8 Illegal Landlord Actions to Know Before You Rent

Table of Contents

The laws in D.C. make it illegal for landlords to take these actions against their tenants

Key Takeaways:

  • Federal, state, and local laws exist to protect renters and landlords
  • Many D.C. laws also affect landlords
  • Landlords have to follow certain rules about security deposits, rent changes, and other disclosures 
  • Breaking one of these laws can result in expensive fees and even jail time

There are federal and state laws in the United States to protect landlords and tenants. State laws vary and even fluctuate within counties and municipalities. Some landlords still try to profit through illegal actions despite the many statutes and regulations, purposely or accidentally.

An illegal action is any action against the law and can relate to contents of the lease and activities on the occupied property. This article discusses eight things a D.C. landlord can’t do. 

Why Landlords and Tenants Should Know the Laws

Landlords and tenants should equally inform themselves of the rental laws in D.C. These laws are in place to ensure the safety of both parties, and if everyone is familiar with them, the relationship is beneficial for both. Landlords want to run a profitable business, and tenants want a safe and comfortable place to call home. The only way this is possible is by following the laws. 

Compliance is also important to stay out of trouble. Doing something illegal regarding a rental property can cost a lot of money and could even lead to jail time.

Eight Illegal Landlord Actions to Know

Knowing the laws can help both parties, as mentioned above, and these laws can affect the financial transactions of renting property, as well. Read on to get to know some common Illegal landlord actions, including nonrefundable deposits and the rules regarding them.

1. Disclosures

Federal, state, and local laws require landlords to disclose specific issues, policies, or circumstances to tenants before they take residence. Some of the most important disclosures are:

  • Landlords must disclose anything not immediately visible that makes the unit unsafe or dangerous, including asbestos in the walls and faulty heaters 
  • Rent control ordinances must disclose the administrating board contact information
  • D.C. landlords must provide a copy of the Tenant Bill of Rights to all tenants once per year – tenants may also request a copy, and landlords must fulfill this request within 10 days
  • The smoking policy must be disclosed
  • Recent flooding issues or natural disaster damage also need to be shared
  • Landlords must tell renters if there are methamphetamine labs in or near the unit

Municipalities throughout each state can have their own more specific disclosure policies, so checking local statutes is imperative. 

2. Security Deposits

Landlords in Washington, D.C., need to follow specific rules related to security deposits. This includes timelines for returning the deposit to the tenant when they move out. Here is a short list of what landlords can’t do: 

  • Use the security deposit for something other than tenant damage repairs, such as general wear and tear 
  • Change terms and conditions related to the collection of the security deposit
  • Charge more than one month’s rent as a security deposit

It’s also worth noting that the security deposit must be returned within 45 after the tenant vacates the property. A landlord must also fully disclose any changes to the security deposit policy to all tenants in writing.

3. Acts of Discrimination

Any act that is discriminatory against a tenant is illegal. The Fair Housing Act typically governs these rules, and it’s worth familiarizing yourself with the protections. Discriminatory acts, however, typically include:

  • Barring people from renting based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other protected status
  • Excluding tenants because they are part of a protected group
  • Excluding couples with children 
  • Discriminating against anyone for having a disability
  • Landlords must allow service and emotional support animals into their units, even if there is a no-pet policy

Discrimination isn’t only excluding protected groups from renting. It can also manifest as banning them from community perks such as laundry or recreation privileges. Any treatment of one tenant that differs from how other tenants are treated could be considered discrimination.

4. Rent Changes

Landlords can’t legally make changes to the rent without advance written notice of more than 30 days. This includes:

  • Raising the amount of rent
  • Demanding retroactive rent
  • Raising rent more than 2% over the Consumer Price Index

D.C. law states landlords must give tenants 30-day written notice to provide an opportunity to delegate additional rent money or move to a more suitable unit. 

5. Entering Dwelling Without Permission

Landlords may not enter a tenant’s unit for a nonemergency without explicit permission. There must be advance notice and a severe reason anytime a landlord wants to enter the premises. Only life-threatening or dangerous situations warrant unlawful entry in most circumstances.

6. Disregarding Essential Repairs

Federal law dictates that tenants have a right to a safe home. If the unit needs repair to make it a safe place to live, the landlord is required to provide it. They can’t deny the request or force a tenant to take responsibility. 

7. Constructive Eviction

It is illegal for a landlord to use constructive eviction, such as shutting off utilities or locking tenants out of the property, to get renters to leave. State law forbids landlords from shutting off any utilities for any reason other than to make emergency repairs. Landlords can schedule all other maintenance with the tenant before entering the home. 

8. Failing to Pass Necessary Inspections

Rental homes must pass several inspections and have a certificate of occupancy before the landlord may rent them out. Renting or allowing people to live in them violates state and federal law. The home and property must also pass specific health and safety inspections for water and electricity.

Most landlords in Washington, D.C., will work to find a resolution to most problems without the expense of court. A bad apple pops up every now and again, however. That’s why tenant-landlord laws exist. Knowing what is and isn’t allowed as a landlord can also help remove ambiguity and prevent issues.

We’re Here to Help You Navigate Landlord-Tenant Laws

Becoming a landlord is one of the most exciting and rewarding career choices you can make. Nomadic Real Estate provides property management services in the Greater Washington, D.C., area. Our team knows how to identify common mistakes before they happen and will use our experience to help ensure you have stress-free renters. Contact Nomadic Real Estate for more information on your property management needs. 

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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:

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Enhanced Rent Roll Report:

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Unit Comparison Report:

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Income Statement Month-Over-Month:

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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). 

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The Documents area contains monthly financial statements:

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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:

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You can reply in-line using the comment box:

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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.