Q: I have just bought a condominium apartment near Dupont Circle, and I plan to rent it out. I have been told that evicting tenants in the District is a very difficult process. What are the requirements for eviction?
A: When it enacted a comprehensive rent control law in 1977, the D.C. City Council also significantly changed the city's landlord-tenant law. For all practical purposes, a tenant has a life estate in real estate in the city.
If you own rental property, you may or may not be covered under the rent control portions of the Rental Housing Act. If you own four rental units or less, rent control is not applicable to you. You are free to set whatever rent the market will bear, but you must file an exemption form with the Rental Accommodations Office.
You are still bound by the eviction requirements in the act, even if you are outside the scope of rent control.
Oversimplified, there are a number of circumstances that permit a landlord to evict a tenant legally. Among the relevant grounds for eviction are:
Non-payment of rent.
Violation of an obligation of the tenancy that is not corrected within 30 days after notice from the landlord.
Performance of an illegal action -- determined by a court of law -- within the rental unit.
Landlords can also evict tenants when they seek in good faith to recover possession of their units for their own occupancy or when they contract in writing to sell the rental unit for the immediate and personal use and occupancy by another person.
Under this latter provision, however, your tenant has a right of first refusal. Thus, if you intend to sell your condominium to a third party, you must first offer it to your tenant.
Since it is difficult to evict a tenant, your first precaution as a landlord is to choose your tenant carefully. Before you sign a lease with a prospective tenant, you will, of course, check with the tenant's previous landlords and employers. You should make an effort to meet the tenant to have an opportunity to establish some rapport.
You should sign a lease. Check with the condominium association to determine whether it has any restrictions or prohibitions on leasing. Many condominium associations have developed their own form lease to be used by unit owners. Make sure the lease contains all provisions that are important to you as a landlord.
Most importantly, make sure the lease waives the 30-day "notice to quit" in the event your tenant defaults under any terms of the lease; otherwise, you cannot bring any action to evict your tenant until at least 30 days after such notice is properly served.
If your tenant does not pay rent, or if breaks any other term of the lease, you have the right to go to Landlord-Tenant Court -- a division of Superior Court -- and file a suit for possession. This is not an easy procedure, since the Landlord-Tenant Court is not a model of efficiency.
Furthermore, once you obtain a judgment for possession from the court, you must use the proper eviction procedures to get your tenant out of your property. Self-help is absolutely prohibited and may result in a lawsuit against you by your tenant.
The City Council is reviewing the Rental Housing Act, which includes rent control and the eviction regulations, because it expires in September. Hearings are scheduled this month.