Start Here: An Introduction

Thank you for considering to allow us to assist with you obtaining the required rental property license(s) for your property. Below are some of the most common questions that come up as someone starts the process.

Am I required to have a license to rent my property in D.C.? 

The answer here is yes, and it applies whether you are an individual or a business entity. The DC Municipal Regulations Title 14, Section 200.3, states, “No person shall operate a housing business in any premises in the District of Columbia without first receiving a basic business license for the premise by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.”

What is a housing business?
A housing business is any dwelling unit or rooming unit that is offered for rent or lease in a residential building. It also includes the rental of a room in a house that is occupied by the licensee (owner).
What are the consequences of not being licensed?

If you are found to be renting a property without a valid business license you can be fined as a Class 1 infaction which carries a $2000 penalty for a first time offense. If you continue to incur infractions, be aware that each subsequent infraction will be double the amount of the previous one, going up to $16,000 per infraction.

Additionally, when you are not licensed or your license isn’t valid, this can open up a lot of other problem areas where you can be penalized in court. For example, if you are a non-compliant landlord, a judge can find fault with you because you were collecting rent illegally. The judge can then reverse all rent back to the tenant, sometimes at 3x the amount paid. Another possible scenario: Your tenant(s) would not have to pay their rent, and you would not be able to evict them.

RentJiffy’s words of wisdom: Get a license and be compliant. If you have recently purchased a property that has tenants, D.C. will allow you 60 days to become a licensed landlord. 

I am renting my property and I already have tenants. But I am not yet licensed. Am I going to be fined?
No, not necessarily. In most cases the City believes in voluntary compliance, meaning that they do not penalize you if you are coming into compliance.
What license will I need?

The answer to your question depends on what type of rental scenario you have (or will have). If you will be renting the property for 31+ days at a time, you will need to obtain one of the following licenses depending on your property type:

  • One-Family Rental License: Properties consisting of 1 unit. Examples of this would be single-family homes, townhomes, individual condominiums and/or and cooperative units, and individual rooms (including individual rooms in a residential house that the licensee also occupies).
    Single-Family Home, Condo, Coop (One Family) Rental Overview
  • Two-Family Rental License: Properties consisting of 2 units. Examples of this would be properties with an English basement apartment, a converted basement apartment, or a carriage house in a single-family home where the main residence is occupied by the property owner or another tenant.
    Two-Family (2-Unit) Rental Overview
  • Apartment House License: Rental buildings with 3 or more dwelling units
    Apartment Building License Overview

If you will be renting the property on a short-term basis (30 days or less consecutively), you will need to obtain one or both of the following:

  • Short-Term Rental License: This is for paid lodging for transient guests, with the host present unless it is a vacation rental. 
    Short Term & Vacation Rental Overview
  • Vacation Rental License: This is for short-term rentals that operate within a host’s residential property. In this case, the transient guest has exclusive use of the host’s property during the transient guest’s stay, and the host is not present on the premises. With a vacation rental, the owner is permitted to rent the property for no more than 90 nights cumulatively in any calendar year. If the owner wants to rent the property for more than 90 nights, he or she must get an exemption.
    Short Term & Vacation Rental Overview

If you will be renting a combination of short-term and long-term, then you will need multiple licenses to cover each category you qualify for.

I have multiple properties. Can I put all of them on one license?
The answer here is no. Because each rental property has its own unique property tax identification number, each one is required to have a separate license. For example, if you own 3 condominium units, each with its own tax identification number, you are required to obtain 3 one-family rental licenses. (Don’t confuse this example with a townhouse that has a basement apartment; that property as a whole will have just one tax identification number, and because it is 2 units will require a two-family rental license.)
Do I need a Certificate of Occupancy?

Easy answer: It depends on which license category you require. There is only one license category that does not require a Certificate of Occupancy, and that is the One-Family Rental License.

All other license types require a Certificate of Occupancy to be issued to the owner of public record, who must use his/her name on the application in order for it to be valid.

What if I do not have a Certificate of Occupancy?
If you don’t already have one, you need to obtain one. But just because you think one does not exist, think again. It’s very possible that one could have been issued in the past. There can be exceptions. For example, the property you now own was converted into multiple units before your ownership, or it was owned by someone who is dead. That is why we tell you to always do a search first to see if a previous Certificate of Occupancy was issued. Need a Certificate of Occupancy search completed? Submit a request to us.
What if my property has never been issued a Certificate of Occupancy?
In this case, please review our guide How to Convert Your Property for Rental in Washington, D.C.
Can I transfer (change ownership of) a previously issued Certificate of Occupancy?
The answer is yes, provided the prior Certificate of Occupancy was issued to the same use as it presently is. Example: If a rowhouse with a separate basement apartment was issued a Certificate of Occupancy, and the COO stated correctly that the property use was a two-family flat, then you can initiate a change of ownership. But if the current property is now a 3-unit building, making it an apartment house, you would not have been able to initiate a change of ownership. The reason? The actual load (number of units) does not match the CO load, which makes the previous Certificate of Occupancy invalid.
How long does it take to get licensed?

The basic application for a single-family home, condo, or coop can take up to 30 days to be issued, but the timeframe usually depends on how long it takes to pass the required inspection of the premise and the complexity of your transaction. The timelines for licensing can differ depending on the property’s variables, which might include hold-ups such as:

  • The property does not pass inspection. If this occurs, there’s no knowing how long it will take to remedy the failed items noted in the inspection report, and then pass a re-inspection.
  • The property is owned by a business that is not registered in the District. 
  • The property requires a Certificate of Occupancy. It either does not have one, or it has a COO in a previous owner’s name. 

Since the timeline can vary with the requirements of each license type, we provide more in-depth information on this subject in the “Start Here” section of the Support Center. To view more information, click the primer for the type of property license you are looking for:

  • For a single-family home, condo or coop license, see here
  • For a 2-unit property, see here
  • For an apartment house license, see here
  • For a short-term rental license, Coming 1st Quarter 2022
  • For a vacation rental license, Coming 1st Quarter 2022
I had a home inspection when I purchased the property. Can I use that home inspection report to obtain my license?
The answer is no because the DC Government will not accept a report by a private home inspector. You are required to submit to and pass an inspection by a DC Government inspector. Note: the DC Government does not charge to conduct an initial inspection, but it will charge a fee if the property fails and requires a re-inspection.
What else do I need to know?

Take a look at the next steps based on the license type you will need:

One-Family Rental (single-family home, condo, or coop)

Two-Family Rental

Apartment House

Why does the District of Columbia license rentals, especially when Virginia and Maryland do not require licenses?
The rental license was, and still is, D.C.’s answer to the deadly fires in the late 1990s, which were caused by faulty electrical work and violation of the fire code in private housing around Georgetown. Many people were killed in multiple incidents. In all cases, people died in the fires because their house gates required keys to unlock deadbolts in order to exit, versus having a simple, latch-style lock. Also, smoke detectors may have been missing, or if they were installed, were faulty. In many cases, if an inspection had occurred, problems could have been detected and lives could have been saved. This tragic history convinced the then-City Council, along with the Mayor of D.C., to enact the license and inspection requirements.

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