DC Rental Units, Part II: The Steps to Being a Landlord

by Michele Lerner


A few weeks ago, we wrote an article about the steps that DC homeowners need to take before they rent out a section of their home. One of the key takeaways from that piece was that if you are thinking of reaping some income off that English basement (and want to be in accordance with the law) you must obtain both a Certificate of Occupancy (C/O) and a Basic Business License (BBL). Below we outline the steps that you need to take in order to do this.

Both the C/O and the BBL can be applied for at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Business License Center (DCRA) located at 941 North Capitol Street, NE, Suite 1000 (map). Here are the steps that should be followed to apply for a Basic Business License:

  1. Submit a BBL EZ Form, which can be downloaded from the DCRA website.
  2. Submit a “Clean Hands Certification” which states that you don’t owe more than $100 to the DC government as a result of fees, penalties, interest or taxes.
  3. Register your business with the Office of Tax & Revenue by filing an FR-500 form.
  4. DCRA will conduct an inspection of the property.
  5. Pay the required BBL and Rental Unit fees (currently $35 for the license, $70 for the application, $25 for the endorsement fee and $43 per rental unit).

Once the steps above have been completed, the rental unit must also be registered with the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) at 1800 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE (map). To do this, you need to file a RAD registration/claim of exemption form, which must be accompanied by the BBL application and proof that you own the residence where the units are being rented. Once this application is complete, RAD transmits the filed form to DCRA and then the BBL can be mailed to the landlord or picked up at the office when it is ready.

The BBL lasts for two years and cannot be renewed or applied for online. If a landlord has more than one home in the city, a BBL and C/O are needed for each rental location.

This may seem like an onerous process, but the paperwork and regulations are designed to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords and unsafe housing. The website ThisShouldBeIllegal designed for college students in DC, offers a place for tenants to check up to see if their landlord has a license to rent the home.

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/dc_rental_units_part_ii_the_steps_to_being_a_landlord/1558


  1. gina said at 11:19 pm on Monday November 30, 2009:

    Doesn’t the BBL require that your official mail be delivered to an address (not post box) within DC proper?  If you don’t live in DC, some people hire an attorney to receive official documents (if they don’t have a trusted friend or family member).  This by itself can cost ~$200.

  1. Mat said at 8:35 pm on Tuesday December 1, 2009:

    We had talked before about landlords that do not require C/O because they rent out a room in which all amenities of the house are open to the tenant. If one makes this clear but rents to a basement tenant, is a C/O still required?

  1. Debbie said at 4:35 am on Friday December 11, 2009:

    According to DCRA’s licensing office, before you apply for your business license, you must obtain a certificate of occupancy and register with the Office of Tax & Revenue (OTR). For more information regarding Certificate of Occupancy, go to: http://brc.dc.gov/nonprofit/requirementsorg/coo.asp.

  1. Jonathan said at 7:03 pm on Tuesday January 26, 2010:

    My job is to actually go and expedite the rental property license so I think I can answer everyones question.

    Gina- Unfortunately YES many do have to hire an attorney. Keep an eye out for RentJiffy.com doing a full launch in late Spring. They are offering Registered Agent service for $100/2 years.

    Mat - renting out a portion of the house would be considered a rooming house license of which the requirements are completely different. In your case becuase it is an english basement when you do the inspection they will automatically call you a 2 family structure and will require you to reapply as such. In other words you will always need the COO. DCRA does have paper records but you will need someone who knows how to get to those records. Yuo may have an old one in there. You can also apply for a new one too. This can be a slightly complicated process but no really that bad. Its more time than anything.

    Debbie - You are correct. You will first need to get your Certificate of Occupancy (either name change or new depending on the property and what’s currently on file). You will need to pay the fees for the Certificate.

    You may then register with Tax and Revenue which is by way of the FR500 Combined Business Tax Registration. You will receive the Notice of Business Tax Registration which is required with the application at DCRA for the actual Basic Business License.

    Once the application is processed you will receive a notice of filing.

    **Do keep in mind if you live outside the city you will need to appoint a Registered Agent to receive legal servings as required by law***

    At this point you may then go to the Rental Housing Comission in SE DC and submit the Rental Housing Registration form along with proof of ownership.

    Finally you will be required to go thru the safety inspection. So long as you pass you should receive the actual license in approximately 10 days following the inspection.

    Overall it can be 2-3 days of work/time spent and at most 2 weeks in order to get the license.

    If you choose to hire an expeditor to manage the process for you those do exist such as myself. (Sorry guys I won’t be a good businessman without inserting that).

  1. Sasha said at 3:04 pm on Wednesday October 12, 2011:


    I will be renting out my condo and moving to another country.  Will getting a business license to rent out my condo increase the amount of income or property tax I will have to pay?  I will be negative $4,800 at the end of the 12-month lease.


  1. Tonya said at 12:13 pm on Monday November 7, 2011:

    Housing Provider Compliance: Nuts and Bolts of Safety, Health and Environmental Compliance
    DHCD Director, John E. Hall, and the Housing Regulation Administration staff would like to invite you to attend a safety, health and environmental discussion on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, at 441 4th Street, NW, Room 1114 South.

    Guest speakers will identify best practices in preparing for successful inspections and abating lead base paint and bedbug infestation.  They will also identify government programs that provide grants to remediate lead.
    The DC Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs Director, Nicholas A. Majett will respond to stakeholder questions regarding inspection and compliance procedures. Gerald Brown, Program Director of the Rodent and Vector Control Division of the District of Columbia Department of Health will address housing provider abatement strategies and city initiatives to assist housing providers in abatement of bedbug infestation. Gian Cossa, Chief of Compliance and Enforcement of the Lead and Healthy Housing Division, District Department of the Environment will discuss the city’s lead base paint compliance. Usenobong Bassey and Constance Irvin of the Residential and Community Services Division of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development will provide information on the District of Columbia Lead Safe Washington Program.  The program provides grant funds for remediation of lead to all qualified residents before and after citation enforcement.
    Anticipated attendees include tenants, landlords, realtors, attorneys and District staff.  All are welcome.  If you are able to attend the meeting, please confirm with Ms. Vivian Portis, Outreach Specialist, at (202) 442-7275 or email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

    Tonya M. Butler-Truesdale,
    Housing Provider Ombudsman
    Housing Regulation Administration
    Department of Housing and Community Development
    1800 Martin Luther King Jr., Avenue SE
    Washington, DC 20020
    (202) 442-7214
    .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

  1. Grant said at 11:13 am on Monday March 31, 2014:

    What are the requirements if you are living in the house and are renting out the rooms? Similar to Mat, but all the tenants have complete access to the home and appliances? The DC website has a real paucity of information for live-in landlords.

    Thanks very much,

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