Last year the District of Columbia City Council passed a bill requiring landlords to supply all tenants with a pamphlet, published by the Office of the Tenant Advocate, that explains basic DC landlord and tenant law. This pamphlet is known as the District of Columbia Tenant Bill of Rights. The law (§ 42-3502.22, Disclosure to Tenants) can be found here.
On April 3, 2015, the District of Columbia Tenant Bill of Rights was first published. The DC Register Tenant Bill of Rights can be found here. The requirements take effect 90 days after the April 3, 2015 publication. The Bill of Rights includes a signature line for the tenant to sign to confirm receipt.
The penalty for willful noncompliance with the disclosure requirements is severe. The law says, “The rent for any rental unit shall not be increased if the housing provider: (1) Willfully violates the provisions of this section; or (2) Fails to comply within 10 business days of written notice of any failure to comply with the provisions of this section.”
While the goal of this law is clear, from a DC real estate attorney’s prospective, this law raises many questions. The disclosures must be given to “prospective tenants.” Does that mean that ALL applicants need to be given the Tenant Bill Of Rights? Aren’t all applicants prospective tenants by definition? What if the chosen tenant signed the form, but not the applicants who were not chosen? Is it logistically feasible to have all applicants sign off on receipt of the Bill of Rights? Will a failure to have non-chosen applicants sign for receipt of the Bill of Rights invalidate future rent increases? If so, for how many years? Is there a statute of limitations? If the landlord cannot prove that each prospective tenant was given, and signed, the Bill Of Rights, are ALL future rent increases invalid? How does that affect future owners? How might this affect the sales price of a rental property? Will lenders want to see the signed Bills Of Rights for all prospective tenants before lending to new owners? What if the signed Bill of Rights is lost or damaged? What constitutes willful noncompliance?
The enactment of the DC Tenant Bill of Rights is yet another example of a seemingly simple law that may be the source of litigation for years to come.