Using an internet form lease is stupid in DC

A form lease makes a bad situation worse for DC landlords

If you are a landlord in DC, you are playing a rigged game. DC is one of, if not the most protective jurisdictions for tenants in the country. The regulatory scheme governing rental housing is a rats nest of esoteric rules, laws and practices, specifically designed to protect affordable housing stock at your expense. So why would you use a form lease that you just found, for free, on the internet?

Using an internet form lease in DC is one of the stupidest things that you can do as a landlord. What is the upside? You save a few hundred dollars by not having to pay for a compliant lease. The downside is potentially enormous in lost rent, fines and penalties.

5 terms that a form lease will likely not address

1. Waiver of notice to quit.  Before you can evict a tenant for violating the lease, D.C. law requires that you serve a 30 day notice to quit. However, a waiver is allowed in cases of non-payment of rent. If your lease doesn’t have a waiver, you might have to wait as long as 60 days before you can even file an eviction case in court.

2. Attorney’s Fees. Often, form leases say that the tenant must pay the landlord’s attorney’s fees if the landlord has to take the tenant to court. In DC these provisions are illegal and may not be in your lease.

3. Security Deposit.  DC has very specific rules about the collection, safeguarding, and return of security deposits. Form leases have security deposit provisions that are literally all over the map. Most, if not all, do not meet the requirements of D.C. Law.

4. Rent Control exemption. DC has rent control. Your property (yes you) is subject to rent control UNLESS you PERFECT an exemption. Part of perfecting the exemption is disclosing it in the lease. If you don’t, any rent increase is illegal and can have dire consequences.

5. Legal Disclosures. DC Law requires that Landlords make a number of disclosures in or with the lease, including a copy of parts of the law, the “Tenant Bill of Rights,” a publication from the Rent Administrator, a lead paint disclosure, and two (2) additional government forms. You won’t find any of these disclosures in a form lease, and failure to provide them can be an expensive mistake.

These are just a few examples of how a form lease can get you into trouble.  There are many more. If you are going to rent out a residential unit and believe that you need an “ounce of prevention,” contact me, or use the scheduling tool on my website site to make an appointment for the “lease-up package” service. If you prefer to roll the dice and give it a try on your own with a form lease, be prepared to pay for the “pound of cure” down the road.

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