What Do Rental Property Inspectors Typically Look For?
The purpose of the Basic Business License Safety inspection is to ensure that rental properties are in compliance with the District of Columbia Building and Property Maintenance Codes. Although DCRA publishes its own one-page checklist, because you requested it, below is a more in-depth idea of what inspectors may look for at the time of inspection. This is based on RentJiffy’s years of handling inspections and collecting a lot of information about what causes a property inspection to fail.
DISCLAIMER: RentJiffy does not and cannot guarantee that your rental property will pass inspection based on this document. Building codes and regulations change from time to time and without notice to us. Additionally, we are not an architecture firm, contractor, or home inspector, and we cannot provide advice or counsel on how to fix/repair items to meet code. You should consult your own architect, contractor, home inspector, or handyman to ensure your property meets the most current version of the building codes.
Like most U.S. cities, counties, and states, the District of Columbia has adopted and enforces the International Codes developed by the International Code Council. These guidelines do not cover all of the more detailed electrical, plumbing, and other building codes used by professionals, but they do generally cover the majority of codes that need to be met in order to rent your unit. Below is a list of the current limitations and requirements as of the date of this article.
Occupancy Limitations [IPMC 403]
- Dwelling units provide privacy
- Habitable rooms are min. 7 ft wide
- Kitchen passageways are min. 3 ft clear
- Habitable spaces have min. 7 ft ceiling height
- Min. 1/3 of the required floor area in bedrooms with sloped ceilings shall have min. 7 ft ceiling height
- Max. 1 family per unit
- Room available for food prep., storage & disposal
More on Ceiling Height
– Minimum height in habitable spaces is 7′, which includes living rooms, bedrooms, and other similar living spaces.
– Minimum height in kitchens and bathrooms is 6’8″.
– There is no minimum height for closets, storage, etc… which can and are often placed under a soffit for ac/ducting, etc…
– You can have a support beam, i-beam (as many people do) that is below the 7′ minimum – but no lower than 6’8″ – so long as 4′ on either side of that beam meets the 7′ minimum.
Bedrooms & Living Rooms:
- The living room is min. 120 sq ft.
- Each bedroom is min. 70 sq ft.
- Access to the bedroom is not through another bedroom.
- Access to the bathroom is not through a bedroom.
- No sleeping spaces are in kitchens & unfinished spaces.
Efficiency Units (max. 3 occupants):
- 1-2 occupants: min. 220 sq ft
- 3 occupants: min. 320 sq ft
- The kitchen sink, stove, and refrigerator – each has a clear working space of 30 inches in front
- Separate bathroom (min. sink, toilet, shower)
Exterior [IPMC 302]
- Premises kept in clean, safe & sanitary condition
- Soil graded to prevent erosion & stagnant water
- Walkways, driveway & parking maintained
- Free from (noxious) weeds, tall grass
- Free from rodent harborage & infestation
- Vents, etc. not discharging onto adjacent property
- Accessory structures maintained
- No inoperative or unlicensed motor vehicles
- No damage or defacement of property
Exterior Structure [IPMC 304]
- Maintained in good repair & structurally sound
- Exterior surfaces in good repair, no unprotected wood
- Street numbers, min. 3” high in Arabic numerals and contrasting background, shall be posted over the main entrance and visible from the public right-of-way (DCMR 12)
- Structural supports maintained & adequately sized
- Foundation plumb & free from open cracks
- Exterior walls weatherproof & maintained
- Roof, flashing & gutters weatherproof & maintained
- Cornices, decorative brick, etc. in sound condition
- Soffits, overhangs, etc. maintained & securely fastened
- Exterior stairs, decks, porches, etc. maintained & structurally sound
- Chimneys are structurally safe & in good repair
- Handrails & guards fastened & in good repair
- All window & door frames are weather tight
- All glazing free from cracks & holes
- All windows are easily openable & remain open
- Insect screens provided & in good repair for all windows from March to October.
- Doors & locks maintained & operable
- Basement hatchways (bulkhead enclosures) maintained weather & rodent tight
- Basement windows protected against rodents
Emergency Escape Openings:
- Maintained based on the building code in effect at the time of construction. In some cases, though, DCRA can require an owner to bring items up to current code (Example: increasing the size of an egress window).
- Operational without the use of keys or tools
- If a window is to be used as a method of emergency escape, the window opening must be at least 5.7 square feet, that is, at least 20 inches wide by 24 inches high, with an opening no higher than 44 inches from the floor.
- If bars, grills & grates are present, they must be releasable/removable from inside without key, tool, or force greater than that of opening the window.
Fire-Resistance Ratings [IPMC 703]
- Fire-resistance-rated walls, fire stops, shaft enclosures, partitions & floors are maintained.
- The integrity of fire-resistance rating at unit separation walls, rated access corridors, stair enclosures, generator rooms, hoistways, and vertical shafts shall be maintained. No gaps at the top & bottom of fire partitions, separation walls, and other assemblies. No voids, unprotected openings, or unsealed penetration in any rated floor/ceiling or wall assembly (DCMR 12).
- Opening protectives are maintained & operable.
- Fire & smoke barrier doors are not blocked or inoperable.
Fire Protection Systems [IPMC 704]
- A fire extinguisher should be conspicuously posted within the unit. For example, inside the kitchen and mounted to a wall is one ideal scenario. The extinguisher cannot be hidden, such as in a closet or cabinet. SUGGESTION: Consider buying a single-use fire extinguisher rated for a home. These types typically have an expiration date that is 3-5 years away if it is purchased as a new extinguisher. This is different from a rechargeable fire extinguisher, which you must have serviced annually.
- All fire detection, alarm & suppression devices are maintained & operable.
- Smoke alarms are located in the vicinity of kitchens, outside of bedrooms, and in each bedroom. In addition, there should be a smoke detector on each floor of the property in the common area, even if there is no kitchen or bedroom. Smoke detectors cannot be within 36" of the outermost point of a ceiling fan blade or within 36" of an air flow vent (supply or return).
- If there are fuel-burning appliances or fireplaces, carbon monoxide detectors must be present on each floor of the property in the common areas and in the vicinity of the fuel-burning appliance(s) and/or fireplace(s). Carbon Monoxide detectors cannot be within 36" of the outermost point of a ceiling fan blade or within 36" of an air flow vent (supply or return).
- Alarms are hardwired & interconnected in new construction and in substantial renovations. In existing construction, battery-operated detectors are usually permitted by the inspectors.
- Combination smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are usually permitted by inspectors.
- If required for the building type, fire alarm boxes (pull stations) shall remain operational and unobstructed (DCMR 12).
- Unit doors equipped with deadbolt
- Locks to open without keys or special knowledge
- Windows within 6 ft of grade are lockable
- Basement hatchways secured against entry
Stairs [DCMR 12]
- Stair treads in sound condition and not less than min. width
- Stair risers not exceeding max. heights and within variation limits on a single flight
Handrails & Guardrails [IPMC 306]
- Handrails on all flights of stairs having more than four risers
- Min. 30 inches, max. 42 inches above the nosing
- Guardrails on open sides of stairs, landings, ramps, decks, etc. more than 30 inches above floor or grade below
- Min. 30 inches high with intermediate rails
Interior Structure [IPMC 305]
- Maintained in clean & sanitary condition
- Structural support maintained & adequately sized
- Interior surfaces maintained in good condition
- Stairs, walking surfaces in sound condition
- Handrails & guards fastened & in good repair
- Doors fit well, open & close as intended
Rubbish & Garbage [IPMC 307]
- Free from the accumulation of rubbish & garbage
- Rubbish & garbage placed in approved containers
- Owner provides leakproof, covered, outside garbage containers
- Doors removed on abandoned, stored refrigerators
Extermination [IPMC 308]
- All structures free from insect & rodent infestation (Extermination not to be hazardous to human health, precautions taken against re-infestation)
Light [IPMC 402]
- Each habitable space has at least one window.
- Glazing shall be min. 8% of total floor area.
- Other spaces have adequate lighting.
- Multi-unit Dwellings (more than 2 units): adequate light on common halls & stairs min. 60 watt per 200 sq ft, max. 30 ft between.
Ventilation [IPMC 403]
- Min. one openable window in every habitable space
- Total openable area to be min. 45% of required glazing (see above)
- Window or mechanical ventilation in every bathroom & toilet room
- Exhaust vents where fumes, gases, etc. produced
- Clothes dryers are exhausted to the exterior unless they are non-venting. You cannot vent to a lint trap box. This is not permissible per fire code regulations.
Required Facilities [IPMC 502]
- Each unit has a bathtub or shower, lavatory, toilet & kitchen sink.
- No bathroom can be used as a passageway.
Toilet Rooms [IPMC 503]
- All bathrooms have a lockable door.
Plumbing Systems & Fixtures [IPMC 504]
- Fixtures are properly installed & maintained.
- Fixtures have adequate clearance.
- No hazards in the plumbing system to occupants or structure. Hazards may include but not be limited to: undersized piping, inadequate venting, cross-connections, lack of backflow prevention, damaged or worn piping or fixtures, inadequate support, and inadequate water pressure or volume.
Water System [IPMC 505]
- Sinks, laundry facilities, bathtubs & showers have hot & cold running water.
- All water inlets are located above the flood-level rim of fixtures.
- Hose bibs & faucets with permanently attached hoses have vacuum breakers.
- Adequate combustion air in small rooms
- Temp. & pressure-relief valve & discharge pipe
- Electrical & gas lines properly installed
- Accessible gas shut-off valve
- Approved vent/chimney; approved material in good condition; adequate slope, clearance & support
Sanitary Drainage System [IPMC 506]
- All fixtures properly connected to the sewer system
- Every stack, vent, waste & sewer line is in good condition
- Sanitary drainage system free of leaks, approved materials, correct slope, free of “patching”
- Fixture vents provided & maintained
- Each fixture has a trap
- Adequate support on all piping
Storm Drainage [IPMC 507]
- Drainage of roofs & paved areas does not cause a public nuisance.
- Stormwater is discharged away from structures.
Heating Facilities [IPMC 602]
- Heating facilities capable of maintaining 68°F in all habitable rooms, bathrooms & toilet rooms (Measured 3 ft above the floor, min. 2 ft from wall)
- Portable heaters, gas-fired type, strictly prohibited (DCMR 12)
- If A/C is provided, it is able to yield a temperature of 78 degrees or at least 15 degrees cooler than the outside temp.
Mechanical Equipment [IPMC 603]
- All equipment properly installed & maintained
- All fuel-burning equipment connected to approved chimney or vent
- Clearances to combustibles maintained
- Safety controls maintained in effective operation
- Combustion & ventilation air provided in the space containing fuel-burning equipment
- Energy conservation devices installed are labeled & approved
Electrical Facilities [IPMC 604]
- Min. 60-amp service with proper fusing & overcurrent protection
- No hazards in the electrical system to occupants or structure. Hazards may include but not be limited to: insufficient receptacle distribution, lack of sufficient lighting, damaged or worn wiring, improperly installed wiring, lack of grounding, inadequate support, exposed conductors, missing cover plates, excessive use of extension cords, overloaded receptacle or circuitry, lack of Ground Fault Interruptor Circuit (GFCI) protection.
- Must have GFCI outlets when there is an outlet within 6 feet of a water source.
Electrical Equipment [IPMC 605]
- All equipment properly installed & maintained
- Min. 1 lighting fixture in every hall, stairway, toilet room, bathroom, kitchen, laundry & mechanical room
- Every habitable space has min. of 2 (separated) receptacles.
- Laundry outlet to be grounded and/or GFCI
- Every bathroom has min. 1 receptacle (New receptacles to be GFCI protected).
Means of Egress [IPMC 702]
- Safe, continuous & unobstructed path to the public way
- Egress doors do not need keys, special knowledge, or effort to unlock from the inside.
- Exit signs shall be visible and remain illuminated at all times (DCMR 12). (Not required for single-family and two-family homes.)
- Exiting through another dwelling unit or bathroom is strictly prohibited (DCMR 12).
- Gas grills prohibited from roof terraces or combustible balconies within 10’ of combustible construction (DCMR 12)
- Water Heating Facilities (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (12 DCMR §PM-505.5)
- Central Heating System (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §501.10)
- Air Conditioning (inspect between September 1 and May1) (1+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §510.2)
All requirements must be met prior to receiving a business license. Failure to meet all requirements within forty-five (45) days from the date of the application may result in your application for a Basic Business License being denied, and the forfeiture of all fees paid. RentJiffy cannot guarantee which of the preceding Building Code requirements an inspector will focus on and/or identify as a failed item. Again, RentJiffy suggests you speak with your own advisors prior to the inspection. Once you have their advice or counsel, you’ll be able to address or repair any housing components in order to meet the Building Code and pass inspection the first time it occurs.
NOTE: Failed items are also subject to the issuance of a notice of violation.
Date last updated: August 6, 2021