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Rental of the Day – Columbia Heights – What Do You Think is a Fair Price?

by Prince Of Petworth April 10, 2013 at 3:00 pm 64 Comments


Dear PoPville,

There have been several posts lately about people wanting to escape shared living and looking for their first solo apt. I have such a place – my current tenant is moving in June or July. I know I’ve been undercharging – but not sure how much rent I should charge. I don’t want to gouge, but don’t want to be a sucker either. I want a fair rent that a teacher/social service type person would be happy paying. So I’m tossing it out to PoPville!

Details – 14th & Columbia Rd. NW – 1 block to Metro. 1 bedroom, 450 square feet, 3rd floor walk up in 30 unit condo building. Laundry room in basement.


  • Anonymous


  • anon


  • If you truly want to make it affordable for a social service/nonprofit person, I’d say 33% of around $50K/yr (a pretty standard mid-range salary for such a position), or $1400 a month.

    • Anonymous

      When did social service/nonprofit people start making $50K?

      • Anon


      • Anon

        DC teachers start at 52K

        • DCPCS teacher

          DC charter school teachers start closer to 48K with a masters degree.

  • Anon

    Dang, for a teacher/social service person I was going to say $1200-1300 tops.

  • kLc

    I lived in this building for 2.5 years, until November 2012. I had the very same one bedroom layout. I paid $1200 for the first 2 years and then $1250 for a couple of months before I moved out. When I left, the land lord was asking $1500 for the unit. He had a lot of interest in the unit, but it took over a month for him to find a tenant at that price. My opinion, knowing the space, location, and building, is that a fair rent would be somewhere around $1300.

  • Anonymous

    Please let me know once you determine a price, I am really interested and work for a non-profit!


  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    Between $1400-$1500. Pros: close to the metro, popular neighborhood, laundry on site, not in a basement, looks like a decent place. Cons: Columbia/14th is a busy intersection, walk up building, not a lot of square footage for a one bedroom. Does it have a dishwasher? Are any utilities included?

  • Chops

    In Petworth (right by metro), we’re charging $1130 plus utilities for own-room, own-bathroom, shared-living space. I imagine folks would pay about $100 more to be Columbia Heights and about $200 more to be in their own apartment. So that gets you to the 1400 – 1500 range.

    PS: I’m pretty sure you can’t discriminate by occupation. So if you charge $1200 and end up with a soul-sucking corporate lawyer, you gotta stick with her.

    • How would you “end up” with a soul sucking lawyer? A landlord doesn’t have to take the first person that wants it, just not discriminate against any particular race, ethnic, glbt etc. Last time I rented out my basement apt. I had an open house – more than 40 qualified people wanted it. I picked the ones I liked best.

    • Anonymous

      In DC you can’t discriminate based on source of income. The Supreme Court has said that under federal law you can discriminate against occupations though in rental situations (which doesn’t mean that you can under DC law). So I think you might be able to make a case for discriminating against lawyers generally, but not against particular lawyers based on their employer. Although it would be tenuous regardless.

      Personally I hate renting to lawyers. They make the most adversarial tenants. Sure, take me to court if I’m acting maliciously or unreasonably, but don’t not pay your rent and then use every trick in the book to avoid eviction for a year – even though my apartment is up to code and I promptly fix anything you bring to my attention.

      • “Personally I hate renting to lawyers. They make the most adversarial tenants.”

        Considering DC has tens of thousands of lawyers, I assume you’ve rented to at least a quarter of them in order to come up with this generalization about all of us.

        • Anonymous

          No, I’ve rented to three. And every single one of them cost me money – only tenants I’ve ever had (out of maybe 20?) that ever did.

          Yes, of course some lawyers are great. But there are few factors that make lawyers bad tenants.

          1.) Those who go to law school are self-selected for certain types of personalities – many of which are somewhat adversarial, many more of which are very letter-of-the-rule oriented.
          2.) Law school trains people to be adversarial, and to take advantage of every technicality – and to think that it is fact noble to do so.
          3.) Lawyers have the tools to be a big problem if they want to be (no, not all want to be, of course).

          So sure, some lawyers make fine tenants (although I’ve never had one that did). But they are much more likely than the average person to be a horrible tenant – and they really have the skills to do so.

          • Anon

            A landlord once told me he won’t rent to law students because he knew of a law school professor who gave students an assignment to sue their landlords. It was in Boston, not in this area though. Anyway, what a pain to have to defend yourself against a baseless suit that’s really a homework assignment.

          • I’m amazed that a law professor would assign that kind of homework. Filing frivolous lawsuits that have no merit would seem to be a violation of ethical standards in most jurisdictions.

          • Anonymous

            In response to Artemis. I don’t know if that’s a real homework assignment or not – but perhaps part of the homework is to find reasonable grounds for a suit – so that it is not technically frivolous. I.e., let’s say in DC you live in an above ground 1 bedroom with high ceilings, up-to-code wiring, plumbing, heating, etc. But you happen to have a very large bedroom with a small window. The bedroom also has a door to the outside (thus an adequate exit), but your small window is not technically enough glass for the space – yes, in DC you have to have a certain square footage of glass). So you sue on that basis. Well, you have grounds, but had you not gone looking for a reason to sue, you’d never have realized that there was anything wrong with your otherwise beautiful and up-to-code one bedroom.

        • Anonymous

          Do you realize, mtn1414, that your reply kind of proves anonymous’s point?

      • anon

        +1000. Lawyers are terrible. I make it a point to avoid them even in social settings. Anyone but a lawyer.

        • Boris S. Wort

          I make it a point to avoid people who make sweeping generalizations about entire groups of other people.

    • Lawyers are not a protected class, therefore feel free to reject any application on the basis that the applicant is a lawyer. You can even use it as an justification for rejection, but I suggest avoiding confrontation. That is every landlord’s right. It’s unfortunately true that lawyers and police officers present higher odds for being a unreasonable/ difficult tenant due to their job role.

      • actual lawyer

        Lawyers are not a protected class, but discriminating by source of income is illegal in the area of housing. Being a lawyer is some people’s source of income.

        • It would make for an interesting case if Anonymous were to argue that he doesn’t care where, how, or why you get paid, it’s just your being a lawyer that he doesn’t like. (I seriously wonder how this would play out. If he were equally opposed to anybody with a JD and/or who had passed the bar exam, irrespective of their current occupation or employment status, I do believe it would be a defensible position.)

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty sure that I visited this very apartment in 2009 when I was looking for a place in the area. I think it was listed at like 1300 back then, though certainly not sure. I remember thinking that the apartment was tiny. Yes, it is a 1 bedroom, but is smaller than a lot of the cheaper studios in the area.

  • Anonymous

    This makes me realize I am charging way to little for my English basement, which is twice this size and has its own washer & dryer.

    • Anonymous

      I too rent my english basement out and am always tempted to compare it to apartments that are above ground. I don’t think we can get as much of a premium due to the fact that it’s a basement, even if there is more space/better amenities (as is often the case). Maybe people will correct me if I’m wrong though.

      • maria

        No, I think you are right. We have a super tiny 1-bedroom, but it’s so bright and sunny, that I would never change to a basement, even if it was 2-3 times larger.

      • Anonymous

        I agree that a basement apartment will always go for less than an above-ground unit, all other things being equal, but if the basement unit is literally twice the size, I can’t believe it wouldn’t go for as much or even a little more than the above-ground unit.

        • Anonymous

          Yeah, I’d be really interested to hear what people think about this. I charge $1450 for an 800sqft one bedroom basement apartment on the west end of H St (close to metro). It has its own washer/dryer, stainless appliances and is freshly renovated.

          Tiny studios half the size a block away are renting for $1500-1800, but they are in brand new buildings. One bedrooms in the same buildings are renting for well into the $2000’s, and are still smaller than my unit. I know I can’t command those prices, but I do wonder how much less I should really be charging.

  • Anonymous

    As someone making about $50K/yr, to pay what you all are asking, I’d never be able to afford to furnish or leave the apartment. Whoever said $1700 doesn’t realize that you don’t get anywhere near that in one paycheck after benefits and taxes are taken out. I would lean towards the lower end of the spectrum proposed here, but at $50K, with student loans, it would still be tough.

    • Anonymous

      I’m in the same boat almost exactly. It would be really hard to pay that much. Hell, the $1100 I pay in a group house is hard.

    • Anonymous

      This must depend on how we treat our discretionary income. I make about 50k, pay about that much in rent, and still save money each year. I don’t have any loans to pay off (anymore), though.

      • KMB

        Same. I make over $50,000, but less than $55,000, pay $1,650 in rent, and still have enough money to eat out pretty frequently, travel a bit, and occasionally get new clothes/shoes/etc. Sure, money’s tight sometimes and I’m not saving as much as I’d like, but it’s doable.

  • Anonymous

    $1400 sounds about right for the space and location.

  • Curls

    I pay $1425 for a ~600 square foot studio 2 blocks from the Woodley Park metro. That includes all utilities except internet. I would say about the same or slightly less would be fair for this given how small it is

  • anon

    We pay $1400 for a one bedroom this size, also 3rd floor walk up, but with twice as many windows in Adams Morgan, on a nice quiet street.

  • $1400-$1500 given the size and condition of the place.

    $1400 is about the max someone making $50K could comfortably afford (assuming they don’t have a large student loan payment or something similar).

  • Anonymous

    The market will bear more than a “social worker” type could afford for this place, so I think your main concern will be with pricing out these types of tenants. I’m always astounded at how expensive Columbia Heights is.

    My market intelligence contribution: I pay just over $1400 for a 1.5 BR, 850+ sq ft apartment very close to the Petworth metro. Older building but well maintained; includes utilities; laundry in basement; no dishwasher. I’ve been there several years and I’m sure my place would be more expensive to a new-move-in. FWIW

    • Anonymous

      Yes. The first paragraph of this. If what you want is a “good” tenant, and in your eyes that equates to specific occupations, then by all means lower the rent until you get a stream of teacher/social service provider-types responding. But if what you want is a fair market return and to feel like you’re not undercharging, pegging it to a lower-salaried occupation is going to leave you hopelessly conflicted and disappointed.

      I’m sympathetic, though. As a fellow landlord in CH, I think I’m also undercharging, bc I peg everything to what I could get in rent 9 years ago, and it’s increased a lot in that time. I’ve always maintained that it’s more important to me that my tenants be reliable with rent, responsible and careful with my property, stable in their tenancy (i.e., likely to stay longer than the length of the lease and save me turnover expenses), and good neighbors, so I was willing to forego the last $100-200/mo in extra rent that the market might bear if it meant I felt more comfortable with an applicant. Similarly, I didn’t want to be perceived as gouging, bc that ruins a landlord-tenant relationship from the start. But I never pegged it to an occupation. My strategy is to start high (but not “get mocked in POP comments”-high) on Craigslist and slowly bring rent down until the serious replies I get give me a decent pool of applicants from which to choose.

      • Anonymous

        OP here – thank you all for your input, I really appreciate hearing from many perspectives. Although this one made me terribly sad –

        “But if what you want is a fair market return and to feel like you’re not undercharging, pegging it to a lower-salaried occupation is going to leave you hopelessly conflicted and disappointed.”

        I think it is possible to have a decent return and still give lower-salaried people a chance to live in a nice place. Salaries, sadly, in no way reflect a person’s worth or contribution to the world. I’m far from rich, but (I think, hopefully) secure enough financially to not have to be rapacious.

        I can afford to turn up my heat when I’m cold, buy avocados, books, flowers, health insurance (so far) and even some original art. I can help out my family and pay unexpected vet bills.

        So no, I will never be ” hopelessly conflicted and disappointed,” for not squeezing out every possible dollar.

        • I think you’re being a little unfair to the poster. S/he said “not undercharging,” not “squeezing out every possible dollar” – and it may be that trendy neighborhoods are overpriced for social workers. Nobody’s telling you what choice to make, just that you might not be able to have it all.

  • Anonymous

    $1900. that’s based on a NYC alcove studio at 450 sqft in 2006… go with it!

  • I was look got a place in CH but one that I looked at sounded very similar and they were asking $1650 a month, which I thought was fair for a 1 bedroom. Dam if I had signed a lease a week ago I would have paid that in a heartbeat. But then again Im mid-management and not a social service type person so you may lower the asking price to about $1550 or $1500 but any lower and you will be losing $. I think it is all too high but at the end of the day thems the prices!

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    most single people in the category you are describing can only afford studio’s, not 1 bedrooms. when i was single, on a 55K salary, i lived in a studio that cost about $1100, and felt pretty stretched by that. i WISH 1 bedrooms were priced for single tenants.

  • U Street area resident

    That’s a tiny apartment and a lame kitchen. Still, I think you can get $1500.

  • $1200 tops!

  • home owner

    Crazy! My mortgage for a 3 bedroom house just a few blocks from the metro is only $2,200. Are we in a bubble???

    • CH metro? and when did you buy your house?

    • Anonymous

      In general, what you get in terms of mortgage payment is always going to be more than what you get in terms of rent. I have a 3 bed, 3 bath with a separate one bedroom basement apartment for $2400 a month (H St area, 10 min walk to metro).

      However, we had to put a huge sum down, and we are putting a lot of our discretionary income back into the house. Sure, we are paying much much less in terms of a monthly payment than we would if we were renting, but in the end we definitely are spending more money on renovations/repairs than what it would cost to rent. Of course, when you own, you are paying yourself instead of a landlord, so even if it is pricier, it is worth it.

      • Of course it is, because if you own your place you have to maintain it, and maintenance costs thousands and thousands of dollars a year. Not steadily, either, but in lovely lump sums like when your ceiling starts leaking and you find yourself needing to spend $10,000 on a new roof, your air conditioning compressor fails, etc.

  • David

    With demand soaring rent should be $1800. Someone will bite.

  • Anon

    You guys seriously willing to pay up to 1,500 for annual income 50-55K before tax?

  • Anonymous

    if a not profity-type makes $55,000/yr, you figure after taxes, their take home pay is $45,000-46,000 dollars/yr (i lived in dc for three years, and this was roughly what i was left with after taxes each year, at an income level slightly above the one in the example).

    if you’re looking to have a maximum of 30% of income going towards rent, 30% of 45,000 is 13500. 13500 divided by 12 months is 1125.

    since it is a prime location so close to metro/dcusa, max i’d charge without being an asshole is $1200. i would’ve killed for a 1br anywhere in DC for that price, let alone one so close to all the conveniences of public transportation/gentrified redevelopment.

    i find it interesting that your own mortgage/taxes/condo fees aren’t coming into consideration when determining rent price- unless you bought so long ago that you’re just pocketing hundreds of dollars in income once your bills are paid on the place (which sounds like the case).

  • I’ll rent it for $1250 a month and I can move in June. Currently looking. $1700?? That’s gouging! It’s a tiny walk up.

  • crystal

    If you’re trying to keep it affordable then i wouldn’t go over $1,200. If you’re making $30-$40 a year you’re bringing home approximately $2,000 a month after taxes. Anything more than $1,200 isn’t really affordable if you’re trying to help out people just starting out.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Prince of Petworth: you stated ” I know I’ve been undercharging – but not sure how much rent I should charge. I don’t want to gouge, but don’t want to be a sucker either.”

    In this day and time… if helping to pull someone else up and get ahead while you are still ahead and in the lead, is honorable, then you should be personally convicted of having good integrity. However, if you think it’s a crime to aid someone else in this costly society, while affording to have- your-cake-and-eat-it-too, then I hope you are personally convicted of being avaricious. Sincerely hope that you empathize. If it won’t harm you to charge $1100-1125, then do it. Covetousness is not profitable, you’ll lose more in the end.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Dear Anonymous – this letter is from a reader not me.

    • Anonymous

      Faulty logic. Who decides who I should help in “this costly society?” If I raise this rent to $1,300, I have an extra $200.00 a month to put toward my own young struggling nieces and nephews – for student loans, a used car to get to work etc. Is it “avaricious” to put help to one’s own family over help to a stranger? Especially when it appears that $1300 a month is still pretty helpful to a stranger?

      Who decides what is “Covetousness” and what is good business sense? Should I make no profit at all? Do you give away all of your salary after you pay your essential living expenses?

      I know postings here can sound defensive, but I’m not trying to be – just encouraging more thought on the issue.

  • jeremy

    I am a teacher and I am very interested! Let me know when you decide. Thanks.

  • In theory, it’s nice that this landlord is trying to come up with a rental price that a public servant could afford to pay, but on the other hand I guess I feel like it’s kind of dumb. How do you know the teacher or social worker you’re renting to today won’t turn around and get some less-laudable job tomorrow? Or maybe they have the honorable job but are still assholes in real life. Or maybe mommy and daddy still pay all their bills so they actually have more money than you think. Not everyone who is a teacher grew up dreaming of guiding America’s youth–for at least some people, it is a fallback job that they resent. Will you be mad at yourself that you gave someone like this such a good rent price and they seemingly duped you? I’m getting at the idea that your intentions are noble (give a person who meets you definition of “good” a nice place to live at a price they can afford) but that in practice, how do you ever really know from one meeting and a routine background check whether or not the new tenant is a worthy do-gooder who will live in your unit and try to save the world, or a savvy douche who can fake it well?

    If I were you, I’d take a few days to look at comps on Craigslist and price at the market rate. You shouldn’t need our help to do this. Then, as one of the other comments here noted, if you make “extra” money that you don’t need, use it for some cause or charity that you want to support and in that way, you’re still doing good in the world.


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