Requirements for Becoming a Landlord in DC and Northern Virginia
Buying a Property

Requirements for Becoming a Landlord in DC and Northern Virginia

Becoming a landlord can be a lucrative venture, whether you inherit a property, retain your old home when moving, or invest in real estate to generate rental income. However, entering the rental property business comes with its share of regulations and requirements. To avoid potential legal issues and penalties, you must be aware of the local rules for obtaining a landlord license and ensure compliance with city and county laws related to licensing, health, safety, and zoning.

Becoming a Landlord in Washington DC

Apply for a Basic Business License

In Washington DC, homeowners renting out detached homes, townhouses, duplexes, condo units, and individual rooms are considered part of the residential rental business. For each rental unit, landlords must apply for a Basic Business License (BBL). Renting multi-family buildings, apartments, or any other property with more than three units requires a separate apartment business license.

Find the detailed steps here

To acquire a license, you must certify that you don't owe the district over $100, including penalties, interest, fees, or taxes. 

Before renting out your property, it must pass an inspection. This is in place to ensure your property is safe for a tenant.Inspectors will evaluate household composition, the unit's overall condition, and whether the landlord possesses the necessary certifications for components like heating/cooling systems, ventilation, and water/sewer systems.  
Once you have completed the Basic Business License application, you need to register your rental unit with the Department of Housing and Community Development's Rental Accommodations Division to determine if your unit qualifies for rent control exemption or is subject to rent control. 

Something to note - a Certificate of Occupancy is required for Apartments and Two Family Rentals (for example a townhouse with two units or an apartment building with three or more units). Once you have this, you can take next steps to obtain a Basic Business License.

Fee schedule per DCLP:

Rental Housing Businesses & Fees


  • 3 Units: $453.20
  • 4 Units: $508.20
  • 5 Units: $563.20
  • 6 Units: $663.30
  • 7 Units: $718.30
  • 8 Units: $773.30
  • 9 Units: $828.30
  • 10 Units: $883.30

Family Rentals

  • One Family Rental – $198.00
  • Two Family Rental – $283.80

Important Considerations for Washington DC Landlords

In addition to obtaining the necessary licenses and permits, Washington DC landlords should also be aware of the following:

  1. Fair Housing Laws: Ensure compliance with federal, state, and local fair housing laws to avoid discrimination charges when selecting tenants.
  2. Lease Agreements: Draft a comprehensive lease agreement that outlines the terms and conditions of the rental arrangement, including rent amount, security deposit, maintenance responsibilities, and tenant rights.
  3. Rent Control: Familiarize yourself with rent control laws if applicable, as they govern the maximum amount you can charge for rent and allowable rent increases.
  4. Tenant Screening: Conduct thorough background and credit checks on prospective tenants to minimize the risk of rent defaults and property damage.
  5. Registered Agent: If you are a landlord renting out a property in DC but operate outside of the District, you’ll need a Registered Agent.

Becoming a Landlord in Virginia

In Virginia, landlords are subject to two laws:

  1. The Virginia Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, which applies to landlords renting out more than two residential units.
  2. The Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code, which applies to all rental units.

Unlike in Washington DC, Virginia landlords do not need a special license. Renting a unit in Virginia is considered a business like any other, requiring only a basic business license. Forms can be found on local websites for each county.

For example in Arlington, VA, if you collect $10,000 or more annually in rentals, you also must obtain an Arlington County business license. For more information, you can view the website below:

Important Considerations for Virginia Landlords

When becoming a landlord in Virginia, keep in mind the following:

  1. Maintenance Responsibilities: Landlords are responsible for maintaining the property in a habitable condition, ensuring compliance with building and safety codes.
  2. Security Deposit Regulations: Follow state guidelines for security deposit amounts, holding, and returning security deposits to tenants.
  3. Eviction Procedures: Familiarize yourself with Virginia's eviction laws to ensure compliance if you ever need to evict a tenant.
  4. Renters Insurance: Encourage tenants to obtain renters insurance to protect their personal belongings in the event of damage or theft.

Navigating Landlord Requirements with Professional Help

Managing rental properties and navigating the legal requirements can be challenging, especially for first-time landlords. To ensure a smooth and hassle-free experience, consider enlisting the help of a property management company like Gordon James Realty. Our experienced team will assist you in meeting all legal requirements and handling the day-to-day responsibilities of being a landlord.

Our property management services include:

  1. Tenant Screening: We conduct comprehensive background and credit checks on potential tenants to help you find reliable renters who are less likely to default on rent payments or cause property damage.
  2. Lease Preparation: Our team will draft a detailed lease agreement outlining the terms and conditions of the rental arrangement, ensuring compliance with federal, state, and local regulations.
  3. Rent Collection and Accounting: We take care of rent collection, financial reporting, and accounting, making it easier for you to manage your rental income and expenses.
  4. Property Maintenance and Repairs: Our property management services include coordinating regular maintenance and handling repair requests, ensuring your property remains in excellent condition.
  5. Legal Compliance: We stay up-to-date with the latest landlord-tenant laws and regulations, helping you avoid potential legal issues and penalties.

By partnering with Gordon James Realty, you can reap the benefits of being a landlord while minimizing the stress and workload that comes with managing rental properties. Let our team of experienced professionals handle the intricacies of property management, allowing you to focus on your investment and enjoy the additional rental income.

Conclusion: Becoming a landlord in Washington DC or Northern Virginia involves numerous legal requirements, from obtaining business licenses and permits to ensuring compliance with housing and building codes. While the process may seem daunting, thorough preparation and adherence to local regulations will help you avoid fines and legal troubles.

Enlisting the help of a professional property management company like Gordon James Realty can simplify the process, ensuring your rental property's smooth operation and legal compliance. With our comprehensive services and expert team, you can enjoy the financial benefits of being a landlord without the headache of managing the property yourself.

If you're considering becoming a landlord in Washington DC or Northern Virginia, contact Gordon James Realty today. Our team is ready to guide you through the process and help you make the most of your rental property investment.

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