The District of Columbia Homestead Exemption

Learn about the homestead bankruptcy exemption in Washington D.C.

Most people want to know whether they can keep valuable property before filing for bankruptcy—especially a home. If you qualify to use the District of Columbia homestead exemption, you can protect some or all of the equity in your house. In this article, we explain:

  • how much the District of Columbia homestead exemption will cover, and
  • how to apply it in your bankruptcy case.

For more bankruptcy information, read Filing for Bankruptcy in the District of Columbia. Not only will you find answers, but it includes helpful checklists and a link to an interactive bankruptcy quiz. Or, try the start-to-finish bankruptcy guide, What You Need to Know to File for Bankruptcy.

Homestead Exemptions Available in a Washington D.C. Bankruptcy

District of Columbia lets filers use either the federal exemption system or District of Columbia's state exemption system, so you'll have two homestead amounts to choose between. However, you can't mix exemptions from both lists, so you'll want to select the system that will protect your most important assets.

To help you make an informed choice, we've listed both exemption amounts below. We've also included links to more complete federal and state exemption lists so you'll have an easier time deciding which set will work best for you.

If you're married, keep in mind that spouses can double some exemption amounts, but not all. Find out about other filing considerations for spouses.

Federal Homestead Exemption

Washington D.C. Homestead Exemption

Homestead exemption amount

$25,150

Unlimited

Can spouses who file a joint bankruptcy double the exemption?

$50,300 is available to spouses who co-own property.

Not applicable.

Homestead exemption law

11 U.S.C. § 522(d)(1)

D.C. Code Ann. § 15-501(1)(14)

Other information

Amounts will adjust on April 1, 2022.

Can be used to protect a burial plot.

Compare other federal and state exemptions.

Federal Bankruptcy Exemptions

District of Columbia Bankruptcy Exemptions

Property Protected by District of Columbia's Homestead Exemption

In the District of Columbia, the homestead exemption applies to real property, including your home or condominium, or your interest or your dependents' interest in a co-op in which you or your dependents reside. The District of Columbia homestead exemption can also be used to protect your interest in a burial plot purchased for you or your dependents.

If you hold property as tenancy by entirety with your spouse: If one spouse files for bankruptcy—not both—the bankruptcy trustee might be prevented from using the property equity to pay off debts. However, this is a tricky area of law. Talk with a local bankruptcy attorney before filing to ensure that you don't lose valuable property.

Timing Your Washington D.C. Bankruptcy

You can file for bankruptcy in the District of Columbia after living there for more than 180 days. However, you must live in the District of Columbia much longer before using District of Columbia exemptions—at least 730 days before filing, to be exact. Otherwise, you'd use the previous state's exemptions.

But suppose you lived in multiple states during the two years before filing for bankruptcy. In that case, you'd use the exemptions of the state you lived in for most of the 180 days before the two-year period that immediately preceded your filing. (11 U.S.C. § 522(b)(3)(A).) Learn more about filing for bankruptcy after moving to a new state.

To claim the total value of the homestead exemption, you must have purchased and owned the property for at least 1,215 days before the bankruptcy filing. If you can't meet this requirement, your homestead exemption is limited by federal law.

Learn more about this requirement, the current amount of the federal cap, and other important exceptions to homestead exemptions.

Claiming the District of Columbia Bankruptcy Homestead Exemption

In the District of Columbia, the homestead exemption is automatic—you don't have to file a homestead declaration in order to claim the homestead exemption in bankruptcy. When filing for bankruptcy, you'll list your homestead exemption on Schedule C: The Property You Claim as Exempt when completing your bankruptcy forms. Keep in mind that you'll need to meet other requirements to prevent losing your home in bankruptcy. Find out more in Your Home in Chapter 7 or Your Home in Chapter 13.

Finding the District of Columbia Bankruptcy Homestead Exemption Statute

You'll find the District of Columbia homestead exemption at D.C. Code Ann. § 15-501(1)(14) on the D.C. Law Library website. Learn about finding state statutes in Laws and Legal Research.

Need More Help?

You might not know this, but Nolo has been making the law easy for DIYers for over fifty years. If you have questions, use the links we've included throughout for more details. Otherwise, you'll find the answers to almost all of your bankruptcy questions at nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/bankruptcy or by consulting with a local bankruptcy lawyer.

This overview cannot provide all of the information you'll need to file a bankruptcy case. For more detailed information, consider buying a self-help book such as How to File Chapter 7 Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill and Albin Renauer J.D.

Updated July 22, 2021

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