These pages will help you understand rent control laws and regulations, but do not include every detail. The rent control law is the Rental Housing Act of 1985 (DC Law 6-10) as amended (the Act), which is codified at DC Official Code § 42-3501.01 et seq.
You can find the complete law in most DC public libraries or online.
Under the Act, an apartment building or apartment complex is called a housing accommodation, and a single apartment or house is called a rental unit. A renter is simply called the tenant, but the landlord is called the housing provider.
Rental Accommodations Division
The Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) is the part of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development that is responsible for administering the Act, including accepting rent adjustment petitions filed by tenants and housing providers. The head of the RAD is the Rent Administrator.
The DC Office of Administrative Hearings and the DC Rental Housing Commission
The DC Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) is responsible for hearing cases pursuant to rent adjustment petitions. A separate, three-member Rental Housing Commission (RHC) is the first level of appeal from RAD and OAH decisions. The RHC also issues regulations under the Act, and publishes the annual “rent control CPI.” The “rent control CPI” governs how much the housing provider may increase the rent for units under rent control without having to seek the approval of RAD or OAH.
The Act applies to all rental housing accommodations in the District of Columbia. Certain parts of the Act, such as eviction protections, apply to all District tenants. Title II of the Act is rent stabilization, which applies to any non-exempt rental unit. All rental units must be registered with the RAD either as subject to rent control or exempt from rent control. For any unit that is not registered with RAD, rent control automatically applies.
The most common exemptions from rent control are for rental units that are:
- Federally or District-subsidized
- Built after 1975
- Owned by a natural person (i.e., not a corporation) who owns no more than four rental units in the District
- Vacant when the Act took effect.
Find out more about what increases are permitted by visiting Allowable Rent Increases.
A tenant who believes that a rent is incorrect may challenge it by filing a tenant petition with RAD. Then the housing provider is given notice of the challenge; OAH schedules a hearing; the tenant is given the opportunity to present evidence as to why the rent charged is unlawful; and the housing provider is given the opportunity to present contrary evidence. The OAH Administrative Law Judge will then issue a decision and order. The tenant petition may address any violation of the Act including improper rent calculations or housing code violations.
Each rental unit must be registered with RAD as a rent-controlled property or exempt from rent control on a “Registration/Claim of Exemption” form. The housing provider must file an amended registration form within thirty days of any change in the ownership, management, or services and facilities. If a housing accommodation was exempt from rent control but later becomes subject to rent control because the exemption expires, the housing provider must register the property as being subject to rent control at that time.
Protections for Elderly and Disabled People
A tenant who is elderly or has a disability as defined by the Act is entitled to a lower rent increase cap (CPI instead of CPI + 2%). A tenant who believes he or she qualifies under either category must file an application with RAD and give a copy of the application to the housing provider. To qualify:
- As elderly, a tenant must be at least 62 years of age;
- As a person with a disability, a tenant must have a medically-determinable physical impairment, including blindness, which prohibits and incapacitates 75 percent of the tenant’s ability to move about, to assist him- or herself, or to engage in an occupation.
Under the Act, a tenant is not qualified as elderly or disabled until RAD determines his or her status.
Read the Act and Regulations
Interested parties are encouraged to review the Act and its regulations, or to ask a lawyer or housing professional for more help.
Instructions for viewing the Act online:
- Under Division VII, Property select Title 42, Real Property.
- Select Subtitle VII, Rental Housing.
- Select Chapter 35, Rental Housing Generally.
- Select Subchapter II, Rent Stabilization Program, which shows all the sections of the rent-control law.
- Visit the section you want.
When laws are enacted, they are called statutes. Later they become part of the DC Official Code; in that process section numbers are changed. The website shows the law in code form. The agency usually uses statute numbers. The section numbers from the statute appear in the notes below the text of the law.
The regulations are part of Title 14 of the DC Municipal Regulations. The complete regulations run from Chapter 38-43, but Chapter 42 has most key provisions.
Instructions for viewing the regulations online:
- Select DCMR and DCR Online.
- Select DCMR Basic Version.
- On the left side of the screen, select CONTENTS.
- Select Title 14, Housing.
- Select on Chapter 42 (or other chapter of interest). The regulations can be printed from the site.
Where to Get Help
The RAD is located at 1800 Martin Luther King Jr., Avenue, SE, Washington, DC 20020. You may visit them in person between the hours of 8:30 am and 3:30 pm. You may also contact them at (202) 442-9505. Visit this list of organizations that provide help and support to housing providers and tenants. For help determining your legal rights and remedies, contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate at (202) 719-6560, or visit us during walk-in hours (M-TH 8:30 am to 3:30 pm) at 2000 14th Street, NW, Suite 300 North, Washington, DC 20009.