After a year upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, the rental market in Washington, D.C. is rising once again. In the past few months, we’ve seen lease incentives begin to fall, with virtual tours and signed leases taking an upward trajectory.
The vast majority of landlords in D.C. are responsible people whose aim is to make your stay at their property as peaceful and enjoyable as possible. But it goes without saying that every marketplace has its own madman.
If you’re planning on renting an apartment in Washington, D.C, you might want to know how to protect yourself against bad landlords. Here are 7 tips to deal with landlords with unorthodox mindsets in the US capital.
Know Your Rights as a Tenant
First, you should familiarize yourself with laws pertaining to the renting of either unfurnished or furnished apartments in Washington D.C. The municipality has many rights and regulations to protect renters and landlords alike, and to keep both parties in check.
These laws cover pretty much every aspect of the landlord-tenant relationship, from leases and deposit terms to rent increases and eviction rules. One thing to note is that a landlord has the right to ask for proof of your income, your credit score, and who else will share the house with you. On the other hand, issues like your sexual orientation and religious affiliation aren’t part of landlord and tenant agreements.
Be Mindful of Rental Scams
Rental scams exist everywhere, and D.C. is not an exception. Fraudsters are increasingly using fake listings and other savvy methods to steal from unsuspecting renters.
Common warning signs of fake property listings and rental scams include:
- Request for a cash deposit upfront
- A deal too good to be true
- Avoidance of traceable payment options like checks or e-transfers
- Request for invasive personal details upfront
- No thorough screening process is required of you, such as reference checks, credit score, etc.
As a rule of thumb, be sure to evaluate the listing carefully before signing a lease or even contacting the property owner. Also, check apartment ratings and apartment reviews to steer clear of these scams.
Understand Your Lease Terms
It’s important that you read your lease carefully before appending your signature. If there’s something you don’t understand, don’t shy away from asking the landlord to clarify. Leases often spell out rules on:
- Lease terms and dates
- Rent prices, terms of payment, and applicable late fees
- Responsibilities (i.e. who is in charge of repairs and upkeep)
- Special permissions for pets, early termination of the lease, altering the rental, etc.
In general, leases explain how you and your landlord should behave toward each other. Don’t feel pressured to sign a lease before you understand it fully.
Request a Walkthrough Inspection
Doing a walkthrough inspection of the empty apartment is the most proactive method to protect yourself as a tenant. Before you move in, inspect the apartment in the company of the landlord or property manager and document the condition of the property.
When the apartment is bare, you can easily spot things like:
- Wear and tear
- Dirt and mildew
- Holes in the floor and walls
- Electrical outlets that don’t work
- Low water pressure in the shower and sinks, etc.
The reason for noting down the damages is to avoid potential snags at the end of your tenancy. Initial walkthrough inspections will determine whether or not you’re eligible to get back your rent deposit.
Speak to Other Tenants
It’s always a good idea to interview other tenants to gather important information from them. This will tell you if they’re happy with the landlord and the real experience of staying in the target rentals.
Start by asking how responsible the landlord is in performing their duties. Has any tenant had a clash with them? If so, how was it solved? Finally, is the said tenant willing to continue to rent from the landlord?
Keep in mind, other tenants may not have all the time in the world to answer all your questions. Therefore, be as brief as possible, only asking clear and concise questions to save their time.
Get Renter’s Insurance
Most landlords will insure their buildings. However, this type of insurance barely covers your home and its contents in the event of a natural disaster, fire, or burglary. To protect yourself, get renter’s insurance.
Renter’s insurance (sometimes called tenant’s insurance) typically offers the same coverage as house insurance. Depending on the policy type and coverage, this type of policy protects a tenant’s possessions in the event of a fire, theft, or flood. The good news is that it’s relatively cheap, often ranging from $15 to $30 per month.
Know Where to File a Complaint
Renters not only deserve safe and habitable housing, but also fair treatment from their landlords. If you feel that your landlord is mistreating you, there are various places in which you can file a complaint.
If it involves discrimination, including the rejection of your rental application on unfair grounds, file a complaint at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You can also mail the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As with anywhere else, it pays to protect yourself when renting an apartment in D.C. Whether it’s neglected maintenance, unfair evictions, or disputes around payments and deposits, it’s easy to deal with a bad landlord when you know your rights. If you’re ever ill-treated, don’t suffer in silence!