  • anon

    you havent even moved in and already youre whining. only in dc. or maybe sf. i hope they recognize you and refuse to rent to you.

    • Anonymous

      – says the slumlord.

  • Eric in Ledroit

    these laws are so ridiculous. basic economics tells you that the market would provide plenty of affordable housing if the rental market weren’t so tied up in well-meaning but counterproductive laws and regulations.

    as an example, I have an english basement sitting empty that I don’t rent out because I would rather forego the income than deal with a tenant thanks to DC’s ridiculous pro-tenant regulatory system. thus, there is one less potentially affordable unit in ledroit park, driving up all the other rents. multiply that type of decision making process thousands of times and you have a warped market like ours.

    • A

      I disagree. There should be a minimum standard for safety and compliance with the law / tenant’s rights even if it lowers supply. Kinda like how food safety laws and environmental laws make things more expensive but it’s worth it.

      • Eric in Ledroit

        You can disagree all you want but the fact is that my basement is sitting empty because I am not willing to give tenants the degree of “rights” to my property that the city would grant them.

        I agree with building codes and requirements for two exits (in case of fire), working heat and plumbing, and other safety issues. But beyond that is a typical example of well-meaning liberals creating the conditions (lack of affordable housing; high rents) that they claim to abhor.

        • victoria

          If you are renting a good safe place at a fair price you do not have to worry about crazy tenants. Believe me (20+ years experience) Good people – and bad people – are pretty easy to recognize. If your place is good you will have at least 10 good people begging and bribing for your apartment and never have to worry.

          • Anonymous

            But it just takes one slip up to make Eric’s point … I’ve been renting for 7 years, but I still have a shiver go up my spine when I read his posts. It’s not worth it for me to let space sit empty, but I’ve definitely had tenants I adjudged to be “good” who came awfully close to turning “bad,” and I knew I was screwed if they ever wanted to raise a stink.

            You’re both right, but it sure would be nice if DC law would write in some relief for the large number of “Mother Hubbard” landlords in the city — people with one unit in their own homes or just renting out a condo that they outgrew.

        • Tres

          I don’t know about that. The people withholding rentals has got to be an extremely small number relative to the people who rent with city or without city bonafides.

          The rental market is hot now. If anything, the issues driving high rent are high limits, lack of credit access for developers, the recent wave of foreclosures driving a flight to rentals, increasing population, etc.

          With reward comes risk. If you list at or below market like Victoria says, you should be able to attract grade A+ tenants. Even if it’s not strictly legal, you’re going to have tenants who <3 you for the value you provide.

          • Tres

            “height” not high

      • Anon

        You arent disagreeing. You’re mischaracterizing eric’s arguments. He didnt say there should be no standards or protections. He said the current level is far too much and distorts the market to a degree that does more harm than good.

        • B

          Eric also based his “economic analysis” (ie thinly veiled political opinion) on one personal anecdote.

      • victoria

        Food safety laws in the late 19th century actually helped reduce the price of food – which was more than 50% of income – by diminishing the incentive for grossly adulterated nasty products (“Butter” bought in cities in 1880 = casein, calcium, gypsum, gelatin fat and mashed potatoes.) Way too complicated issue for here – but reasonable regulations + market forces = good for all.


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