Tips for Tenants: Residential Safety in D.C. | DC Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog

An influx of new students and the expiration of many residential leases makes fall a good time to highlight the rights of tenants and the obligations of landlords in preventing personal injuries in rental properties.  In D.C., the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) helps to protect the interests of tenants — both residential and business — through the enforcement of safety codes, and by conducting inspections and regulating land use and development.  The DCRA may conduct on-site inspections of a property if concerns are raised relating to the following circumstances:

  • “Cleanliness—All walkways and grounds must be free of dirt, garbage, litter, rats, mice and insects. The grass must be cut. Waterproof plastic or metal trash cans must be provided.
  • Lighting—All rooms, including laundry, furnace, storage areas, hallways and stairways must have natural and/or artificial lighting.
  • Fire Safety—Buildings must have lighted fire exit signs, fire extinguishers, a fire alarm system and smoke detectors in good working order. Doors must not be blocked, must open and close easily (especially emergency exits and fire doors) and must fit in their frames. Knobs and locks must be in good working condition.
  • Walls and Ceilings—There must not be any holes, wide cracks or exposed lead paint on walls or ceilings. Peeling paint, plaster and wallpaper is prohibited.
  • Plumbing—Each unit must have hot and cold running water in the kitchen and bathroom. The plumbing must not leak.
  • Security—You must be able to lock the apartment from outside and inside. Building entrances must have locks.
  • Foundation—The foundation must have sound joints between the bricks and stones, and no holes or cracks.
  • Windows—The windows must have screens from March 15 to November 15. They must open and close easily and contain glass without cracks, holes or air or water leaks.
  • Water—Flooding in yards, walkways and basements is not permitted. Damp walls and floors are prohibited.”

The DCRA also regulates rooming houses — houses where multiple tenants rent individual rooms and share common living spaces.  The agency will inspect these facilities to assure that they are legal and safe, and to protect the well-being of D.C. residents, regardless of their citizenship or legal status.  On their website, the DCRA offers these responses to frequently asked questions regarding rooming houses:

What is a rooming house? A rooming house is a house that provides sleeping accommodations for a month or more for three or more people who are not immediate family.

Why does it matter if a rooming house is illegal? It probably has not been inspected to make sure it meets city building, plumbing and electrical safety standards. That means it may not have protections, like smoke detectors, that could save your life.

I rent a couple of rooms to students or friends. Is this an illegal rooming house? Probably not. But you still must have a basic business license (BBL) for housing. Please contact Business Licenses at (202) 442–4311  to get rental accommodations licensing information.

There is a halfway house in my neighborhood…is that an illegal rooming house? Generally no. Halfway houses and other community-based residential facilities (CBRFs) are regulated by the agencies that use their services.

I am renting a room in a house with some other people. What should I do? If the property is a two-family flat or has sleeping accommodations for three or more, call (202) 442-4589 to find out if it has a certificate of occupancy; call (202) 442-4311 to find out if it has a basic business license (BBL).  If it has a certificate and license you will know that the building meets building, electrical, plumbing, and zoning codes. If there is no BBL, you can report the property at (202) 442-4311.

How can I report an illegal rooming house in my neighborhood? Call (202) 442-4477. Give as much information as you can. DCRA will investigate and take enforcement action.

Previously on the D.C. Metro Area Personal Injury Law Blog, we have posted articles related to:

If you or a family member believe that you have a case involving a personal injury or premises liability, please contact us on-line at Regan Zambri & Long or call us at 202-753-4272 for a free consultation.  If you would like to receive our complimentary electronic newsletter, please click here.

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