Both landlords and tenants should be able to deal with many legal questions and problems without a lawyer, once they understand the basics of state law. This overview of key landlord-tenant laws in the District of Columbia will get you started.
Under District of Columbia law, landlords must disclose specific information to tenants (usually in the lease or rental agreement), such as the terms and conditions under which the security deposit was collected. For a full list, see District of Columbia Required Landlord Disclosures.
District of Columbia law limits how much a landlord can charge for a security deposit (one month's rent), when it must be returned (within 15-60 days after a tenant moves, depending on whether the tenant disputes deductions taken out of the deposit), and sets other restrictions on deposits. See District of Columbia Security Deposit Limits and Deadlines for more on the subject.
Tenants can sue landlords in small claims court for the return of their deposit, up to a dollar amount of $5,000. See Filing a Security Deposit Lawsuit in District of Columbia Small Claims Court for advice for tenants filing suit. Landlords defending a security deposit lawsuit should check out District of Columbia Landlord's Guide to Security Deposit Disputes in Small Claims Court.
D.C. law regulates several rent-related issues, including rent control. For details, see District of Columbia Rent Rules.
Tenants may withhold rent or exercise the right to "repair and deduct" if a landlord fails to take care of important repairs, such as a broken heater. For specifics, see District of Columbia Tenant Rights to Withhold Rent or "Repair and Deduct".
D.C. laws specify when and how a landlord may terminate a tenancy. For example, a landlord may give a District of Columbia tenant 30 days to move before filing for eviction if a court determines that an illegal act was performed within the rental unit. See State Laws on Unconditional Quit Terminations and State Laws on Termination for Violation of Lease for details on these types of termination notices in the District of Columbia.
Several other landlord-tenant laws in the District of Columbia affect both property owners and renters, including:
If you want to read the text of a law itself, such as D.C. security deposit rules, you'll find citations in many of the articles and charts included in the State Landlord-Tenant Laws section of the Nolo site. To access the statutes, go to the District of Columbia Laws and Legal Information section of the Nolo site and find the link to your state laws.
If you just want to browse through the District of Columbia landlord-tenant law, you can find statutes at D.C. Code Ann. § § 42-3201 to 42-3610; D.C. Mun. Regs., tit. 14, § § 300 to 311. You can search the table of contents for the landlord-tenant statutes. Or, if you don't know the exact statute number, you can enter a keyword that is likely to be in it, such as "nonpayment of rent."
In addition to accessing D.C. laws via Nolo's website, District of Columbia statutes are available in many public libraries and in most law libraries that are open to the public (typically found in a county courthouse or in a publicly-funded law school).
Cities and counties often pass local ordinances, such as rent controls rules, health and safety standards, noise and nuisance regulations, and antidiscrimination rules that affect landlords and tenants.
State and Local Government on the Net and Municode are good sources for finding local governments online. Also, your local public library or office of the city attorney, mayor, or city or county manager can provide information on local ordinances that affect landlords and tenants in the District of Columbia.
While most landlords and tenants will primarily be concerned with state law in the District of Columbia, several federal laws come into play. Congress has enacted laws, and federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have adopted regulations, covering discrimination and landlord responsibilities to disclose environmental health hazards, such as lead-based paint.
The U.S. Code is the starting place for most federal statutory research. It consists of 50 separate numbered titles, each covering a specific subject matter. Most federal regulations are published in the Code of Federal Regulations ("CFR"), also organized by subject into 50 separate titles.
To access the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations online, see Nolo's Federal Law Resources page. Also, the Cornell Legal Information Institute provides the entire U.S. Code as well as the Code of Federal Regulations. Finally, check USA.gov, the official U.S. website for government information.
Nolo's Laws and Legal Research page includes links to state and federal laws, explains how to research and understand statutes, and provides advice on finding local ordinances and court cases, including Supreme Court cases. To go further, check out Legal Research: How to Find & Understand the Law, by Stephen Elias and the Editors of Nolo (Nolo). This nontechnical book gives easy-to-use, step-by-step instructions on how to find legal information.