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Renting an Apartment in Washington DC: What You Need to Know

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Living in the nation’s capital is a unique experience, which makes its residents feel like members of a privileged group. Whether you were born and raised in Washington, DC or just recently moved here, you are probably doing your best to make the most of your time in this magnificent city.

Of course, it has its own struggles like finding your ideal apartment and applying to rent it. You may think it could be pretty competitive sometimes, but not if you pay attention to some key points.

Finances:

First impression is the last impression. And when it comes to home renting, first impressions are largely related to your pocket.

Imagine that you are the landlord and you are supposed to select the right potential tenant from among 15 candidates who are seeking to rent your apartment. What would make the best “impression” on you when you are looking to secure periodic payments?

Undoubtedly, one of the major factors to be able to rent an apartment is finances, which is largely dependent on your income — if you have one. DC is no exception.

You will need to prove that you have a regular income that is enough to cover the rent required for your prospective apartment. Showing payslips (of the last two or three months) from your employer is a good way of doing that, which in most cases is not an option but a requirement.

You can also provide bank statements to serve the same purpose. Note that having an income at least three times the monthly rent is a must in Washington, DC.

Background check:

Most landlords in Washington, DC prefer renting out their property to an individual with zero criminal record, as well as zero evictions.

However, you may or may not choose to permit a background check on you. Because DC law prohibits landlords from making an inquiry or asking questions about the applicant’s criminal history before making a conditional offer of housing to the applicant.

In fact, landlords can only conduct a background check on the applicant if there is a signature of consent from them, which may be included in rental application forms.

Applicants may file a complaint with DC’s Office of Human Rights if they believe a housing provider has violated the ban. That said, there are some exceptions such as:

  • if the landlord resides on the property and it has three or fewer rental units;
  • when federal law or DC law requires housing providers to consider criminal history, or allows for denial of an applicant due to certain criminal convictions.

Landlords are also not allowed to require the disclosure of pending criminal accusations or convictions of an individual younger than 18 who will live in the rental unit.

However, a landlord can reject your application because of a pending criminal accusation or criminal conviction that took place within the past seven years for certain crimes including arson, burglary, robbery, assault, sexual abuse, fraud, forgery, kidnapping and murder. (For a full list of these crimes, click here.)

Rental application:

Most DC landlords use a rental application form to evaluate potential tenants prior to signing a long-term lease agreement. Under DC law, housing providers are required to provide the following written notices to applicants before they accept an application or an application fee:

  • All eligibility criteria used in deciding whether to rent to the applicant, including financial, employment, criminal and rental history.
  • A statement that applicants may provide evidence of errors within their criminal record, rehabilitation or other mitigating factors.

Rental applications usually require you to provide a government-issued ID, social security number, paystubs, bank statements, letters of recommendation from your previous landlords, your rental history that shows the previous addresses you lived at, information on other potential occupants of the apartment and information on your current and previous employers.

By completing a rental application form, you can demonstrate your qualities and stand out among other prospective tenants who fill out rental applications.

Keep in mind that in DC, rental application fees are nonrefundable even if the application is denied, and there is no maximum limit on the amount that would be charged by landlords for application.

DC law prohibits landlords from discriminating against applicants based on the protected group they are part of in terms of race, gender, age, familial status, source of income, sexual orientation and gender identity.

It is allowed for landlords to deny applications that do not meet their criteria, but it must not constitute discrimination.

Security deposit:

Landlords may charge tenants a security deposit of up to one month’s rent, as per the District’s law. Hence, be prepared for this extra expense.

Security deposits must be kept in an interest-bearing account, and must be paid to the tenant along with the interest. It must be returned to the tenant within 45 days of the end of the lease.

The Office of Administrative Hearings is authorized to adjudicate complaints for the “non-return of tenant security deposits and for the nonpayment of interest on these deposits pursuant to section 2908 of the Housing Regulations of the District of Columbia,” according to the Code of the District of Columbia.

Co-signer:

In order to guarantee the payment of monthly rents, some landlords require you to find a co-signer for the lease, especially when you have low income or bad credit.

Your co-signer would be someone taking responsibility for your rental payment in case you — the primary debtor — fails to make one or more monthly payments. They should be aware that they would be sued by your landlord, along with you, if both of you don’t pay the rent.

Since this is the case, the co-signer also needs to prove that they have a sufficient income to pay the amount of your rent. In Washington, DC, sometimes, the co-signer is expected to earn even more than the tenant. They do not have to live on the same property.

You may also consider offering a co-signer for your lease even if your landlord does not request one. It will increase your chances to get the apartment.

Before starting your journey to find the apartment of your dreams, maybe look around to find a really good friend or a family member who can make this sacrifice for you!

Where to Find a DC apartment:

Before heading out to check out potential homes, you need to make a list of your favorite ones via an online platform. Among the most popular ones where you can find a wide range of DC apartments are Zillow, Craigslist, Bozzuto, Padmapper, Trulia, and apartments.com.

 

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