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How Does DC Investigate Illegal Rentals?

  • May 29, 2014

by Lark Turner

How Does DC Investigate Illegal Rentals?: Figure 1
A legal DC basement rental.

In most instances when DC’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) catches somebody illegally renting out a part of their home — like, say, an English basement that isn’t up to code — it’s thanks to an informant, the regulatory agency told UrbanTurf this week.

We’ve been wondering whether the agency, which is charged with enforcing compliance with the city’s codes and regulating businesses, actively looks for landlords who aren’t renting out spaces legally. The answer, it turns out, is not most of the time — at least not at the moment.

“Most rental cases are initiated by neighborhood complaints,” said Matt Orlins, DCRA’s spokesman, in an email to UrbanTurf about the agency’s practices. “…The agency’s Regulatory Investigations section also initiates investigations on its own when time allows.”

When the agency does hear about an illegal rental, they investigate “and take action,” Orlins promised.

If you are illegally renting out a unit and are caught, it can be costly. For a first offense, Orlins said, the fine for an unlicensed rental can run between $2,000 and $4,000. The amount assessed depends on what kind of rental it is and what sort of licenses it requires. Specifically, whether the site needs a Certificate of Occupancy in addition to a Basic Business License. The latter is a piece of paper from the DC government that says you’re licensed to be a landlord; the Certificate of Occupancy ensures that your basement, for example, is up to code.

If a home doesn’t have a Certificate of Occupancy, it may be unsafe for renters. Hence the stiff fine.

A good way to get caught is to use Craigslist. Orlins said DCRA had in fact used the site to catch offenders in the past.

“We have initiated investigations based on ads [found on the site],” he said.

DCRA may soon start issuing more fines, Orlins suggested, and that effort would be carried out by the Regulatory Investigations arm of the agency.

“The Mayor’s proposed FY2015 budget would add three (employees) to this section, which would enable the agency to more frequently investigate at its own initiation,” he said.

See other articles related to: landlord, dcra, basements

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/how_does_dcra_catch_illegal_basement_rentals/8544

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