Do D.C. Landlords Have to Fix Kitchen Appliances?

HomeLawsUSADCDo D.C. Landlords Have to Fix Kitchen Appliances?

If landlords provide kitchen appliances, they must maintain them in a safe and “good working condition.”

Fixing Appliances

If and whenever “an owner or licensee of any residential building furnishes any facilities for cooking, storage, or refrigeration of food, those facilities shall be maintained by the owner or licensee in a safe and good working condition.” D.C. Municipal Regulations 400.6 and 600.4.

This means that landlords are not required to provide such appliances, but if they do, they must maintain them. Appliances may include microwaves, stoves, ovens, sinks, dishwashers, fridges (refrigerators), cupboards, drying racks, pantries, and anything else that might be used for cooking. Broken or damaged items must be repairs especially if they are likely to cause harm or injury (e.g., a broken stove or a malfunctioning microwave). These items aren’t required to be in perfect condition, they do not have to be the most modern version, and the law doesn’t cover aesthetic issues like dents and scratches.

Lease

The above D.C. Housing Code requirements override anything written in the lease. Therefore, a lease provision stating the landlord is not responsible for fixing kitchen appliances will not free them of a housing code violation. D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-301.1.

Report the Problem

If a tenant thinks the landlord is violating D.C. Housing Code (or another D.C. law) and it’s worth fighting with the landlord, the best option for them is to report it to local authorities. Tenants can call (202) 442-9557 or email dcra.housingcomplaints@dc.gov. Tenants should call 311 for urgent problems. Tenants should document all issues and keep a copy of all communication where they first notified the landlord. The RenterPeace app makes this easy.

Tenant Protections

Although this may negatively impact the landlord-tenant relationship, tenants have broad protections under the law as long as they have a “good faith” belief that there is a violation. A landlord cannot increase the rent, decrease the services to the tenant (e.g,. cut off utilities), or evict them in retaliation for making a complaint. Tenants often fear that a landlord may try to evict anyways, but to evict a tenant, landlords must first take them to landlord-tenant court, where the landlord will be made to answer 1) for all the problems stated in the complaint and 2) for whether they illegally retaliated against the tenant. D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-307.

What To Expect

When a tenant reports a problem, an inspector visits the apartment (typically within a week or less) to look for housing code violations. The inspector then generally orders the landlord to fix the problem(s) by a certain date and sometimes immediately fines them for the violation. Fines can be as high as $300 per day the apartment is in violation, but typically, the inspector just wants to see the problem fixed. If the landlord ignores the order to fix the problem, they may be subject to more fines and may even be subject to up to 90 days in jail per day that the apartment violates housing rules. D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-102.1 and 14-102.7.

Deducting the Cost or Withholding Rent

To deduct or withhold rent, the tenant must “legally [withhold] all or part of the tenant’s rent after having given reasonable notice to the housing provider, either orally in the presence of a witness or in writing, of a violation of the housing regulations.” D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-4303.4.

Procedure

Before deducting or withholding rent, tenants should :

  • have a witness, ideally a neutral party other than a spouse
  • keep clear documentation showing that they notified the landlord of 1) their intention to withhold or deduct from their rent and 2) exactly what requirement they believe the landlord has violated
  • give the landlord a “reasonable” time to fix the problem
  • make sure the problem is not caused by the themselves or their guests

Disclaimer

Failure to follow any one of these (or any other procedures of D.C. Housing Law) may result in an eviction, so tenants should ideally see a lawyer before beginning the process. Even if it’s done lawfully, tenants may have to appear in landlord-tenant court to show their evidence if the landlord attempts to evict. While landlord-tenant court is very informal and the judges are tenant-friendly, they do not take kindly to trivial uses of this remedy or attempts to use this an excuse to not pay rent. Therefore, tenants should avoid using remedy this for very minor problems, and both parties should keep very clear documentation of everything (RenterPeace can help!). It’s typically easier and safer for tenants to report housing violations than to withhold or deduct rent because they have a risk of eviction, strict procedures, and a higher likelihood of having to appear in court.

Deducting the Cost of Repairs

To deduct the cost of repairs, in addition to the above procedures, tenants should keep clear receipts of the repairs (along with pictures of before and after) and return any money that wasn’t used to fix the problem. In practicality, when a tenant attempts to deduct the cost of a reasonable repair, landlords may consider the trouble to challenge what’s likely a few hundred dollars, especially when the landlord is clearly at fault. The court process often will involve an inspection of the apartment unit, which could create more problems for the landlord. If the landlord is renting without a business license (a license required for every landlord), the process may also reveal the landlord’s licensing violation which can result in a $2000 – $4000 fine for a first offense and more for additional violations (source). D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-200.

Withholding Rent

To withhold rent, in addition to the above procedures, tenants should make sure they do not spend the money and ideally, keep it in a separate bank account or with a neutral third party like an escrow. When the landlord fixes the problem, the tenant will have to pay the rent back immediately and the tenant may be evicted if they don’t. If the tenant goes to court and the judge disagrees with the tenant that the problem would allow withholding the rent, the judge may ask the tenant to pay back the rent immediately. The court may punish tenants who do not have the money readily available to pay the landlord (e.g., with fines).

Breaking a Lease

If the apartment becomes “unsafe or unsanitary” due to violations of D.C. housing regulations of which the landlord was aware of or reasonably should know about, then the tenant may move out, even if there’s a lease, because of the “implied warranty of habitability.” Two exceptions apply where housing code violations result from the intentional or negligent acts of tenants or their guests or the violations were corrected within an appropriate time. An apartment is likely unsafe or unsanitary if, for example, there’s a gas leak from the stove or the microwave or fridge has smoke coming out. Tenants should thoroughly document the situation that makes the place unsafe or unsanitary (the RenterPeace app can help) and to avoid escalating conflict, they should notify the landlord of their intention to move out early. D.C. Municipal Regulations 14-302.

By |August 27th, 2018|DC|

Check Out Our Updated Site

Ok

Same great legal information, with new features: