Q: Is it fair for my management company to raise rent by more than 10 percent each year? Is there a limit to how much or how often the landlords can just raise it like that? And does the tenant have any recourse if they want to negotiate and the landlord flat-out just says, “No, we don’t negotiate”?

A: The very purpose of the District’s rent-stabilization law (commonly referred to as “rent control”) is to curtail unfair and unpredictable rent increases.  It is not just that such rent increases are unfair to the individual tenant.  Such rent increases generally erode the incomes of lower- and moderate-income renters and cause some to be displaced.  This, in turn, can destabilize neighborhoods, communities and critical parts of the District’s workforce.

Rent control does not apply to all rental units in the District.  The most common exemptions are (1) the “new construction” exemption for buildings built after 1975; (2) the “small landlord” exemption for units owned by natural persons who own no more than four rental units in the District; and (3) the “subsidized unit” exemption for units or buildings that are subject to a government subsidy.

Approximately 60 percent of rental units in the District fall under rent control.  For these units, the landlord may not raise the rent within 12 months of the previous rent increase.  The maximum standard rent increase is based on the regional consumer price index.  Each February, the D.C. Rental Housing Commission publishes the “rent-control CPI” for the next rent-control year, which begins May 1 and ends April 30.  Currently, the rent-control CPI is 2.2 percent.

For most tenants, the maximum standard rent increase is CPI plus 2 percent, but never more than 10 percent of the current rent charged.  For tenants who qualify as “elderly” —meaning age 62 or over — or as having a disability, the maximum standard rent increase is just the CPI, but never more than 5 percent.

In order to take larger rent increases (for capital improvements, increases in services and facilities, substantial rehabilitation, hardship or voluntary agreement), the landlord must file a “housing provider petition” with the rent administrator, and tenants may challenge the petition.  Similarly, the tenant may file a “tenant petition” to challenge any rent increase believed to be unlawful.

For units not under rent control, generally speaking, the only limitations on the frequency and amount of rent increases are those that may be written into the lease agreement.  This usually means that after the initial lease term expires, “anything goes.” It is a good idea for the tenant to try to negotiate rent increases with the landlord, but nothing in the law compels the landlord to do so.

Contact the rent administrator’s office at the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (202-442-9505) to check on the rent-control status of your unit.  Contact the D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate for more information about rent control or if you have questions about the legality of a rent increase.

About the Advocate

The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy and education and outreach services to District renters. Learn more and contact the agency at Ota.dc.gov or 202-719-6560. The office says it is the first tenant advocacy voice within any state or city government in the U.S.