Attorney General Schwalb Issues Consumer Alert on Rental Fees & Protections for DC Renters

Alerts Aim to Inform DC Renters About Legal Protections Against Excessive Fees Throughout the Rental Process

WASHINGTON, DC – Attorney General Brian L. Schwalb today issued the below Consumer Alert informing District residents about legal protections against excessive fees throughout the rental process, including caps on application fees and protections against “junk fees” after they sign a lease.   

CONSUMER ALERT: DC Laws Protect Renters and Housing Applicants from Excessive Fees

Are you looking for a place to live in DC? Or are you a current renter in DC? You should know that DC laws protect renters from excessive fees throughout the rental process—including by capping how much landlords can charge for rental applications and screening, protecting against “junk fees,” and controlling how fees are charged for late rent payments. Keep reading to learn more about your rights as a renter—and how to get help if your rights are violated.

Rental Application Tips: Your Rights During the Application and Screening Process

Finding and applying for housing can be stressful, but DC law protects renters during the application and screening process. In DC, there is a cap on the amount of money landlords can charge in application fees. DC law also requires landlords to provide renters with information about how the application and screening process works, and how they make decisions on rental applications. 

Here are some things you should know when you apply for rental housing:

  • Under DC law, landlords currently cannot charge an application fee of more than $52.[1] You should not have to pay more than $52 for an application fee.
  • Before you pay an application or screening fee or share any information as part of a screening process, you are entitled to information about how the process works, including information about any fees you will be charged and information about how the landlord will make a rental decision. The landlord must provide the following information, either in writing or in another way you can easily access:
    • The amount and purpose of any fee or deposit, whether the fee or deposit is required, and whether it is refundable;
    • The types of information that the landlord will access to do a screening;
    • The specific criteria that will result in an application being denied;
    • If a credit or consumer report is used during the screening process, the name and contact information of the reporting agency and your right to get a free copy of the report if your application is denied;
    • The approximate number of rental units that will be available over a specified period (for example, the number of units available in a given month);
    • The number of days after receipt of your application when the landlord will respond with an approval or denial;
    • Your right to dispute any information the landlord relies on in denying your application, and your right to get a response from the landlord about any information you dispute;
    • Your right to a refund of your application fee within 14 days if the landlord does not conduct a screening;
    • Your right to file a complaint with the Office of Human Rights or sue in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia if you believe the landlord has broken the law.

Tips for Current Renters: Fees After You Sign Your Lease

Under DC law, renters also have protections from excessive fees and “junk fees” after they sign a lease agreement. The law prohibits landlords from charging “junk fees,” a blanket term for any fees that are unclear, are not used for their stated purpose, are used to cover a service a landlord is required to provide to rent a livable space, or that adds burdens for people who use rental assistance. And while landlords may legally charge fees for late payment of rent, the law limits how and when those fees can be charged.

Be on the lookout for fees that:

  • Are excessive or more than the cost of the service to the landlord;
  • Are for services tenants are charged but do not receive;
  • Are for services that the landlord is legally required to provide as part of renting a livable space (such as pest fees, fees to maintain the furnace to provide heat, etc.);
  • Prevent competition, such as requiring that you use the landlord’s preferred insurer or cable/internet provider;
  • Are designed to punish you for breaking your lease rather than to pay the landlord for a loss suffered (for example, penalty fees, lease termination fees that do not consider whether a landlord was able to re-rent to a new tenant);
  • Are not stated in the lease.

Here are some things you should know about fees landlords may charge for late payment of rent:

  • A landlord may charge a late fee of up to 5% of the monthly rent.
  • Late fees cannot be imposed until 5 days after the rent due date. 
  • Landlords may not charge interest on a late fee, charge a late fee more than once per late payment, or deduct a late fee from a subsequent timely rent payment.
  • Tenants cannot be evicted because they did not pay a late fee.
  • Landlords may not charge late fees to tenants receiving rent subsidies for late payment or nonpayment of the portion of the rent that the subsidy provider is responsible for paying.

Consumer Resources – Get Free Help!

Help is available if your rights are violated or if you are improperly charged excessive fees or “junk fees.” To report a problem with a business—including a landlord or property manager—contact OAG’s Office of Consumer Protection:

You can also file a business complaint with the DC Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection.

If you believe you were denied housing because you use a voucher or subsidy, or were illegally discriminated against, send a tip to OAG’s Civil Rights and Elder Justice Section at


[1] The amount that a housing provider can charge may be adjusted upwards annually based on an increase in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers. For 2024, a housing provider may not charge an application fee higher than $52.