Tenant Rights Now that the Public Health Emergency Has Ended

Tenant Rights

**En español**

During the COVID-19 public health crisis, tenants across the District are facing tough decisions as rent and other bills are coming due in the midst of the resulting economic turmoil. OAG is working to protect District residents and help them understand their legal rights.

Below are some answers to common questions tenants have asked during this pandemic. For more information on your rights, tips, and warnings during COVID-19, visit oag.dc.gov/coronavirus.

Tenant FAQs During COVID-19

Mayor Bowser recently announced that the “public health emergency” ended on July 25, 2021. You can get up-to-date information on the COVID-related website Mayor Bowser set up at coronavirus.dc.gov. Note that we are still under a “public emergency” in the District of Columbia, but the end of the “public health emergency” signals the end being near for many protections for tenants.

My landlord filed an eviction complaint against me before March 11, 2020. What will happen with that complaint now that the public health emergency has ended?

For evictions that were already approved prior to March 11, 2020, beginning July 25, 2021, landlords may re-schedule those evictions with the U.S. Marshals. Note: The landlord is required to provide the tenant with a 30-day notice of a re-scheduled date for an eviction that was approved prior to March 11, 2020.

For court cases filed before March 11, 2020, the Court will mail you a notice with your new court date. You can check on your case online at https://eaccess.dccourts.gov/eaccess/home.page.2

You should attend your new court date, even if you are still behind on your rent, and consult with an attorney if possible. Call Landlord-Tenant Legal Assistance Network (LTLAN) at 202-780-2575 or the Office of the Tenant Advocate (202-719-6560) for legal assistance. You may have defenses or obtain emergency rental assistance to help you remain in your home.

What about filing new cases in Landlord and Tenant Court?

Except under limited health and safety exceptions (See B24-163, the Eviction Moratorium Public Safety Exception Emergency Amendment Act of 2021), landlords are prohibited from filing new eviction complaints and evicting any tenant during the public health emergency and for 60 days after the end of the emergency.  Starting October 12, 2021, landlords can file for eviction for nonpayment of rent if the past due rent is equal to more than $600 and any of the following applies:

  1. The tenant fails to submit an emergency rental assistance application (which can be applied for here) within 60 days of receiving a notice of past due rent;
  2. The tenant’s application for emergency rental assistance was denied, or the application was approved with a balance of equal to or greater than $600 remaining unpaid, and the tenant and housing provider have not established a rent payment plan within 14 days of the denial; or
  3. A tenant with a rent payment plan is at least $600 or 2 months behind on the terms of the payment plan, whichever is greater; and
  4. The landlord has provided a Notice to Vacate to the tenant that complies with the law.

Starting January 1, 2022, landlords can begin filing all other eviction cases.

What information does the Notice to Vacate for Non-Payment of Rent need to contain?

The Notice to Vacate needs to reference:

  1. The amount due;
  2. The attachment of a ledger showing the dates of rent charges and payments for the period of delinquency;
  3. The right to remain in the rental unit if the total balance of unpaid rent is paid in full or if you are current on a rent payment plan;
  4. That the housing provider has initiated an application to STAY DC for emergency rental assistance for any rent due after April 1, 2020, and that only the tenant or the tenant’s authorized representative can complete the tenant portion of the application;
  5. That if the ledger shows amounts due prior to April 2020, you should also seek assistance from other District emergency rental assistance programs, such as the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERAP”);
  6. That the tenant has 60 days, or until a specified date, to submit the tenant portion of any application(s) for emergency rental assistance;
  7. Information about STAY DC, including the upper income limits per household size for STAY DC eligibility;
  8. The circumstances under which the housing provider can file the eviction action;
  9. That the next notice will be a summons to appear in court;
  10.  That the tenant has the right to defend oneself in court, and that only a court can order a tenant’s eviction.
  11.  The contact information for legal representation: “For further help or to seek free legal services, contact the Office of the Tenant Advocate at 202-719-6560 or the Landlord Tenant Legal Assistance Network at 202-780-2575.”

Do I have to pay late fees for rent that came due during the public health emergency?

No. Landlords are prohibited from charging a late fee for any month that falls during the public health emergency. For months that fall before or after the public health emergency, your landlord otherwise will be able to impose late fees if your lease allows them and if you do not pay your rent within 5 days of the due date (or within a longer grace period indicated in your lease). The late fee cannot exceed 5% of your rent. If your rent is subsidized, your landlord can only impose a late fee on the rent portion you are responsible for.

How can I get help paying my rent?

If you cannot keep up with your rent, you should let your landlord know, so you can discuss a repayment plan, and try to pay the portion of rent you can pay. There are programs that can help you pay your rent. See Emergency Rental Assistance Program (“ERAP”) | dhs (dc.gov) and Stronger Together by Assisting You (“STAY DC”) | stay (dc.gov) for rental assistance information. STAY DC also offers utility assistance. To apply for STAY DC, go to stay.dc.gov or call 833-4STAYDC (833-478-2932). The STAY DC call center can also connect you to application help and refer you to ERAP and other District emergency rental-assistance programs.

Does my landlord have to allow me to enter into a rent payment plan?

Yes, if you can show that the public health emergency caused you direct or indirect financial hardship. The payment plan should cover all rent owed during the public health emergency and for one year after the end of the emergency, and fees that are part of your lease, e.g., amenity fees. Your landlord has to create an application procedure for rent payment plans and has to accept applications via telephone and online. You do not lose any of your rights as a tenant if you sign a payment agreement. By law, the repayment plans may not contain any waiver of the tenant’s rights under the lease or District of Columbia law. A tenant entering into a payment plan retains the right to contest the amount of rent due unless this is agreed to in writing by both parties.

Before signing a payment agreement, you should consult with an attorney if possible, including the Landlord-Tenant Legal Assistance Network (LTLAN[BJ(2] ) at 202-780-2575 or the Office of the Tenant Advocate (202-719-6560). You should not sign an agreement you cannot uphold. If your landlord wrongfully denies you a rent payment plan, you may file a complaint with the Rent Administrator at the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) at 202-442-9505. Select option #3 for RAD.

Was my landlord allowed to increase my rent during the public health emergency?

If you live in unsubsidized, private housing (rent-controlled or not), your landlord cannot increase your rent during the public health emergency. Your landlord cannot issue you a rent increase notice during the public health emergency, even if the rent increase would take place after the end of the emergency.

If you live in subsidized housing (e.g., public housing, housing voucher, etc.), your portion of the rent can increase during your income recertification period, as before the emergency. If your income has decreased, report the income decrease immediately to: the Housing Choice Voucher Program, by email at hcvpcovid19interim@dchousing.org or telephone at 202-535-1000; for public housing, by email at phcovid19interim@dchousing.org or call your property management office.  

Can my landlord increase my rent now that the public health emergency has ended?

No. Rent increases cannot occur until after December 31, 2021. Landlords must provide a minimum of a 30-day notice before a rent increase can occur, so higher rent cannot be charged until February 2022. Tenants whose rent is determined by DC Housing Authority or HUD, can experience rent increases during and after the public health emergency as long as the increase comes from Federal law requirements.

Was my landlord allowed to serve a Notice to Vacate on me during the public health emergency? 

No. A23-415, The “Eviction Notice Moratorium Emergency Amendment Act of 2020”, which became effective on October 14, 2020, prohibits a landlord from issuing a notice to vacate to a tenant during the public health emergency (“PHE”) and for 60 days thereafter.

I gave my landlord a Notice to Vacate before the public health emergency. Do I need to move?

No. All Notices to Vacate are delayed until after the public health emergency ends, plus the same number of days as you had before the emergency was declared on March 11, 2020. The Notice to Vacate is then in effect the first day of the month after the Notice expires.

I need to break my lease and move to another location. Can I do that?

If you are in the middle of an unexpired lease, you need your landlord’s permission to break your lease. Your landlord can technically require you to pay rent for the remainder of your lease unless they are able to find a new tenant to “replace” you. If you are renting month-to-month, you can provide a 30-day Notice to Vacate and then should leave before the first day of the month after the Notice expires.

My landlord asked me if I would like to renew my lease or provide a Notice to Vacate.

During the public health emergency and for 30 days afterward, all tenant deadlines are delayed. If your lease period expired during the public health emergency, you will go month-to-month without a rent increase while the public health emergency is in place. Thirty days after the public health emergency expires, you will have to decide whether to continue month-to-month, sign a new lease, or vacate the property, depending on your options.

Do I have to pay for amenities that are unavailable?

No. Your landlord must provide you a pro rata refund of the fee for each day the amenity was unavailable. If the amenity fee is included in your rent, then your landlord is not obligated to reduce your rent.

I can’t afford to pay my utility bills. Will my utilities be shut-off?

No. Utility companies (including electric, gas, water, cable, and telecommunications) cannot disconnect services during the public health emergency and 15 days after the end of the emergency. However, cable and telecommunication companies can reduce services if you do not pay your bills, as long as they still provide you basic services. Utility providers must offer a payment plan option to eligible customers for payments that occur during the public health emergency plus (a) 60 days for a cable or telecommunications operator that the Public Service Commission does not regulate (Comcast/Xfinity Unlimited, Vonage, and Verizon Fios), (b) six months for any other utility provider, including electric and gas. If you would like to be eligible for a payment plan with your utility provider(s), you should notify them that you are unable to pay your bills due to the public health emergency.

Starting October 12, 2021, a utility company shall not disconnect, suspend, or reduce service, for non-payment of a bill, any fees for service or equipment, or any other charges, if:

  1. The utility company has not engaged the customer regarding the past due utilities;
  2. The customer owes less than $600;
  3. The customer has entered into a payment plan with the company and either is meeting the terms of the payment plan or is less than 2 months behind the terms of the payment plan;
  4. Prior to October 12, 2021, the customer has requested to enter into a payment plan with the company and fewer than 45 days have elapsed following the customer's initial request; or
  5. The Mayor has certified or the customer has provided documentary evidence that the customer qualifies for utility disconnection relief and not more than 90 days have elapsed since October 12, 2021 (i.e. has a STAY DC application pending approval or under appeal; within the prior 6 months, received or was approved for a benefit under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (“LIHEAP”), Utility Discount Program (“UDP”), DC Water Emergency Relief Program (“CAP”), or STAY DC Program; is receiving a benefit under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP”) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”) program; or is 21 years of age or older and receiving a benefit under Medicaid or the DC Healthcare Alliance).

For a period of 90 days beginning on October 12, 2021, a company shall restore service to a customer free of charge when the customer makes a payment to the company of at least $10; provided, that the customer enters into a payment plan OR the Mayor or the customer documents customer eligibility for utility disconnection relief.

Are there assistance programs to help tenants pay their utility bills?

Yes. It’s important to contact your utility company immediately if you are having trouble paying your bills, because many will be able to assist you with setting up a payment plan. Verizon, Pepco and Washington Gas offer discount programs for low-income residential customers, as well as seniors and persons with disabilities. Qualified District residents may apply for the Utility Discount Programs to secure a reduced rate on their electric and natural gas bills.

There are also grants available for some tenants. If you’ve received a disconnection notice or are currently disconnected, you may be eligible for an annual grant of up to $1,000 through the Washington Area Fuel Fund. Tenants in Wards 1-6 can call (202) 332-5000 and those in Wards 7-8 can call (202) 678-9771 to learn more. The Greater Washington Urban League also provides up to $500 in assistance to eligible customers facing disconnection. Call (202) 265-8200 to lean more. Consumers having trouble paying their Pepco or Washington Gas bills are encouraged to apply for one-time assistance payments of $250-$1,800 to cover heating and cooling costs through the Department of Energy & Environment You can also contact the DC Public Service Commission at (202) 626-5120 to learn if there is other assistance available.

Does my landlord have to clean the common areas of my residential building?

Yes. Landlords must clean common areas, including doors, railings, seating, and the exterior of mailboxes, at all times.

Do I have to wear a mask inside my apartment building?

Yes. You also need to maintain 6-feet of distance from other people who are not within your household.

Can my landlord access my unit for repairs?

Yes. For non-emergency repairs, your landlord should provide you with a 48-hours’ written notice, such as a text message or an email, and should only enter your unit Monday through Saturday, between 9AM and 5PM, unless you agree to otherwise. During the public health emergency, you may request, ideally in writing, that non-emergency repairs be addressed after the emergency, especially if you are elderly or have a condition that puts you at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Does my landlord have to address repair issues in my rental unit still?

Yes, your landlord must fix urgent repair issues. Emergency repairs include fire hazards, water leaks or flooding, sewage backups, or anything else that affects your living conditions. If your landlord does not address the emergency repair issue, you can file a Housing Conditions complaint at DC Superior Court by filing an emergency motion and fee waiver application by mailing these documents to Civilefilings@dcsc.gov. You can find Housing Conditions Calendar forms at: https://www.dccourts.gov/services/civilmatters/housing-conditions-calendar.

You can also call the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) at (202) 442-9557 ext. 6 or dial 311 or email dcra.housingcomplaints@dc.gov. For building-wide issues, contact OAG’s Consumer Protection Hotline at: (202) 442-9828 or email us at: SocialJustice@dc.gov.

What happened to my Tenant Opportunity to Purchase Act (TOPA) rights, and other tenant association rights, during the public health emergency?

All deadlines for the exercise of tenant association rights are tolled during the public health emergency and for 30 days after the end of the public health emergency. These include TOPA rights, with a very limited exception to honor requirements under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program.