Thinking about becoming a landlord? Don’t make these mistakes!

If you’re thinking about renting out a property you own, you might want to think twice. Managing a rental property isn’t as easy as you may think. And tenant laws in DC make being a landlord a complicated matter, to say the least. But if you know where most landlords make mistakes and use that knowledge wisely, you’re more likely to be successful.

Below we share the top three things landlords in DC miss…and how to make sure you’re meeting all the property management requirements so that you can be successful in your rental arrangements.

1. Providing an Illegal or Incomplete Lease

Leases are legal documents, and while leases are not required in DC, they can protect both the renter and the landlord when they are properly executed.

If you’re using a lease template, make sure it’s up-to-date and was written for use in DC. In addition, it should include any additional requirements you’d like to add. But be careful, because local lease requirements and regulations can be complicated.

The wording of a lease is extremely important and certain clauses are not legal additions to your lease. For example, in DC you cannot legally include a waiver of landlord liability for failing to properly maintain the property. If you do include illegal clauses, they can nullify your lease agreement. And then you’re left with tenants who could potentially stop paying rent, breaking the lease or worse, suing you for failure to meet certain requirements.

Other illegal clauses include:

  • Requiring a notice of entry that is less than the required 48 hours (except in emergencies)
  • Describing an eviction process that does not go through Landlord/Tenant court
  • Claiming the tenant will owe the landlord fees related to legal expenses brought against the tenant

2. Inadvertently Discriminating Against Rental Applicants

Even the most conscientious landlords can find themselves in a situation where they might inadvertently discriminate against potential renters.

As a property owner, you must process applications in accordance with all Fair Housing and occupancy laws. This means it is illegal to discriminate against potential renters based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status or disability. In DC, there are 12 additional traits that are protected under discrimination laws: personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sexual harassment, family responsibilities, matriculation, familial status, genetic information, political affiliation, source of income, place of residence or business, or status as a victim of intrafamily offense.

The consequences of a discrimination claim can be pretty dire, including official complaints, legal charges and lawsuits, the costs of which could be hefty.

To protect yourself from discrimination claims, read up on Fair Housing Law and have a clear understanding of it before you even consider renting your property. You’ll want to use caution when wording your ads, lease and rental application questions and when speaking with or interviewing potential renters.

3. Charging Too Much for a Security Deposit

This mistake seems like an easy one to avoid, but if you’re not knowledgeable of DC Tenant Law, it’s also an easy one to make.

For many landlords, it’s tempting to try to protect your interests by collecting a large security deposit up front. But in DC, you may not legally charge more than one month’s rent as a security deposit. It’s that simple.

For more specific details about Security Deposit requirements and limitations, as well as additional information about tenant rights in DC, see the District of Columbia Tenant Bill of Rights.

Being a landlord in DC can be a positive and lucrative experience, if you’re willing to do your research, be prepared, and follow the law. If you need help creating a lease that is thorough and legal, want to know more about discrimination and how to avoid it, or have questions about managing security deposits, a property management company like Columbia Property Management can help. Reach out for a free consult any time!