Does rent control mean D.C. Government tells me how much I can rent my property for?

For the purposes of this article, "The Act" refers to the Rental Housing Act of 1985 as amended, and "OAH" refers to the Office of Administrative Hearings. 


No, the Act specifies the maximum allowable rent increase for properties subject to rent control.


According to the Act, any rent increase for a rental unit under rent stabilization must adhere to the following conditions:

  • The new rent must not exceed the prior rent plus a permissible increase (explained below).
  • The rent increase cannot surpass the limit set by any single section of the Act.
  • There must have been a minimum of 12 months since the last rent increase (unless the unit is vacant).
  • The increase must comply with the terms of the lease agreement.
  • The housing accommodation must be appropriately registered with the RAD.
  • Both the rental unit and the common elements of the housing accommodation must substantially comply with housing condition regulations.
  • The housing provider must provide the tenant with a 30-day advance notice of any rent increase.


Annual Increase on a tenant (aka Allowable Rent Increases Based on CPI-W)

The common permissible rent increase is typically an annual adjustment, determined by the rise in the Consumer Price Index for the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Statistical Area (CPI-W). For most tenants, the maximum allowable rent increase is the CPI-W percentage plus 2 percent, capped at 10 percent. However, for elderly tenants or those with a disability, the maximum rent increase is either the Consumer Price Index (CPI) percentage or the Social Security Act Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), whichever is lower, but not exceeding 5 percent.

These allowable increases, based on CPI or COLA, are often referred to as automatic because no petition or additional steps are necessary.


Vacancy Increase

The sole exception to the yearly rent increase limit is when a rental unit becomes vacant. Upon vacancy, the housing provider can raise the rent as follows:

  • By 10 percent more than the rent charged to the former tenant if the former tenant occupied the unit for 10 years or less.
  • By 20 percent more than the rent charged to the former tenant if the former tenant occupied the unit for more than 10 years.

Following a vacancy rent increase, the housing provider is restricted from implementing any other type of rent increase for a period of 12 months, even in the event of another vacancy.


Other Allowable Rent Increases

A housing provider has the option to pursue larger allowable rent increases under different provisions of the Act by filing petitions for hardship, capital improvements, services, and facilities substantial rehabilitation or by entering into a voluntary agreement with the agreement of 70 percent of the tenants. These alternative allowable increases, outlined in further detail below, are not automatic. The housing provider must petition or obtain the consent of the Rent Administrator, and tenants may opt to participate in the process, often through hearings before an administrative hearing judge.



According to the Act, housing providers have the authority to increase rents to achieve a 12 percent rate-of-return on their rental property investment.

To pursue this increase, the housing provider must provide documentation of operating expenses for 12 of the last 15 months preceding the filing of the hardship petition. RAD will notify tenants of the filing of a hardship petition and allow them to designate a representative to support or oppose the petition.

RAD conducts an audit of the hardship petition and the supporting income and expense documents. The Rent Administrator then issues an order granting or denying the hardship petition. Both the housing provider and tenants have the option to submit exceptions and objections to the Rent Administrator’s order. If exceptions and objections are submitted, a hearing is held with OAH to resolve the disputed matters. OAH subsequently issues an order establishing the rent increase.


Capital Improvements

A housing provider has the option to petition for rent increases to cover the expenses of capital improvements. This type of rent increase is termed a surcharge. A capital improvement refers to an enhancement or renovation, excluding ordinary repairs or maintenance, which is considered depreciable under the Internal Revenue Code.

The housing provider initiates the process by filing a petition, serving copies to the tenants, and presenting the case to OAH. For non-emergency improvements, the petition must be filed before work commences. In the case of emergency improvements, the petition must be filed within 10 calendar days following the installation. Tenants have the opportunity to support or oppose the petition. If OAH does not approve or deny the surcharge within 60 days after filing, the housing provider may proceed with the work pending OAH approval. Upon approval, the housing provider completes the work and may then implement rent increases.

OAH bases its ruling on the capital improvement petition on several factors, including whether the improvement enhances tenant health, safety, and security, if it is depreciable under the Internal Revenue Code, whether necessary governmental permits have been obtained, and if the design and cost of the work are adequately documented.

Additionally, the housing provider can include financing costs, such as interest and service charges, in the surcharge. Costs for building-wide improvement projects must be spread over 96 months, while costs for improvements affecting only certain rental units must be spread over 64 months. Rent increases apply only to units impacted by the capital improvements.

The surcharge cannot exceed 20 percent of the prior rent for a building-wide improvement and 15 percent for improvements not affecting all rental units. It remains in effect until the housing provider recovers all costs, including interest and service charges, associated with the capital improvements. Certain low-income elderly and disabled tenants may be exempt from the surcharge, and it terminates once all costs of the capital improvements are recovered.


Services and Facilities

Under the Act, rent adjustments are permitted when the services or facilities provided by a housing provider or a housing accommodation, or for any rental unit within the housing accommodation, undergo changes, whether an increase or decrease.

The process begins with the housing provider filing a petition, serving copies to the tenants, and presenting the case for the change at an OAH hearing. Tenants have the opportunity to support or oppose the petition. OAH issues a ruling on the petition, considering factors such as:

- The cost to the tenant of acquiring alternate related services or comparable facilities.
- The operating cost to the housing provider of the related services or facilities.
- The fair market value of comparable related services or facilities.


Substantial Renovation

The housing provider has the option to submit a petition for a rent increase due to substantial rehabilitation of the housing accommodation. Such a petition is filed when the proposed rehabilitation costs equal or exceed 50 percent of the real property tax assessment of the rental unit or housing accommodation. Detailed plans, specifications, and projected costs must be included in the petition. Tenants are notified, a hearing is held, and a decision is issued by OAH before work commences. The maximum allowable rent increase is 125 percent.

This rent increase is permanent, not a temporary surcharge. When evaluating whether substantial rehabilitation is warranted, OAH considers:

  • Whether the substantial rehabilitation serves the interests of the tenants.
  • The current physical condition of the rental unit or housing accommodation as assessed by reports or testimony from D.C. housing inspectors, licensed engineers, architects, contractors, or other qualified experts.
  • Whether the existing physical condition poses a risk to the health, safety, or welfare of any tenant.
  • Whether the existing physical conditions can be remedied through improved maintenance, repair, or capital improvement.
  • The impact of the proposed rehabilitation on the affected tenant(s) in terms of financial costs, inconvenience, or relocation.


70 Percent Voluntary Agreement

Under the Act, tenants of a housing accommodation have the option to enter into a Voluntary Agreement with the housing provider. This agreement covers aspects such as rent, capital improvements, services, facilities, or maintenance. If initiated by the housing provider, tenants must be given a minimum of 14 days to review the agreement after its filing with RAD and service on the tenants.

Approval from the Rent Administrator is necessary for the Voluntary Agreement, and all conditions outlined within it must be met before any rent adjustments can occur. It's important to note that if approved, the Voluntary Agreement applies to all tenants, including those who did not sign it.

Please be aware that the Voluntary Agreement Moratorium Amendment Act of 2020 (D.C. Law L23-0246 effective March 16, 2021) currently prohibits voluntary agreements for a period of two years. As a result, RAD is not currently accepting voluntary agreements for review.


Safeguards for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities

According to the Act, elderly individuals and those with disabilities are eligible for exemption from specific rent adjustments. To qualify:

  • An elderly tenant must be at least 62 years old.
  • A tenant with a disability must meet the definition outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (Title 42, Section 12102(2)(A) of the United States Code).

Tenants who believe they meet the criteria of elderly or disabled under the Act should reach out to the Rental Accommodations Division when faced with a rent increase. This will help determine whether they qualify for an exemption from the rent adjustment.


I have questions, who should I contact?

If you have questions, we advise reaching out to your legal counsel or, if applicable, your property manager. RentJiffy doesn't specialize in rent control matters, so we would not be the best choice. You can also contact the Rental Accommodations Office at 202-442-9505. However, please note that they are unable to offer legal advice or guidance on interpreting the law.

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