Q: What counts as “official notice” of a rent increase? Does it have to be in writing and sent through the mail? Does an email count?

A: If the unit is under rent control, the Rental Housing Act of 1985 and regulations set forth the requirements for rent increase notices. They include certain pre-conditions for a rent increase, certain content requirements for the notice itself, and certain requirements for service of the notice to the tenant.

Preconditions: The rent increase cannot violate the terms of the lease, and at least 12 months must have elapsed since the last rent increase. The housing accommodation must be properly registered with the Rent Administrator’s office at the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development. The landlord and the manager, if the manager is someone other than the landlord, must be properly licensed and registered. The rental unit and the housing accommodation’s common elements must be in substantial compliance with the housing code.

Content: The notice must be in writing and it must be provided to the tenant at least 30 days prior to the effective date of the increase. It must state the amount of the rent adjustment; the new rent amount; the effective date of the new rent amount; and the basis for the rent increase as filed by the landlord at the Rent Administrator’s office. It must also certify compliance with the housing code (or that any noncompliance is the result of tenant neglect or misconduct). Also, it must include a summary of tenant rights under the rent control law, and a list of sources of technical assistance as published by the Rent Administrator’s office.

Service: For rental units under rent control, an email is not a valid way to notify tenants of a rent increase. The only permitted methods of service are: personal delivery, prepaid telegram or U.S. mail.

Non-rent-controlled units: Of course, these and other rent control rules do not apply to non-rent-controlled units (although tenants who live in non-rent-controlled units do enjoy virtually all other tenant protections under District law). Thus, generally speaking, the only legal protection such tenants have regarding rent increase notices is the lease — to the extent that the lease may contain relevant terms. Standard leases in the District generally do ensure that the tenant will receive at least 30 days’ written notice of any rent increase.

Contact OTA if you have concerns about a rent increase or notice of one.

About the Advocate

The D.C. Office of the Tenant Advocate is an independent agency of the District government providing legal assistance, policy advocacy, 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.