Is Your Rent Increase Legal Under District of Columbia Regulations?
Like many large cities, the District of Columbia has rules and regulations surrounding rent increases ("rent control"). Every housing accommodation or rental unit is subject to rent control unless it qualifies for an enumerated exemption and the housing provider complies with the requisite administrative procedures. Every housing accommodation or rental unit must be registered with the Rental Accommodations Division. If qualified to be exempt from rent control, the housing provider must also file a Claim of Exemption form with the Rental Accommodations Division. The most common exemptions from rent control are: 1) the rental unit is Federally or District-subsidized; 2) the rental unit was built after 1975; 3) the rental unit is owned by a natural person who owns no more than four rental units (provided that the units are registered as exempt); 4) the rental unit was vacant when the Rental Housing Act of 1985 took effect; and 5) the housing accommodations are under a building improvement plan and receiving rehabilitation assistance through DCHD. If the unit does not meet any exemption, or the housing provider fails to register the rental unit with RAD along with the exemption, the rental unit is subject to rent control regulations, specifically the rent increase caps.
The DC Rental Housing Commission publishes the standard rent increase caps for each year, which are based in part on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for the greater DC area. Rent increase caps apply only to units that are under rent control. For units that are rent controlled, the rent for most tenants can increase by CPI + 2% or 10%, whichever is less. The rents for tenants who have registered their elderly or disability status with the Rent Administration Division can increase by the CPI, SS COLA, or 5%, whichever is least. A housing provider may seek a larger rent increase by filing a petition at the Rent Administrator office for a capital improvement, a change in services and facilities, a hardship, a substantial rehabilitation, or a Voluntary Agreement with 70% of the tenants.
According to the Rental Housing Act, increases in rent must meet the following conditions: 1) the rent may not be more than the prior rent plus the allowable increase; 2) the increase cannot be more than the increase allowed under any single section of the Rental Housing Act; 3) the last increase in rent must have been at least 12 months ago, unless the unit is vacant; 4) the increase must not violate the terms of the lease; 5) the housing accommodation must be properly registered with the Rental Accommodations Division; 6) the rental unit and the housing accommodation's common elements must be in substantial compliance with housing regulations; and 7) the housing provider must give a 30-day notice of any increase in rent. The only exception to the limit of one rental increase per year is when the rental unit becomes vacant, in which case the housing provider may raise the rent charged upon a vacancy to 10% more than was charged to the former tenant, or rent for a comparable rental unit (but not exceeding 30%).
If you believe your rent adjustment was in violation of the regulations, please contact JLGI attorneys to discuss your options. If you are a landlord and need to ensure that you are in compliance with the District's regulations in issuing rent increases or need to become in compliance with the housing provider rules and regulations, contact JLGI to create a landlord compliance plan.