6 Things Every DC Renter Should Know

1. First, check if your landlord has a business license

If they don’t, you have a ton of power. Renting without a business license can result in the landlord receiving a $1000 to $3000 fine on average for a first time offender (DC is harsh!). If the landlord is refusing to make a repair that costs $500, it’s a no-brainer to point out these fines. If they try to raise your rent, you can refuse to pay the increase – it’s illegal to raise the rent without a business license. Basically, your rights as a tenant expand ten-fold if they are renting without a license. Check here.

2. Housing inspections are typically the best answer

If you’re already fighting with your landlord or the problems are severe, calling a housing inspection is probably the best answer. It’s free, relatively fast (maybe 1-2 weeks), and effective. Someone comes to your house with a clipboard, checks for violations, and tells the landlord what to do. If they don’t, they get a fine or go to court (unfortunately, you might have to join them there). DC does allow for tenants to withhold rent or deduct the costs of repairs, but if you do it wrong, you could get evicted. Housing inspections don’t carry that risk. In fact, when you call for an inspection, landlords will then be required to prove they aren’t retaliating against you before trying to kick you out, deny a lease renewal, or raise the rent. Just call 202-442-4400 or visit the DCRA website for other contact options.

3. Document everything

We’ve spoken to housing lawyers, professors, non-profits, landlords… pretty much everyone in the industry. The #1 advice is always DOCUMENT IT. Save emails and texts. Take pictures and timestamps. You’re even allowed to secretly record your conversations with your landlord in DC. Why is documentation SOOO important? First, many laws revolve around the timeline – landlords are generally given a reasonable time to make repairs. Second, if you go to housing court (see below), you’ll just show up with a folder of documentation. The more you have, the better – the landlord might deny something happened, dispute the timeline of events, or say that you’re exaggerating. Having proof makes your life much easier. Better yet, you may be able to avoid court if you can just show them you can win. When the landlord tells their lawyer of the pictures and texts you have, their lawyer should tell them it’s not worth it to go to court because they’d lose.

4. DC is extremely tenant friendly

You’ll be surprised how much the law can help you out. DC is one of the most tenant-friendly regions in the US – maybe the world. Apartments are rent controlled so landlords can only raise the rent $50-100 per year per $1000 of rent. Tenants have a grace period for paying rent or fixing damages they made. Landlords cannot discriminate based on your source of income or political affiliation. Landlords cannot sell a house or building without offering the existing tenants a chance to buy it first. Tenants have the right to withhold their rent or deduct the costs of certain repairs from the rent.

5. How to learn your rights

Unfortunately, DC makes it insanely hard to learn your rights. The housing code is inexplicably split into 655-word documents, each containing about 1-6 paragraphs each. That makes it impossible to CTRL-F for a keyword relating to your problem. That’s why we converted the DC housing code into a single, searchable Google Doc with a table of contents.

You can also just use the RenterPeace website or app – just type in your problem and we’ll present you your rights in layman terms. The law library covers over 60 categories of problems with practical solutions. Alternatively, you can use RenterPeace to ask the renter community for advice – those questions will get saved in your apartment’s guestbook, acting as a review.

6. Housing court isn’t as scary as you think

You’ve seen daytime court TV shows, right? DC housing court uses the Judge Judy format, not the Boston Legal format. Two people just tell their side of the story in front of a judge and the judge makes a decision. In DC, the laws are tenant-friendly and judges tend to take into account tenants’ limited sophistication with the law and guide them along. So a lawyer always helps, but tenants often win without one. You and the landlord each bring a folder of any emails, text messages, receipts, or pictures in case the other side disputes anything. Basically, be ready to complain. You’ve probably complained to your friends already, so just do the exact same thing in court, except with less cursing and more documentation. See our guide to learn more about what housing court is like.

Hurricane Michael: Tenant Rights and Who Pays for What

It seems like just yesterday we wrote about Hurricane Florence. Here’s what panhandle and Georgian renters need to know…

What if my apartment gets damaged?

First, take lots of pictures (RenterPeace can help keep your documentation organized). Then make sure to tell your landlord about all the damages, even minor ones. They probably have tons of properties and don’t have time to do deep walkthroughs of every single place – by proactively telling them about the problems, you make sure that you’re a priority. In every state except for Arkansas, landlords are legally required to fix severe problems at their cost and maintain working utilities to the extent it’s under their control – this includes Florida and Georgia. Check RenterPeace for laws on whether the landlord needs to fix specific problems. Make sure to remind your landlord that FEMA may cover the cost of some of the damages.

I smell a gas leak

Safety first – don’t move back in. A spark may be able to cause an explosion, and the gas may itself be toxic. Landlords are legally required to keep apartments safe for living. If they don’t (whether it’s their fault or the hurricane’s fault), you are freed from your lease. So you can break your lease and move to a different apartment. Just give your landlord some notice as required by your state’s law. Alternatively, you can stay somewhere else while your landlord fixes the problem, and rely on FEMA to pay for your temporary housing. Visit the law page about toxic gases on RenterPeace for more information.

My landlord is refusing to turn the power on

As long as you’re living in your apartment and it’s safe to have the power on, your landlord is required to make sure it’s on. If you lose power in the storm and your landlord refuses to restore it, you can break your lease under your state’s “implied warranty of habitability” (Florida and Georgia both have this rule). You can break your lease for any conditions that make your apartment unsafe or structurally unsound, including having proper plumbing.

Who pays for the stuff in my house that got ruined?

Unfortunately, you’re responsible for the shoes that got ruined, clothes, and TV – anything that’s yours. Your landlord is not responsible for the costs of any your belongings destroyed by a natural disaster. To avoid this kind of scenario, renters should have purchased renter’s insurance.

Do I need to keep paying rent?

If the place in “uninhabitable,” then no. That means that the apartment is not suitable for living. A good rule of thumb is if you were to list the place on Craigslist with full disclosure of the problems there, no reasonable person would choose to live there today. You’re not required to pay rent if it’s that bad. Make sure to keep documentati0n of why the place is unsafe with timestamped pictures. Of course, moving sucks so you may want to see if your landlord is willing to pay for temporary housing while they fix these problems. Landlords should have kept insurance for this kind of damage, and sometimes FEMA provides aid to small businesses.

If my place is trashed, what about the deposit?

Legally, your landlord is required to return your deposit if they violated the “implied warranty of habitability.” By law, they’re required to provide you with safe, livable housing and if they fail to do so, they violated the lease. That counts even if it’s not their fault (this is why many landlords get insurance for natural disasters).

However, your landlord may try to stiff you on the deposit. Make sure to take timestamped pictures of the damages as evidence. Also, take pictures of and keep safe any rent receipts you may have. You may need to take them to small claims or housing court to recover your deposit. Most tenants go there without a lawyer – these courts are for more like Judge Judy, where lawyers are optional (get a lawyer if you can, but we’re being realistic here). This evidence (especially the rent receipts) will also be helpful if you file a claim with FEMA.

If your landlord refuses to return your deposit, you can hold them accountable by posting in your renter guestbook on RenterPeace. This will help warn future tenants of the landlord, holding them accountable.

What does FEMA cover?

Quite a bit. FEMA can cover the costs of temporary housing, it can help landlords make repairs, and more. See here: https://www.fema.gov/news-release/2004/09/22/florida-temporary-housing-information

Does my landlord have to provide temporary housing while they fix stuff?

If your place in unlivable, then you’re free to break the lease. Often, landlords will offer to pay for temporary housing to avoid that. Additionally, some landlord insurance programs offer them funds to pay for temporary relocation while the landlord fixes stuff. Sometimes city and county laws legally require it. FEMA can provide temporary relocation help to tenants and landlords alike in the wake of a storm.

More Questions?

Ask the renter community on RenterPeace or look up your problem in its massive law library. There’s a reason RenterPeace was selected as “best of” legal apps by Product Hunt staff.

How to Hold Landlords Accountable

All it takes to become a landlord is to own property. While many tenants have to undergo a credit check just to live somewhere, you never see such transparency from landlords. But, there is a simple way to hold landlords accountable! It can be as easy as just telling your story.

Learn Your Rights

Learning your rights on your own is normally tricky. Try Googling your problem and most of the results will be law firm blog posts that intentionally make the law complicated to make you feel like they’re the only ones that can explain it to you. But RenterPeace makes it easy and free. Just visit the RenterPeace law page and search for your problem – no login required. You’ll instantly see laws targeted for your jurisdiction. The app will guess your region based on your computer’s location – you can log in to tell the app where you live and get better answers. It’s one of the most comprehensive sources for landlord-tenant laws on the web, covering over 50 scenarios in numerous states and cities. It not only covers the typical leaky faucet but also harassment by landlords, disruptive neighbors, and even discrimination. Best of all, you’ll see all your options and some tools to help you use them – from withholding rent until the problem is fixed to requesting an inspection from the housing authority. Never feel helpless again.

Contribute to Your Social Guestbook

You share your crazy rental stories with your co-workers and friends. But you should be sharing the story with others who have similar problems – those who have been through a similar situation and can help. RenterPeace offers the world’s first “social guestbook” just for renters – an anonymous smart forum that you can use to post stories. Tell your story and you get answers – both from the community and from RenterPeace’s massive law library (the app suggests applicable laws and tools to help with your situation).  It’s the best place on the Internet to find answers to your rental problems and it’s completely free. Vent where it matters. As you’ll see next, these guestbook posts will safely be placed into the apartment’s history for the next potential tenant, so they can avoid your same experience. You win. They win. And the landlord is held accountable.

Get Apartment Reviews

There’s no great place on the Internet to post or read an apartment review. The few sites that offer apartment reviews jeopardize the user’s privacy in the process, so few tenants are likely to post anything. If you’re in danger of getting kicked out, why would you post a public review at the address online, easily discoverable by your landlord? RenterPeace solves this problem with the social guestbook. You can safely vent anonymously today – your address is not exposed until AFTER you move out, preventing those awkward fights. Of course, your name and other personal details are never revealed – just that “a previous tenant at this address asked about… “.  Think of it as a CarFax for apartments – you see a long diary exposing the timeline of events that brought you to the building you’re looking at today. Because this is an ongoing guestbook and not a site for one-time reviews – you’ll see higher quality information that exposes both the good and bad. Don’t let slumlords keep getting away with it. Renters can help renters. Join RenterPeace and share your story.

 

 

Hurricanes Florence and Olivia: Your Tenant Rights

Headlines about Hurricane Florence and Hurricane (or, hopefully, Tropical Storm) Olivia are blowing across Americans’ phone screens and inboxes this week. As we charge our phones, stock up on water, and do everything we can to prepare, those of us who rent our homes have an extra question. What can I do to prepare my rental home for the storm?

Before the Hurricane

Should I leave?

Check the news. At the time of writing, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia have issued some evacuation orders. If the government says to evacuate, definitely follow their instructions and start early – the traffic will be bad and many flights will be booked. Even if you don’t have an evacuation order and are in the general path of a hurricane, you may want to consider leaving. Rain, flooding, and storms can make life difficult, and the winds may cause power outages and other damage.

If I leave, do I owe rent while I’m not there?

Yes. You’re responsible for rent so long as the place is “habitable,” or suitable for living. That means there are four walls, plumbing, and working power. If you come back and the place is completely destroyed, you’re free to break your lease and live somewhere else. Otherwise, you must pay rent.

Can I board my windows and make other modifications?

Start with seeing if your lease says something about making modifications. When the lease is silent about storm prep (or if there is no lease), tenants generally can’t modify the rental in such a way that, at the end of the lease, the rental can’t be restored to its original condition. But, talk to your landlord – most of the time they’ll be happy to give permission. If you can’t get a hold of them or they refuse and you board up your windows anyways, make sure to remove the boards and repair the holes after the hurricane. Safety first, but security deposit second!

Half my building evacuated, but I haven’t. Can my landlord turn the power off?

As long as you’re living in your apartment and it’s safe to have the power on, your landlord is required to make sure it’s on. If you lose power in the storm and your landlord refuses to restore it, you can break your lease under your state’s “implied warranty of habitability.” That goes for any conditions that make your apartment unsafe or structurally unsound, including having proper plumbing.

Protecting Your Deposit and Government Assistance Options

If you’re leaving, make sure to take timestamped pictures of your apartment before you leave. Also, government assistance will often require proof of your normal rent. So take with you and keep safe any rent receipts you may have.

After the Hurricane

What if my apartment gets damaged?

First, take lots of pictures (RenterPeace can help keep your documentation organized). Then make sure to tell your landlord about all the damages, even minor ones. You will probably have a better idea of the problems than them. Generally, landlords are legally required to fix severe problems at their cost and maintain working utilities to the extent it’s under their control. Check RenterPeace for laws on whether the landlord needs to fix specific problems. Make sure to remind your landlord that FEMA may cover the cost of some of the damages.

If the damage to my rental is really bad, does my landlord have to provide a different place for me to live?

That depends on the severity of the damage and your local laws. But FEMA can provide financial help to tenants and landlords alike in the wake of a storm.

If my rental is destroyed, am I responsible for the rest of my lease?

No – if your apartment is not suitable for living, you’re free to break your lease and find a new place.

Stay safe!

How to Make Friends When You Move to a New City

Making new friends when you move to a new city is the difference between spending every night with takeout and Netflix, or actually exploring your home beyond your new digs. But, especially in your young adulthood, it’s intimidating. There are apps for dating. For friendship? Not so much. But it’s not impossible. Here’s how you can reach out and make new friends after you move.

Contact friends of friends.

Ask your friends if they know anyone in your new area, then take that person out for coffee. If you both get along with the same person, there’s a good chance you’ll get along with each other, too.

Look up alumni events.

Alumni of your college who live in your area may host networking or social events. Contact your alma mater’s alumni office or scour Facebook to find out.

Ask a co-worker out to lunch.

It won’t be weird, we promise.

Join a sports league.

Whether it’s a real intense dodgeball team or a casual kickball club that mostly just meets for drinks, you’ll find a group right for you.

Take a class.

Ballroom dance, yoga, karate, whatever you’re into. Bonus points if it’s in your neighborhood. Hang back afterwards to ask the instructor a question and chat with other students.

Volunteer.

Check out VolunteerMatch to find ways to make the world a better place in your area. You’ll meet people who care about the same causes as you, and a structured activity can make small talk less intimidating.

Go to a MeetUp group.

Check out MeetUp groups in your area for people who are into your hobbies. Vegetarian? Find a vegetarian dinner group. Love Dungeons & Dragons? Join a game. Structured activities for folks who share your interests and want to make new friends are a great way to break into the new social scene.

Go to happy hours or networking events.

If you drink, or even are comfortable in a bar, check out networking happy hours for your field. You might meet professional contacts and people you love hanging out with.

Do all the above before you move.

Sign up for all of the above before you move and fill up your schedule! Some events will be better than others, but you’ll find your people faster and skip the part where you get homesick.

But most importantly, follow up!

One coffee or cocktail friend-date won’t build a lasting friendship. Make sure you keep in touch with people you get along with instead of falling prey to the “busy” trap.

The Definitive Roommate Chore List

No matter how much you love your roommates, keeping your apartment or rental house clean and organized can cause tension and stress. We can’t tell you how many users have written in complaining about roommates who leave dishes in the sink for months, never clean the bathroom, or bring in pets they neglect to care for. If you can afford to hire a weekly or monthly service to supplement your regular upkeep, all the better. But, unless you have a live-in maid, you’ll have to do some cleaning. And with roommates, cleaning means communicating.

Keep the peace and a clean house by setting up a system ahead of time! This roommate chore list includes all the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks you and your roommates should divvy up. From there, set up whatever rotating system you prefer. Many roommates choose a displayed chore wheel or chart for them all. Or, use a tool like RenterPeace to automate the rotation for you.

Daily

  • Clean and put away dishes in the sink
  • Wipe down of countertops, stove, and surfaces in the kitchen
  • Clear clutter from tables, especially common areas
  • Pet care such as cleaning the litter box or feeding the dog
  • Sweep the floors
  • Water the plants
  • Check and organize mail

Weekly

  • Take out the trash and recycling
  • Vacuum and mop the floors
  • Clean the bathroom (wipe down mirror, sink, and shower; clean the toilet)
  • Dust tables, shelves, stovetop, and other flat surfaces
  • Vacuum under the couch cushions
  • Laundry

Monthly

  • Clean appliances (fridge, microwave, oven)
  • Wash walls and baseboards
  • Wipe down downs and light switch plates
  • Clean out the garbage cans
  • Wipe down and dust vents
  • Divvy up household bills
  • Pay your bills
  • Sort through stuff in common areas

Seasonal

  • Check smoke detectors
  • Throw out old or unclaimed stuff from the cupboards, the fridge, and bathrooms

Interview Questions to Ask Potential Roommates

Few renters can afford the quality and location they want without sharing living space. When you achieve roommate harmony, that’s a good thing! But then there are the roommate horror stories. Renters have told us about everything from being scammed out of thousands of dollars to just pulling their hair out over omnipresent dishes in the sink. To ensure a copacetic apartment share, don’t just ask the most obvious questions about sleep schedules and cleaning. Try these oft-ignored roommate interview questions, too.

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

Everybody wants a clean place with respectful roommates. BUT, it turns out that this means different things to different people. Some people are irked by clutter in the common room, some are sensitive to being woken up by roommates coming in late, and others hate when the shower curtains are dirty. To get a good idea what the person cares about, cut to the chase and ask them – what’s your biggest pet peeve? Once they’re done, it’s a good chance to share yours. It’s much more telling than asking, “Are you a clean person?”

Are you in a relationship? How often do you plan on having your partner over?

Beware the boyfriend or girlfriend who turns into an unofficial roommate. If your potential roommate does have a beau, that might not be a problem. Just be sure to set guidelines about how often they come over. Even if they don’t have one now, it’s the perfect chance to let them know what you’re comfortable with in case they later find someone special.

How often do you have overnight guests?

Frequent visitors from out of town can be as intrusive as romantic partners. Set a policy early on for how frequently houseguests are welcome and how much advance notice should be provided.

Let’s talk about alcohol, drugs, and parties

Make sure you’re on the same page. If your roommate hates drinking, then your party apartment may not be a good fit. Your home policy on second-hand marijuana smoke is a common thing to clarify, especially since people often smoke pot indoors and there may be lease restrictions on smoking indoors.

What stuff are you bringing?

If the interview is going well, you need to think about where their stuff is going to go. Sometimes roommates will own a dining set or a ping-pong table. If they need to get storage for it, it’s good for both of you to know where it’s going to go.

What kind of roommate do you want?

Remember, the interview goes both ways. Even if someone sounds like a great roommate for you, you won’t like living with them unless they’re happy, too.

Here is what you’ll need to pay

It’s always awkward to bring money but your potential roommate needs to budget for their life. Be upfront about the rent, the deposit, and any fees and utilities. If it changes from month to month, it’s better to overestimate than underestimate.

Do you have any questions for me?

It can be very illuminating to find out about a potential roommate’s priorities. And, it reflects well on you that you thought to ask!

How to Set Up Your First Apartment

You’re striking out on your own, and that’s exciting! But it’s also overwhelming. Setting up your first apartment is its own unique brand of stressful because you don’t have experience or stuff. Here’s what you need to know before you start.

Before you move anything in…

While the apartment is still empty, clean it! This is the best time to get in a real deep clean because there’s no furniture to reckon with. Exercise healthy skepticism if the landlord says the place will be cleaned before you move in.

Set up utilities. Your landlord can tell you what companies provide electricity, water, and internet. Set up accounts before your move-in date. Try to call the companies at least a week or two ahead of time so you don’t go without.

Finally, be sure to change your address on your subscription services, credit cards, bank accounts, and with the post office. Bonus perk? Changing your address with the post office will probably treat you to some sweet home goods coupons to set up your new digs.

Assembling the move-in list…

It’s easy to get carried away and overspend when setting up a new place. Don’t fall into this trap. Remember, you have all the time in the world to flesh out and spruce up your new pad. To start, think through your most basic needs: a place to sleep, a place to sit, a functional kitchen, and a functional bathroom. From there, you can assess your space and decide what else you want to set up. More storage? A reading nook? A dedicated work/study space? A dining table? It all depends on your lifestyle and priorities.

There’s no shame in getting your needs met in the short-term free or cheap, then investing in nicer pieces over time. Take to Facebook, the family group chat, and Goodwill. Use milk crates for storage and call it a hipster aesthetic. Get creative.

And, don’t forget the personal touch.

Bare walls can be maddeningly dull, but you don’t have thousands to spend on décor. Opt for one big statement piece – peel-able wallpaper, a patterned tapestry, or an accent rug – to give a room some color and style. Or, print out some cherished photos of friends and family and throw them in dollar store frames.

What You Need to Know Before Moving to a Big City

If you’re moving to a big city for the first time, you’re probably excited. That’s because you should be! You’re about to experience more art, culture, diversity, and sensory overload than ever before, and it’ll surround you constantly. Follow these tips to make sure you spend more time enjoying your new surroundings and less time stressing out.

Get rid of a bunch of stuff. Then, get rid of more.

You’re about to move into a much smaller home, and then spend much less time in it, than you used to. Pack accordingly. The more you can pare down your belongings, the less time and money you’ll spend moving, and the easier your new digs will be to set up.

Don’t be shocked if your moving date draws dangerously close and you still don’t have a place.

As Alice noted on her first trip out of her small town, “People come and go so quickly here!” Many big-city landlords don’t even start posting rental listings until 30 days before the move-in date. While you may be used to having an apartment lined up a few months in advance, you might not see your big-city rental until a couple weeks before you sign the lease and move in.

Don’t be surprised by apartment problems – even if you’re paying top dollar.

If you pay extra for a luxury apartment, you might reasonably expect not to have to deal with leaky faucets or malfunctioning appliances. Which is why many residents find themselves surprised and disappointed when they wait days or weeks for routine maintenance of their sparkling, renovated units. But be prepared to advocate for yourself, even if you spring for a swanky place. RenterPeace can help.

Make the effort to make friends.

You’d be shocked how lonely it can get when you’re surrounded by a swarm of people 24/7. Head off the first-year loneliness early. Love yoga? Go to a class in your neighborhood, then chat with the instructor. Notice you have a lot in common with a co-worker? Ask them out to lunch. Look for opportunities to introduce yourself to folks in your neighborhood, or join clubs related to your interests. With an active social life, big city life can feel as friendly as a small town, but with all the culture and excitement of a major metropolis.

10 Notices You Might Get From Your Landlord (and What They Mean)

A letter from the landlord can set a first-time renter’s hard pounding – especially if you don’t know what the notice means. So, check out our guide below of the notices you may receive from your landlord, and what you should do if you get them.

Notices you don’t want to see

If you get one of these notices, you’d be justified in stressing out a bit – and talking to a lawyer.

  • Unconditional Quit Notice
    An unconditional quit notice tells you your lease will end on a certain date and you have no option to rectify the situation. It’s illegal in some states and most US areas have restrictions on when landlords can do this.
  • Notice of Non-Renewal
    This tells you that your lease won’t be renewed as expected, and when you need to leave. If you don’t think you’re getting sufficient notice, you might be right. Check the laws in your state.

Notices that require action

If you get any of these notices from your landlord, you’ll have to do something so you don’t lose your apartment.

  • Notice to Pay or Quit
    If your rent or fees have been late, this notice tells you how much time you have to pay before you lose your rental.
  • Notice to Cure or Quit
    You’ll see this notice if your landlord believes you’ve violated your lease agreement – for example, by playing loud music or having a pet. It’ll tell you how long you have to rectify the issue before losing your rental.
  • Notice of Rent Increase
    This tells you how much your rent will increase and when.
  • Notice of Intent to Dispose of Abandoned Personal Property
    If you’ve moved out and left your belongings behind, or if you have belongings in shared spaces of the building, you might see this notice telling you how long you have to get your stuff before the landlord puts it in storage or throws it out.

Routine notices

These are the notices you can probably expect to see at some point, even if everything is going fine.

  • Offer of Renewal
    You’ll get an offer of renewal near the time that your lease is ending if your landlord wants you to stick around.
  • Notice of Entry
    If your landlord needs to examine the property for a repair or inspection, they should send you a notice of entry so you know when to expect them.
  • Notice of Repairs, Renovations, or Outages
    These notices let you know when you can expect someone to drop in to fix an issue with your rental, or if there’ll be a service interruption (for example, if the power will go out) while repairs are being made.
  • Notice of Transfer of Management
    If your landlord sells the property, you’ll get a letter telling you who your new landlord is. This does not mean your lease should be interrupted.