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“DCRA Housing Inspection for Rental Units – Windows??”

by Prince Of Petworth — May 3, 2017 at 1:15 pm 52 Comments

window
Photo by PoPville flickr user Victoria Pickering

“Dear PoPville,

To anyone that might shed some light on what “with ease” means.

Long story short, DCRA and I went through a series of incredibly confusing missteps this morning trying to get the inspector in for an early morning rental unit inspection. They apparently will just knock on the door and leave if you don’t answer unless you specifically ask for a courtesy call. Since I already have a tenant in there and it’s a secure access building, I mistakenly thought that common sense and necessity would require them to call me to access the unit so I waited in the courtyard. Nope. They left a door hanger with a message. The funny thing is that I was on the phone with the DCRA inspection office for almost 45 min trying to figure out where the inspector was and during this exact time he had already come and gone.

Longer story shorter, they were kind enough to reschedule to have the inspector come out again this afternoon, but only after a lot of back and forth including telling me that the person I spoke to on the phone this morning doesn’t exist. Okay.

So the inspector comes back and looks through the apartment unit. Our condo building was built in 2009, is completely compliant in every way and I have never had any complaints from our tenant. The inspector failed us, however, due to “the windows not opening with ease.” When I asked what that meant, he kept repeating “well, it doesn’t open with ease…WITH EASE.” I watched this man try to open aluminum, construction grade windows with one hand unsuccessfully. So then I went and opened all the windows in question for him albeit with two hands, but not with an excessive amount of effort. He said that they were heavy and failed us on that technicality.

I understand if this is a safety issue for windows that are the only means of egress other than the door. However, there is a Juliet balcony door that I opened for him that could be used in emergency situations in this 700sq ft unit. But the crazy things is that I opened all the windows anyways, in front of him!

So my questions are:

1. What does “with ease” mean? Does it stipulate that it has to be opened with one hand? Our condo windows are heavy, but all open fully though you have to use two hands.

2. Why is this so subjective?

3. Is this really a safety issue?

4. How many people actually get this rental inspection done?

5. Do I really need to have this inspection done?

6. Now that I have failed a first inspection, will I be fined?

If you have any stories like this or advice to share about DCRA inspections, I would really appreciate it. Right now, it seems to me that they were miffed that they had to come out again and were punitive in their already subjective decision.

Here is language from the DCRA website when you get the basic business license to rent your unit:

DCRA Housing Inspection
All applicants for a Basic Business License for the One Family Rental category is required to have a housing inspection post issuance of this license. Appointments for housing inspections are scheduled and conducted by the Inspections and Compliance Administration, (202) 442-9557, Option 6. This housing inspection is performed to ensure the premise is in compliance with DC Housing Codes and is necessary to ensure the health and safety of renters.

Failure to meet all requirements within forty-five (45) days from the date of license issuance may result in the revocation of your Basic Business License, loss of paid fees, and additional administrative and civil penalties. Violations of the code that are not listed on the checklist[PDF] are subject to the issuance of a notice of violation.”

  • Andie302

    And THIS is why I do not trust DCRA to take on regulating short terms rentals. I’m sorry for all of your inconvenience. While I do not have a parallel story, I have had other frustrations with the organization. I hope you’re able to get some advice here on how to address this and move forward.

  • FridayGirl

    Not going to lie, I have no advice for you except that I have never been able to open any apartment window with just one hand (although this may say more about my lack of muscles than the window) so that seems like an unreasonable expectation. This seems like a ridiculously absurd thing to fail you over.

    • Robert

      Sounds personal.

      • FridayGirl

        Sounds like you need to pick on someone else.

        • Go FridayGirl!

        • Anon Spock

          You didn’t take that to mean the failure was personal against Op? I think Robert was agreeing with you.

  • crayons

    I am sorry you have to go through this. My experience with DCRA is they are the most useless agency on the face of the earth. They will go to any lengths necessary NOT to do their jobs, and then do random arbitrary things like your windows. So much time wasted with these people and thousands of dollars lost unnecessarily.

    • Dognonymous

      Same here. DCRA inspectors and staff do not follow their own processes, or do so completely arbitrarily. I have had a request for fine enforcement on repeated code violations by a neighbor pending for 6 months because, in the words of their own enforcement head, “our lawyers couldn’t figure it out.” They are borderline useless.

      • +1. DCRA is completely arbitrary. I’m sure there are good dedicated people working there. Unfortunately, I have dealt with very few of them. For most of them, the main goal is an easy day. If they can drive around, knock on a door then vanish and drive around some more, then stretch out the process as long as possible by messing with an easy “mark,” it’s a sweet day.

        Curiously, most other DC govt. agencies have really improved (in my 30+ years) DCWASA is super. You have a sewer back-up and they arrive in 15 min. Rat control is also responsive. And whenever recycling or garbage is missed, a 311 call gets it picked up the next day.

        DCRA remains pathologically disfunctional.

  • Johnnie B.

    Is this a new requirement? When we bought our house not quite 20 years ago, the basement had already been converted to a rental unit, had a tenant, and we were assured it had a C of O, which we would need to get renewed as the new owners. Which we did, along with the business license, without too much difficulty except for the nuisance of taking a day off from work to spend downtown. We were issued the C of O and license without any inspection.

    Regarding the difficulty of opening the windows, try rubbing the tracks with a bit of paraffin. It works wonders, at least in the short term.

    • kwillkat

      Or silicon gel

    • B

      One more sign of their arbitrariness – when I bought my house 15 years ago, my basement apartment also had a C of O. The practice was always that the new C of O passes on – and the name is changed as a matter of course. No, they said – requirements changed (though not written down anywhere), and I needed a new inspection. The inspection was general without issue, but descriptive language on my old C of O caused substantial back and forth and wasted time. DCRA is a disaster!

  • npm

    Our experience was the opposite. According to our tenant, the inspector walked into the apartment, glanced around, and said it was fine. Perhaps you can schedule another inspector and hope you get that guy.

    • anonymous shaw dweller

      LOL … love your optimistic approach to life and can do attitude! I needed your stamina and perspective today! Thank you.

    • Logan_Circle

      Same! Now I feel like I got lucky. He came with some of his summer interns, they tested the water, the windows, and the doors, and that was that.

  • Anonthony

    This is a perfect illustration of how DCRA has almost singlehandedly stunted commercial development in the District for decades with their arcane regulations and arbitrary enforcement practices. Hell, I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if slipping this guy a twenty would’ve solved this “with ease” issue.

    • j

      Nailed it.

    • TJ

      Is $20 enough. Surely it takes $100.

    • navyard

      Serious question:
      If you try it, is there any penalty? I’m willing to do that in some cases just to get things done, but the people I’ve dealt with have been so arbitrary, I’m afraid of what might happen if I “cross” the wrong person.

      • I don’t think they are looking for outright bribes – there are plenty of other long-standing traditional schemes in DC govt. to bother with even $100.00. Think of it like a craft cocktail – a base spirit of half laziness and half power-tripping-just-able-to-screw-with-you, add bitters of race and class and garnish with a big anti-gentrification twist.

        • Anon

          I’ve been struggling to explain the atmosphere of animosity in DC that’s been making me ready to leave me but this metaphor basically perfectly captures what I’ve been feeling.

  • danger dave

    I’m sorry. The inspector for my rental never even showed up and approved my condo. DCRA sucks.

  • P

    The pro-active inspection program is largely a money-grab from the city. DCRA will fail you on an item like this so it can charge a re-inspection fee when following-up the next month. I had an inspector shake a toilet (that had just been installed the month before) and say it was “loose,” thus necessitating a re-inspection. Right or wrong, I consider it a cost of doing business and move on with life, though it is extremely frustrating at the time.

    • I think everyone would be willing to pay the extra “fee” to move on, but DCRA can’t even get that together. Their failures (didn’t show up for inspection etc.) lost me a month of rental income – $1,500.00 back then. But I would happily have paid an extra $500.00 to have the inspector show up on time.

  • Formerly ParkViewRes

    1. I guess it means yeah the open and close very easily (almost slide).
    2. In my experience everything is very black and white with DCRA.
    3. It’s a safety issue if the window cannot be open easily. The tenant needs to be able to get out if the door is blocked, but if it just takes two hands, well again DCRA…
    4. I know a lot of people who skip it, but damn you’re taking on quite the risk in DC if your tenant stops paying rent, destroys your place, etc. Not to mention you’re screwed if the house catches on fire or something.
    5. You need to have it done if you want to rent your condo legally and acquire the BBL.
    6. No, we failed the first time too. (I heard most people do). We just rescheduled a new one and passed easily the second time.

    • anon7

      I’d guess that you failed on this silly issue because the inspector had to travel back to your rental property after the missed connection earlier in the day. Did the inspector tell you how to correct the non-existent problem so that your windows will open “with ease”? If not, put some graphite or spray lubricant in the frame to make it open “with ease” and hope they pass you next time. One of the things I’ve learned with DCRA is that you have to butter certain people up to get them to help you, and I suspect that some inspectors are no different. Rub them the wrong way, for whatever insignificant reason, and they make your life difficult. This is how permit expediters get things done. They go in with a friendly smile, act like the permit issuers are their best friends, ask about their grandkids, compliment them on their hair, but the expediters couldn’t care less. You gotta play their dumb game.

  • Lion of LeDroit

    And this is why a lot of DC residents who otherwise want to do the “right thing” simply don’t bother to do so. This city needs both (i) more common sense laws/rules (i.e., permitting some “foot fault” flexibility on code standards given the age/layout of the existing building stock, perhaps paired with an affirmative disclosure obligation to potential tenants) and (ii) DCRA processes that are more efficient and user-friendly (think: online, online, online!) and (iii) DCRA staff that are reasonably competent (which may require hiring folks from outside the city, as much as this annoys the “DC first” commentariat). None of this is rocket science, and DCRA is (slowly but surely) getting somewhat better, but having spent significant time dealing with DCRA for housing- and construction-related issues with little positive results to show for it, I don’t really have any advice other than to stick to the “black market” and ignore them as an agency until they earn the respect of those very citizens who both fund their existence and rely on them for protection (but please, try to do right by your tenants in any event; it’s the right thing to do if you’re taking on the responsibility of being a landlord). Roar.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Exactly. Stuff like this makes me much more likely to ignore DCRA/permitting/inspections in the future, even though I am generally not the type to do that. (I even got a freaking postcard electrical permit before I added ceiling fans to rooms that previously did not have any ceiling fixtures!) I mean, sure, it’d be better to be able to open the windows more easily, but somebody who has any difficulty opening the window is not going to be able to climb out of the window to safety once the window is open anyway. A firefighter will simply break the window to enter. It’s not like we’re talking about a *door* that a weak person might be able to exit from if only they could open it but it’s too hard to open. F*cking ridiculous.

  • jam1094

    if you already have the C of O which requires an inspection. Why do you need to have another inspection when you get the Basic Business License? Seems redundant to me.

    • JoDa

      No CoO for one-family rentals. That’s only relevant for multi-unit dwellings, including accessory units.

  • L

    1. I think this is pretty subjective. When I had an inspector come out to my rental unit, he asked me to open the balcony door, which required two hands since it is a heavy-ish glass sliding door. He did not say anything about opening the door “with ease”.

    2. Not sure. The inspector only checked 4-5 random things in my place which did not seem thorough at all. I had stressed out about the inspection a lot beforehand and reviewed all of the rules to make sure my place complied.

    3. I think if someone can’t open a window that an average person can open easily with two hands, they are going to have a problem basically anywhere. I can’t remember living anywhere in DC with windows that could be opened with one hand.

    4. I think many people get this done. You can look up units online to see if people have complied with the DCRA registration. My building requires it for renting our our units, so everyone who rents out theirs has gone through the process. I think you open yourself up to a lot of problems if you do not jump through the registration hoops.

    5. Yes.

    6. Not sure since I passed my first time.

    I will say that I almost failed my inspection because my hand shook when turning on a stove burner, so I did not turn the switch to “light” before turning it to “high”, and the inspector thought it was not working. I had to turn it off and on a few times in order to prove that it did indeed work.

    • HaileUnlikely

      Draw a Venn diagram of people who can’t open the window because it’s too hard, and people who can exit through the window given that the window is open. Congratulations, you just drew two non-overlapping circles.

      • Anon

        Smoke, though. And waiting for the FD to break it, getting out of the way while they do, and exiting through a broken window, aren’t wonderful. I agree this inspection was kind of ridiculous and a one-hand requirement is silly (and I don’t think it is actually the requirement), but it’s not like there is zero benefit to being able to open the windows easily, even if weak/old.

        • HaileUnlikely

          Sorry, accidentally posted my comment in the wrong place. It was intended to be in response to another post above specifically about the need to be able to exit through the window if the door is blocked. Sure there are other benefits, but ease of exit is a red herring, especially when this is applied to a full-size window at the same time when a tiny below-grade exit from a basement to a window well, accessible to nobody larger or weaker than a junior high school female gymnast, count as exits. The proportion of humans physically capable of exiting a building through such a window, expressed as a percent and rounded to a whole number, is surely zero.

          • I have a legal rental that complies with all specifications. But an obese person could never escape through the (legal) sized egress window. I can’t refuse to rent to an obese person, so – it’s o.k. if they just die?

          • Anon Spock

            Being obese is not a protected class, so why couldn’t you refuse to rent to them?

  • JoDa

    Particularly in a condo building, you also run the following risks without a license:
    .
    *A neighbor turns you in for an illegal rental. That’s $2000 + the license fee, and you bet that inspector is going to be out for blood. One can find out if someone doesn’t have a license in about 30 seconds.
    *You run afoul of your bylaws/rules and regs. This is a surefire way to have dozens of people watching your every move for a tiny compliance slip-up, on top of potentially costly fines and penalties.
    .
    Just schedule a reinspection. They have tons of inspectors, it’s not likely to be the same person. Paraffin or WD40 to be on the safe side.

    • Wendy Testaburger

      Totally agree with this plus the fact that the license is a total money grab. The whole point of the DCRA license is to be a registered landlord so that you have standing in landlord tenant court in case you need to sue or your tenant sues you. Your tenant can also report you if you don’t have the license and that will subject you to this process anyways, plus back-fees and penalties. Better to just grease up the windows and do the re-inspection now than deal with any headache later.

    • I’m actually confused now. I have a CofO and a BBL for the basement apartment in my home, but I also have a condo in another building. DCRA said I didn’t need a C of O for the condo because the building already had a C of O.

      • JoDa

        Right. The condo building’s (or single family home’s) CoO covers that. But you do need a BBL, which they will inspect for the first time. Go look at the “get a one family rental license” page for details.

        • Been there – did that – they said I didn’t need anything more. But it is DCRA, so who knows?

          • JoDa

            It’s crystal clear that you need a BBL to rent out a condo. I’d get the license now because I imagine almost anyone but the person you spoke to will fine you immediately if you’re reported, and you will lose standing in LL/T court.
            .
            https://dcra.dc.gov/service/get-one-family-rental-license

          • Thanks JoDa – I don’t remember why, in the days and days of dealing with them years ago and getting the other BBL, I missed this, but I did just get the BBL for the condo – online – with surprising ease.

          • JoDa

            Two other points with that:
            .
            Don’t forget to follow up with DCRA about the inspection. They’re supposed to proactively call you to schedule, but they won’t. Just wait two weeks and then call.
            .
            Make sure you have the tenant permission to enter signed and ready for the inspector. They won’t come through the door without it.

  • also anon

    If that was the only issue can’t you just spray a bunch of WD-40 on the tracks so that the windows slide more easily and then schedule a re-inspection?
    .
    Asking questions like “why is this so subjective” and “is this really a safety issue” is looking for reason in a non-rational system. It doesn’t really matter that their requirements are subjective and unreasonable- you have to meet them if you want the license.

    • Anon

      Do that, and do it with a smile. Best way to pass.

      • Robert

        I had a black friend stand in for me when my rental property was inspected. Worked a treat.

        I am not just white, but really white, and I would have had a window that did not open with “ease”.

        • FridayGirl

          ?

    • Anon

      I recommend saying you’ve sprayed lubricant to fix the issue, it really was sticky and you were right it’s a safety issue that is now better for your attention to this detail, thanks so much for coming back out, and have your smallest female friend open the window.

      It is stupid but just feed and flatter the dragon. I was not charged for a reinspection, it was merely inconvenient.

  • Marc

    DCRA gets a bad rap from every landlord and realtor I’ve ever spoken to, but as a longtime tenant who had a few major issues a year ago with my landlord, I was extremely thankful they exist. They cited multiple violations and forced my landlord to fix things she had refused for years to address. Maybe the heavy window isn’t really an issue — that honestly is possible — but if it were, only the tenant would care, not you. Put yourself in the tenant’s shoes, not just the regulator’s.

  • navyard

    I don’t understand why no one at DCRA is held accountable for it’s extremely poor results (including the opinions of the residents of the district)! Sorry, but when there are this many problems in an organization, you need to look to the leadership.

  • anyoneofus

    Spray the frames with WD-40. Call DCRA back for reinspection and tell them the windows are fixed and see if you can request a different inspector. Hope for the best.

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