District of Columbia tenants are legally entitled to rental property that meets basic structural, health, and safety standards and is in good repair. If a landlord fails to take care of important maintenance, such as a leaky roof or a broken heater, you have several important legal rights, including:
- the right to withhold rent until repairs are made, and
- the right to “repair and deduct”—that is, to hire a repairperson to fix a serious defect that makes a unit unfit (or buy a replacement part or item and do it yourself) and deduct the cost from your rent.
What Justifies Tenants Paying Less Rent in District of Columbia
Before you can withhold rent or use the repair and deduct remedy, make sure that the circumstances justify you paying less rent and that you comply with state legal requirements on things like notice you must provide your landlord. Check District of Columbia state law (see resources below) on the following:
- the type of repair and habitability problems that qualify for rent withholding or repair-and-deduct
- the type of notice you must give the landlord and the amount of time the landlord has to fix the problem before you can withhold rent or use the repair and deduct remedy
- the limit on how much rent you may withhold or deduct and how often you can use a particular remedy
- your protection from landlord retaliation, such as a termination notice or a rent increase, for exercising your legal right to pay less rent because of a habitability problem, and
- any other conditions that apply before you can withhold or deduct rent, such as a requirement that you pay rent into an escrow account.
District of Columbia Guide to Tenant Rights
For an overview of District of Columbia landlord-tenant law, including your rights to habitability and options for getting your landlord to make repairs, see: http://ota.dc.gov/ota/frames.asp?doc=/ota/lib/ota/Tenant_Survival_Guide.pdf.
District of Columbia State and Local Law on Rent Withholding, Repair-and-Deduct, and Landlord Retaliation
For D.C. law on rent withholding, see Javins v. First Nat’l Realty Corp., 428 F.2d 1071 (D.C. Cir. 1970).
For D.C. law on repair and deduct, see D.C. Code Ann. § 6-751.10 (for installation of fire alarms only).
For D.C. law prohibiting landlord retaliation, see D.C. Code § 42-3505.02.
See the Laws and Legal Research section of Nolo for advice on finding and reading statutes and court decisions.
Also, check your local housing ordinances for any city or county rules that cover tenant rights when it comes to repairs. Contact your local building or housing authority. To find yours, call your mayor or city manager’s office or check your city or county website.