Photo by PoPville flickr user nevermindtheend
I want to share my recent experience with securing a certificate of occupancy to legally rent out a basement townhouse unit.
Simply put, the process is oppressive and miserable. You start by trying to navigate the DCRA website, which lumps a simple 2-unit house application in with every construction and zoning application, meaning that it’s basically as complex to get this done as to get permission to build a 12 unit apartment building. Without any clear instructions, the homeowner has to fill out as many forms with as much information as possible, hoping it’s all correct and complete. Then you go to DCRA in person. This will take an entire work day, so don’t think you can do it on your lunch hour. You then wait for several hours for you number to get called, at which time the most likely scenario is they’ll tell you that you’re missing necessary paperwork. You may be able to fill out the missing forms onsite if you’re lucky although this means getting a new ticket and going back to the end of the line. If you’re unlucky, you’ll have to redo all your paperwork and come back another day, starting the process all over.
Once you finally have the process completed (and wait on line at several different DCRA windows in the same building, with each line stretching more at least an hour), you can get a code to call an automated number to have an inspector come to your house. You can choose the day of the inspection but you’re not given a window of time, so you’ll have to take another day off from work to wait for the inspector.
The actual inspection is a crapshoot. You might get lucky, but chances are they’ll find something they don’t like. Hopefully it’s an easy fix, like not having enough fire extinguishers. You’ll fail the inspection but have the opportunity to fix the problem and reschedule it. You’ll now be taking your third day off from work for the second inspection.
If you’ve made it this far and actually get an approved inspection, you’re not done. You now need to take your original application back to DCRA and get additional approvals from two different offices. This will be your fourth full day off from work. Then and only then will you have an official CofO, making your apartment legal to rent.
At one time in the past, it seemed like DCRA was making an effort to be more consumer-friendly, including a special blog explaining and streamlining this process for homeowners. That’s all been removed and canceled, so far as I can tell.
This insane process makes it virtually impossible to follow the law, no matter how hard you try. It’s truly DC government at its worst.”