Amateur Landlord: Getting Up to Code

by Bryce Baschuk


With DC’s rental market being red hot, converting a condo or part of a residence into an apartment can bring in some good extra income these days. But before you post that Craigslist ad, an important first step is ensuring that the property is safe and sanitary for tenants.

This year, the DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) published a rigorous and specific inspection checklist on its blog to help first time landlords become code compliant. UrbanTurf spoke with DCRA spokesman Mike Rupert and Urban Igloo president Rick Gersten to discuss some of the major code violations that city inspectors look for.

“The code goes all the way down to how your toilet paper holders should be installed,” Mike Rupert said. “But the big things are the life safety issues. We look to make sure that each rental has smoke detectors, enough exits and that the electrical units are working properly. Our goal is to protect renters and make sure the place they are staying in is safe.”

First time landlords should ensure that their unit has a one or two family rental license that confirms the conversion work was inspected and the use is approved. Rupert told UrbanTurf that he sees a lot of people who buy a home banking on income from their basement apartment.

“If you take a nasty basement and weekend warrior it, we need to know that the electrical, plumbing, drywall and other construction are up to code,” he told UrbanTurf.

Urban Igloo’s Rick Gersten said that at this point DCRA is very proactive about making sure people are safe in their apartments, and that it’s not difficult for a resident to acquire a basic business license from the DC government.

DCRA has made the process very reasonable to complete,” Gersten said. “They want to make sure that landlords have proper fire alarms and that their emergency access routes are up to code. It should give landlords comfort that their tenants will be living in a safe place.”

Part of DCRA’s proactive initiative is to reach out to landlords who believe that asking for an inspection will only result in fines or penalties for violations they may have missed.

“You’re not inviting fines by asking for an inspection,” Rupert emphasized. “We give adequate time for people to fix these issues and make [their homes] safe to rent.” DCRA typically gives 30 to 60 days for landlords to repair housing code violations before fines are levied.

Rupert also said that he hears a lot of questions from landlords who rent their apartments without a license and are afraid of being fined.

“People should not be afraid to come in and begin the application process,” Rupert told UrbanTurf. “We aren’t coming after the people who are coming in to help themselves. It’s the people who are trying to work around the system that are going to get fined.”

See other articles related to: urban igloo, dcra, amateur landlord

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/amateur_landlord_getting_up_to_code/2548


  1. Nick said at 1:52 pm on Wednesday October 6, 2010:

    Please for the love of god and in the interest of actually being more than just another weak real estate blog, try harder to dig into these interviews when you can. I love Urban Turf and try come by daily but this is piece has absolutely no depth to it.

    Ruppert and DCRA are trying hard to improve the process, great, but what about common problems they encounter, specific examples, problem solving tips and other things. I own and rent and have not bothered to do the inspection/BBL because, as the commenters on Ruppert’s very own DCRA website say, the process is jacked. The inspectors create problems out of thin air, fail to detail what remedies are needed and are pretty much what you would expect from a DC civil servant.

    And as for the Urban Igloo folks, there is TONS that I want to know - why are their services worth it, what is the biggest problem (besides not hiring them) that they see, are there any red flags we really need to be aware of that most homeowners cannot fix, etc. etc.

    Again, the blog is great and this article is a good start but damn if I am not left wanting. Please, please, please dig a bit deeper. If I could have my wish I would love a more in-depth interview with Urban Igloo - I think their experiences would be very interesting to hear about.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for listening!

  1. eek said at 2:36 pm on Wednesday October 6, 2010:

    Eek…I actually felt that this article was quite helpful. I am considering renting out the basement of my house and this is a good intro into what I need to do.

  1. dzad said at 12:53 am on Thursday October 7, 2010:

    was going to do it, but was confused abt what to do.  so i called dcra and realized, it is not worth dealing with them.  they don’t care, are completely unorganized, rude, cannot answer questions, route you to another people.  i walked out of georgetown dmv after getting my license and license plate thinking, “wow! DC DMV actually works efficiently..”  I hung with DCRA on the 3rd time after dealing with them and realized these people are way below DMV folks.  be good to your tenant and provide them with safe dwellings and you will have no problems.  don’t give a penny to the dcra unnecessarily.

  1. ryan said at 10:58 am on Thursday October 7, 2010:

    DCRA—i have two condos that i rent and it took me a lot of calls, lot of traveling between diff’t DC gov’t offices, a tax ID number, small biz license, fees, inspections to get approved.  And these were condos built in 2006.  On both units the inspection scheduling was a fiasco with inspectors showing up at the wrong time or not at all.  Seriously, they should do this all online and outsource the call center to India.  The DC gov’t process is ridiculously draconian.

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