Why the Fair Housing Laws in Washington, D.C. Are the Strongest in the Nation

Table of Contents

Washington, D.C. is infamous for having a permanent housing shortage, an issue which begets inordinately high rents. The median rent in Georgetown is $3,400, for example, which is downright reasonable compared to that for Woodley Park (which comes in at a whopping $4,490 per month). These numbers include all rental properties, which means they do factor in larger homes in Northwest D.C. if you want to put these numbers in perspective.

With figures like these, you might think that landlords hold all the power in the landlord/tenant relationship and that tenants have few rights. In fact, the opposite is true: The District even has some of the most comprehensive fair housing laws in the United States.

Fair Housing Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act

Prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status (presence of kids under 18 in a household).

The D.C. Human Rights Act of 1977 expanded protections for the following characteristics and categories:

  • Personal appearance
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Family responsibilities
  • Political affiliation
  • Matriculation
  • Source of income
  • Place of residence or business
  • Status as a victim of an intra-family offense

Tenant Bill of Rights

The D.C. Office Of The Tenant Advocate went even further in codifying tenant rights, enacting the D.C. Tenant Bill of Rights in 2014. This legislation pulls out the really practical aspects of the standard lease and explains tenant rights and landlord responsibilities in simpler language.

The rights outlined apply to every tenant in the District, with the only exceptions being on the topic of rent control. These are some of the most important points of the Bill of Rights.

Lease

A lease does not have to be in writing. This surprises many tenants and landlords, but tenancy may be established by oral agreement. If the landlord does require a written lease, you must be provided with the lease, relevant addenda, and District housing regulations regarding landlord and tenant relations. 

Some lease clauses are prohibited, like a waiver of landlord liability for failing to maintain the property. The landlord is required by law to provide a safe and habitable residence, at his or her expense, and may not change the terms of the lease unless you agree — preferably in writing. You have the right to continue tenancy indefinitely on a month-to-month basis once your lease expires. The only change that can be made is a lawful rent increase.

Tenants are also entitled to receipts for any rents paid, unless they pay by check (and thus the cancelled check serves as the receipt). The receipt should confirm the purpose (rent), date of payment, and the balance due if it’s a partial payment (more common in times of COVID-19.)

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Security Deposit

Your security deposit is limited to one month’s rent. Your landlord must keep the deposit in an interest-bearing account, and you have the right to know where the money is kept and the prevailing interest rate. Your security deposit must be returned with interest within 45 days of your move out, and you must be notified in writing within 30 days if any of your deposit was used to defray repair costs. 

Disclosure of Information

This primarily refers to rent controls and rent increases, although pertinent information regarding the lease (rent, application fee, security deposit, housing code violations, and any mold and remediation within the past three years) is also included. If there is a petition to increase rent, surcharges on the rent, the expiration date, and the rent control or exempt status of the dwelling are all part of the Disclosure. The Tenant Bill of Rights falls into the Disclosure category, too. 

Discrimination

Discrimination is prohibited across the board in Washington, D.C., but it can be insidious and difficult to prove.  Discrimination can be either perceived or actual, and takes many forms. Some landlords engage in discriminatory behavior before or after a tenant has taken residence by:

  • Refusing to rent
  • Renting on unfavorable terms, conditions, or privileges
  • Creating a hostile living environment
  • Refusing to make reasonable accommodations to give a person an equal opportunity to use and enjoy the premises. 

Social Media Discrimination

Technology provides a screen for discrimination through social media algorithms. It is illegal to post discriminatory housing notices anywhere, but monitoring the internet is a particular challenge. Craigslist has addressed that issue head-on by publishing Fair Housing Act notices on its website, but it is not the worst offender.

That distinction goes to social media outlets, whose algorithms let users discriminate with no repercussions. Facebook is the worst offender, as it discriminates by NOT showing some real estate listings to users who don’t meet its algorithmic metrics.

Fair Housing Laws In Washington, D.C. Are The Strongest In The Nation

This means that thousands of D.C. residents aren’t seeing all their housing opportunities if they use Facebook as a resource. The National Fair Housing Alliance filed a lawsuit against Facebook in a New York City federal court in March of this year to try to remedy this issue. 

Source of Income Discrimination

Fair housing laws in Washington, D.C. are very clear that residents with housing vouchers are not to be discriminated against on the basis of income. Some landlords do not want to lease to households using vouchers and put up income barriers to approval that they would not otherwise. The standard rent-to-income ratio for tenant approval is that household income must be at least three times the rent. D.C. rules stipulate that landlords count vouchers as regular income so prospective tenants can qualify for housing: Housing voucher recipients pay 30% of their incomes toward rent and their vouchers pay the balance.

If you suspect a rental company has turned you down for housing because of income, you have the right to file a complaint with the D.C. Housing Authority. 

Eviction

A landlord can evict a tenant for one of 10 reasons outlined in the Rental Housing Act of 1985. You cannot be evicted because your lease has expired, or because the property has been foreclosed on or sold. Even if you have been a less-than-ideal tenant and the landlord has a valid reason for eviction, he or she cannot force you out by making your life miserable, changing the locks, cutting off utilities, or using other “self-help” methods. An eviction must go through the judicial process, and you must be given the chance to cure the lease violation. Finally, any eviction must be pursuant to a court order. 

Navigating Fair Housing Laws

Washington, D.C. residents enjoy some of the strongest tenant protections in the country, but the rules are complicated. Even the friendliest regulations can seem daunting if you have an issue with your landlord. Renting through an established property management company ensures your rights are protected and you have an advocate should you have a problem pertaining to your tenancy. 

Alternatively, if you are looking for a place to rent, check out our DC rentals.

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Enhanced Reporting

Your portal includes a selection of extremely useful reports. Reports are available in the “Reports” section, and are distinct from the financial statements. Unlike financial statements which are static records, Reports are dynamic real-time records that will update with current data every time you view them. 

Scroll down to learn more about Reports:

Navigate to the "Reports" module in your portal:

  • Keep in mind, these reports are dynamic records. They will refresh to display current information every time you view them. 

Enhanced Rent Roll Report:

  • The Enhanced Rent Roll Report will show the rent amount, last payment date, move-in date, lease expiration date, and security deposit amount for each of your tenants. 
  • It will also show a portfolio summary with occupancy percentage, vacancy loss, and more!

Unit Comparison Report:

  • If you own multiple units (or buildings) with Nomadic, you’ll get access to the Unit Comparison Report. 
  • This report enables you to quickly compare financial performance between your units at a glance without toggling between individual reports. 

Income Statement Month-Over-Month:

  • The Income Statement Detail – Monthly Report serves as a month-over-month record of portfolio performance. You’ll see itemized income and expense categories and can track monthly. This report will update with fresh data every time you view it. 

Financial Statements

Financial statements will be published to your portal on a monthly basis. The statements are found in your Documents library, and provide a historical record of all financial performance. The statements serve as a snapshot of financial performance over a given period, and are static documents (unlike Reports, the statements do not update/change in real-time). 

Scroll down for more info about the Financial Statements in your Documents library:

The Documents area contains monthly financial statements:

  • The statements in the Documents are are static documents. They are posted to the portal once a month to serve as a historical record of financial performance. 

Download a statement to see month and YTD financials:

You'll also find a month-over-month operating statement:

Portal Communication Tool

You can use your owner portal to communicate with our team. Any messages you send through the portal will go straight to your Account Manager. When we reply, you’ll get an email notification and you’ll also see the message in your portal next time you log in. 

Here’s an overview of using the communication platform:

Click "Communications" and navigate to "Conversations":

  • The communications module will contain a record of all messages that you create through the portal. 

Click the "New Message" button and send your message:

Responses will show up in the conversation ticket:

  • You’ll get an email notification whenever you get a response, and you’ll also see the message in your portal next time you log in. 

You can reply in-line using the comment box:

Each conversation will be logged in its entirety:

Understanding the Ledger

Your portal includes a ledger with all transactions. The ledger is populated with data in real-time as transactions flow through our accounting software. Much of this information is also available in the Reports area, as well as the Statements in your Documents library, but the ledger is the most comprehensive resource for diving into the details. 

Please scroll through the sections below to get a better understanding of how to interpret the ledger. 

By default, transactions are sorted chronologically:

  • The date reflected in the lefthand column is the actual transaction date, not the “bill date”. This is the date the transaction was actually processed. 

If you have multiple properties with Nomadic, you'll see the address for each transaction in the "Location" column:

  • You can filter the ledger to look at just one property, all properties, or specific sets of properties. 
  • If you only have one property with us, you’ll just see the ledger for that property. 

The Description column displays the transaction type:

  • BILL: this is an expense transaction, such as for repair costs or management fees.
  • CHARGE: this is a transaction  billed to the tenant, most typically a rent payment. 
  • NACHA EXPORT: this is a credit we processed to your distribution account. This type of transaction is how you get paid! 

The Amount column shows the dollar value of each transaction:

  • Positive Amounts: if an amount is positive, it reflects a transaction that is payable to you. Typically, this will be a rent payment that we collected from your tenants. On occasion, a positive number could also signify a journal entry or credit adjustment. 
  • Negative Amounts:  if an amount is negative, this is a transaction that is either payable to Nomadic or is an amount that has already been paid to you. Typically this will be for repair costs or management/leasing fees. Owner draws (net distributions into your checking/savings account) also reflect as negative amounts, since they have already been paid to you. 

The Account Balance column shows a sum of positive/negative transactions at a given point in time:

  • Account Balance should always equal zero after a net distribution has been processed. When the balance is zero, this means that all expenses have been paid and you’ve received the remainder as net operating income, leaving a balance of zero (meaning: no one is due any money, as all funds have been distributed appropriately). 

Navigating the Propertyware Owner Portal

Your portal includes some extremely useful features that help you understand your property’s financial performance at a new level, with real-time transparency into every transaction.

Scroll through the snapshots below for an overview of portal navigation! If you need more help or have specific questions about using the portal, you can reach out to your Account Manager any time for a screen share. 

You can filter all info by date range or property:

View a snapshot of income and expenses on your dashboard:

See every transaction in real-time on your ledger:

Statements and forms will be posted to your documents library:

View a suite of real-time financial reports:

See a running list of all bills, and drill down for more detail:

Under Bill Details, you'll find dates/descriptions/amounts and more:

You can also communicate with your Account Manager through the portal:

How do net distributions work?

Net distributions keep your accounting clean and simple. Each month we’ll collect rent from the tenants, deduct any repair expenses for the previous month and any management/leasing fees for the current month, and credit the remaining net operating income to your account. 

You’ll receive a statement via email each time a net distribution is processed, and can view all transaction details in your Propertyware owner portal.