Start your tenancy the right way.
Documenting Existing Conditions
After you rent your property and before you move in, you should conduct a walk-through inspection of your rental space. As you conduct your walk-through, you should document all existing damages and hazards and make a note of them in the lease. Both you and your landlord should sign and date all documents (such as your walk-through checklist) and add them to the lease agreement. A walk-through inspection is intended to protect you from being financially responsible for existing conditions that were present in the apartment/home before you moved in. Take a look at our walk-through checklist.
Take photos and keep records of things that need repair and when the repairs get made.
Basic Business License
In the District of Columbia, property owners who decide to rent an entire house, a basement unit, an apartment building, or simply a portion of their home are required to obtain a Basic Business License (BBL). This enables the District to ensure the property is safe to occupy and triggers an inspection by the D.C. Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the D.C. Fire Marshal.
If a property in the District is not legally licensed, there may not have been an inspection and unsafe conditions could exist in the rental unit. Only rent properties in D.C. that have a BBL. Although D.C. properties on our rental site are licensed, you should not assume that rental properties listed outside of the District are licensed.
DCRA has provided more information regarding the Property Inspection Guidelines for tenants and landlords.
Schedule a Free Home Inspection
If you learn that your landlord does not have the required BBL, you should schedule an inspection. If your landlord has a BBL, you may still schedule an inspection if you have a concern or complaint about a maintenance or safety issue in your rental property and it is not being addressed by your landlord in a satisfactory way. You do not need your landlord’s permission to schedule an inspection with the DCRA, and your landlord cannot retaliate against you for having an inspection requested or completed.
Other Things to Consider
- View the District’s Fire Safety Checklist
- Go to the National Fire Protection Association’s site to look through tips on evacuation plans, causes of fire, and safe equipment, and holiday tips on prevention of fire.
- Be sure to set up your utilities. Ask your landlord which companies services your property, and get them set up in a roommate’s name.
- Register to vote!
- Check that your mail is being forwarded to your new address (you can set this up online through the USPS website).
The Office of Neighborhood Life recommends all students purchase some form of renters insurance for their off-campus property. Renters insurance can protect your personal property in the event of theft or damage. Before you decide on a policy, however, you can check with your parent or guardian to find out whether you are covered under their insurance policy for an off-campus property.
Free Legal Information
Although ONL cannot give legal advice, our staff is available to meet with students to discuss problems they are having with their property or landlord. ONL can suggest helpful information regarding landlord-tenant issues and provide contact information to students in need of additional resources. Please reach out to us by email, phone, or stop by the office to discuss your concerns.