Burleith Landlords: Are you legal? Get licensed and get inspected.

DCRA recently received a comprehensive list of 134 properties from a coalition of Burleith neighborhood groups who spent nearly two months of walking the neighborhood and verifying data using our online PIVS application to identify what they believe are illegal rentals.

We have sent letters to each of the property owners identified on the list asking them to please respond. If you received a letter and are not currently renting your property, we apologize for the inconvenience and please respond to discuss why you may have ended up on the list and get your property off our list. If you are renting your property, please contact us immediately and we can assist you in getting your property licensed and, most importantly, inspected. We will not assess fines if you voluntarily come in and begin the licensing and inspection process.

You can contact also us via email (bbl.infocenter@dc.gov) or by calling 202-442-4311.

If we do not hear from the property owners within the period stated in the letters – 15 business days from when it was mailed – DCRA will be sending investigators to your property and you could face thousands in fines if you are indeed operating an unlicensed and uninspected rental property. One of our top priorities is to ensure rentals are safe for tenants, neighbors and the neighborhood. And if you’re a student, please discuss the licensing and inspection issues with your landlord.

DCRA heading to American University at 10 am. See us at main quad. #TSBI

DCRA Heading to American University

DCRA’s outreach team is heading to American University to talk to students living off-campus about safety issues and those living off-campus about what to look for when they decide to leave the dorms. We are now in our 3rd year of this program and we appreciate all of the questions, comments, emails and phone calls. Our goal is to ensure all off-campus student housing is safe. It’s simple. So please, if you suspect your rental has issues, talk to your landlord and if they’re not responsive, call us. We have a ton of information above that can help you. Thanks again.

– Mike, DCRA

And follow us on Twitter if that’s your thing.

Landlords: Spaceheaters Cannot be Only Source of Heat in DC

The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has received several calls from residents over the past week asking if it is legal for landlords to provide space heaters as the only source of heat. While using space heaters in and of itself is obviously not illegal, the District does not allow them to be the sole source of heat – they were not designed to be.

Without too much code/legal jargon, DCRA interprets the 2006 International Property Maintenance Code and 14 DC MR code is that when the space heater is turned off, the building heating facilities must maintain the minimum prescriptive temperature 68 degrees or 70 degrees. (IPMC 68 degrees F, 14 DCMR 501.2, 70 Degrees F). Here’s the code:

HEATING FACILITIES
602.1 Facilities required. Heating facilities shall be provided in structures as required by this section.602.2 Residential occupancies. Dwellings shall be provided with heating facilities capable of maintaining a room temperature of 68°F (20°C) in all habitable rooms, bathrooms and toilet rooms based on the winter outdoor design temperature for the locality indicated in AppendixD of the International Plumbing Code. Cooking appliances shall not be used to provide space heating to meet the requirements of this section.

Space heaters are not designed, per their listing, to be capable of maintaining room temperature in a dwelling. Space heaters are not to be confused with permanent wall mounted electric baseboard heating, when installed with a thermostat, and according to code, is accepted means of heat. So essentially, using a space heater to be the main source of heat is not that much different than using your stove in terms of how we enforce the law.

Many municipalities outright amend their codes to state “Space heaters shall not provide the minimum heat requirements in a dwelling…”. We rely on the interpretation of heating facilities, and that space heaters are not designed to heat an entire dwelling unit.

If you live in a rental unit using only space heaters this winter, we highly reccomend you contact your landlord and explain this to them. If they are not responsive, call 202-442-9557 or email us and schedule an inspection ASAP. 

Here are some other Winter Heating Safety Tips:

Electric Space Heaters
Keep space heaters 3 feet form furniture, bedding, clothing, walls or other things that burn. Use only heaters that have been tested and approved by U.L. or another respected testing lab. Make sure your space heater has an automatic shut-off feature for tip-overs. Do not use heaters that have worn or frayed cords or plugs. Use electrical outlets conservatively. Remember that overloaded circuits can cause fires. Never use kerosene heaters inside a house.

Fireplace & Woodstoves
Have your chimney inspected by a professional annually and have it cleaned as needed. Always use a fire screen. Spark arresters are required. Never leave children unattended around a fireplace or woodstove. Be sure the fore is out before going to bed or away from the house. Never burn trash, Christmas paper or trees in your fireplace or woodstove. When cleaning out the ashes, place them into metal containers only, and dampen slightly. Never store discarded ashes inside or adjacent your home. Woodstoves require a 36″ clearance form combustible surfaces. Woodstoves should be U.L. approved and installed pursuant to all applicable codes.

Electric Blankets
Follow manufacture guidelines regarding proper use, maintenance and replacement. Never leave the blanket on high for any exceeded period. Never bunch or wad the blanket up, or fold it in a heap. Turning you blanket off when you turn your alarm off is a simple, safe habit. Upon rising, smooth the blanket out flat to avoid concentrating the heat. Small children, invalids or the elderly should never use electric blankets because these persons have decreased abilities to sense high heat.

Kitchen Stoves & Ovens
Never use kitchen burners or the oven as heating devices. Remember that an electric burner, left on for extended periods, can reach a temperature of 1000 degrees, and can cause adjacent walls to ignite.

Tips Courtesy of Pierce Township, Ohio.

Turn Up the Heat!

Icicle

Students, today is the day when most landlords and buiding engineers across the District officially turn on heating systems in buildings that don’t allow tenants to control their own thermostats.  There isn’t a law that says landlords have to officially turn on the heat, but there is a law about how warm your building must be kept, at a minimum.  Heat must be kept at a temperature of at least sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (68° F) between 6:30 am and 11 pm.  Between 11 pm and 6:30 am, a building’s heat must be kept at a minimum temperature of sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit (65° F).

If you wake up with icicles hanging off your nose one morning in the coming days, there’s a good chance your building isn’t 65 or 68 degrees.  So, if you’ve contacted your landlord a call and you can’t seem to get any results, give us a call or reach out to us using one of the methods listed here at our site (Twitter, Facebook or email) and we’ll do what we can to help.

Safety Outreach: One Campus at a Time

This Should Be Illegal

Yesterday, we headed over to Howard University–well, one of the sidewalks near Howard University–in order to pass out information to the students who live off-campus.  We didn’t want to cause any problems for ourselves by doing something crazy like visiting the campus without an invitation and using washable spray chalk to give students information.  Who’d do a thing like that?!

So, we visited the campus and passed out information from the public space about This Should Be Illegal to students so that they could be aware of the services that the Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs offers to District residents.  We hope to soon be invited again to an official campus event at Howard U so that we can reach out to even more students.

We made a beeline over to Catholic University’s campus to see if we could find a good public space area to reach out to students, but we were unable to find a good flow of foot traffic there.  So, Catholic U, we are still waiting for that invitation to come out and give your students this valuable information!

Also, not to be missed are photos from the kickoff of National Campus Fire Safety Month, which we participated in on Capitol Hill last week.  The event was well-attended and at times, quite emotional as the mother of a student killed in an off-campus fire told her story.

If your campus is having an event that you think we’d be a good fit for, feel free to contact us using one of the various methods mentioned here at This Should Be Illegal.  Have a great weekend and be safe!

DCRA at American University

American U. Wellness Fair

This past Thursday, DCRA’s “This Should Be Illegal” team packed up the van and headed to American University for a little quality time with the students there.  We took part in the university’s annual Wellness Fair and it was really nice.  The folks at AU kind of had to work a little harder than usual to justify our presence, but after we discussed it, they decided that we were a perfect fit.  There are some issues with crappy apartments or other rental housing that could in fact be a matter of life and death.  So, there you have it.

We were very happy to meet several students from AU, giving them information about our services, and we look forward to heading to your college or university next!  If you are having an event soon and you’d like for us to come out, give us a shout on Twitter @dcra or email myself shana.kemp (at) dc (dot) gov or Michael Rupert michael.rupert (at) dc (dot) gov and we’ll be more than happy to stop by!  Sometimes, students feel more comfortable making a formal complaint or getting answers to their questions through one on one interaction, instead of over the phone.

Lots of Questions on DC Security Deposit Regulations. DCRA Has Answers.

It’s been about three weeks since a lot of students in DC moved from their summer apartments and houses and into their school year place. So the big question we’re receiving lately is: Where is my money?

Under DC law, landlords have up to 45 days from the date the lease ended to either return the security deposit or provide an itemized list of repairs/deductions that were made from the deposit. Having trouble getting your money back? Show them the law. And we’re pasting it below. Notice that if landlords do not make a “good faith” effort and fail to meet the regulation’s timeline, you are entitled to the entire security deposit back. DCRA doesn’t handle disputes between landlords and tenants on security deposit issues, but if you are having problems you should immediately contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate and let them know. They can help.

309 REPAYMENT OF SECURITY DEPOSITS TO TENANTS

309.1 Within forty-five (45) days after the termination of the tenancy, the owner shall do one of the following:
(a) Tender payment to the tenant, without demand, any security deposit and any similar payment paid by the tenant as a condition of tenancy in addition to the stipulated rent, and any interest due the tenant on that deposit or payment as provided in § 311; or
(b) Notify the tenant in writing, to be delivered to the tenant personally or by certified mail at the tenant’s last known address, of the owner’s intention to withhold and apply the monies toward defraying the cost of expenses properly incurred under the terms and conditions of the security deposit agreement.

309.2 The owner, within thirty (30) days after notification to the tenant pursuant to the requirement of § 309.1(b), shall tender a refund of the balance of the deposit or payment, including interest not used to defray such expenses, and at the same time give the tenant an itemized statement of the repairs and other uses to which the monies were applied and the cost of each repair or other use.

309.3 Failure by the owner to comply with § 309.1 and § 309.2 of this section shall constitute prima facie evidence that the tenant is entitled to full return, including interest as provided in § 311, of any deposit or other payment made by the tenant as security for performance of his or her obligations or as a condition of tenancy, in addition to the stipulated rent.

309.4 Failure by the owner to serve the tenant personally or by certified mail, after good faith effort to do so, shall not constitute a failure by the owner to comply with § 309.1 and

309.5 Any housing provider violating the provisions of this chapter by failing to return a security deposit rightfully owed to a tenant in accordance with the requirements of this chapter shall be liable for the amount of the deposit withheld, or in the event of bad faith, for treble that amount.

309.6 For the purposes of § 309.5, the term “bad faith” means any frivolous or unfounded refusal to return a security deposit, as required by law, that is motivated by a fraudulent, deceptive, misleading, dishonest, or unreasonably self-serving purpose and not by simple negligence, bad judgement, or an honest belief in the course of action taken.

DCRA: Coming to a Campus Near You

DCRA rep at Howard University, October 2008
DCRA rep at Howard University, October 2008

At this point, across the District, school is back in session.  By now, students are all settled in to their new apartments, fresh new towels and washclothes hanging on their bathroom racks.  Plush new rugs tossed onto floors with still creased from the package sheets fitted onto mattresses– adorned by vibrant new comforters.  But, are those landlords licensed!!!?  DCRA is going to help you make sure.

Yesterday, we headed to the Georgetown University’s campus for their Resource Fair and tomorrow, we’ll be paying a visit to the University of the District of Columbia’s campus.  We’ll be passing out information and answering any questions that students may have about their rental housing or landlords.  In the coming weeks, we hope to make it, at least once, to each of the campuses here in the District because this is vital information.

If you are renting a place from an unlicensed landlord, you could be putting yourself at grave risk.  Saving your life is more important than saving a few dollars.  Remember that.  While  you are here, check out the many resources offered at thisshouldbeillegal.com and tell your friends.

The first few weeks back at school can be exciting and overwhelming at the same time.  If  you are already dealing with off-campus housing woes, check to see if it’s something that we can help you with before you lose your cool.  And, if your college or university is having an event and you’d like for us to come out and hand out information and give your students a chance to ask questions with us, face to face, contact us using one of the methods in the “Contact Us” tab on the right side of the page.

There Are Rules Off-Campus Too

Moving Tools

Many of the schools here in the District will be welcoming students back over the next two weeks, so let us be among the many to say, welcome!  Those of you living off-campus have gotten an extra special welcome with an article in today’s Washington Post: Rules Trail Raucous Students Off-Campus.

Certainly, not all of  you living off-campus are rowdy, beer guzzling party animals, but some of you do go a overboard.  Let’s be honest with one another.  What we need for you to remember here at DCRA is that there are rules that  you have to follow when you live in off-campus housing as well.  When you live off-campus, you are a District resident, so you have to abide by the same rules as everyone else living in the city–meaning, no ridiculous noise-levels and no trash and debris all over the grounds of your place–among other rules you’ll need to remember.

Make every attempt to be respectful to those living around you and who knows, maybe one of your neighbors will invite you over for a great homecooked meal like mom used to make……okay, maybe that’s not going to happen, but you can dream can’t you?

Crunch Time – DCRA Can Help if You’re Renting Last Minute

Chances are that if you don’t have an off-campus apartment in DC for this fall, you are scrambling, freaking out and willing to take just about anything near campus. You’re scouring Craigslist and other apartment listing services. These sites are great, but what they don’t do is filter. Anyone and everyone can post whatever they want without much recourse. You get what you get. This is crunch time and you might settle for something that is ugly. That’s fine. You might settle for something small. Chances are that’s fine too. But what you don’t want is something that’s unsafe.

Part of the reason the District of Columbia requires landlords to get licensed isn’t because we get just get a check – in fact, the licensing is not a money-raising venture for DCRA. The key reason is that for the license to be approved, the landlord needs to have an inspection of the property. Are there two exits in case there’s a fire? Is there smoke alarms? Does the plumbing leak? Here is a list of just the simple items we look for. You can print and take that list with you when you check out the place.

We know you’re in a rush to get into something. But please, please at least ask your landlord if he is licensed by DCRA. Or you can look up all licensed rental properties through our main Website here. There is a guide that shows you what type of rental license you need to be looking for. If your potential apartment isn’t listing, ask the landlord why. Ask him the last time it was inspected. Show him the checklist. This sounds annoying, we know. But you are going to sleep in someone’s house you don’t know and if he can’t answer simple questions, then how he will respond later. Just something to think about. Most of the landlords in DC are great and most have licenses from DCRA. Now is the time that those who just want to make a quick buck prey upon the thousands students who arrive every fall.

So look up the apartment and ask some questions. This will at least offer a little filtering of the places you’ll see online. If you have any questions, email us, tweet us or chat with us on Facebook. We’re here 24 hours a day to answer any questions or help give you some guidance on your search. Good luck. The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs can help.

And to those landlords who are not licensed. It’s not too late, you won’t be penalized and it is a simple and quick process. Here is a fact sheet. And you too can email ustweet us or chat with us on Facebook. We want students and all residents to be safe. We are inspecting all rental units in the District over the next few years so you might as well do the right thing and get licensed and inspected now and keep the students you’re renting safe. Keep your property safe.