Get Licensed

Ready to Get Licensed?

Here is the fact sheet for what you need to do to license your basement apartment. Below is step-by-step information on how to apply for a basement rental business license. This process can have additional steps depending upon whether or not your property is approved for certificate of occupancy. For example, you may need to get building permits for work to come into compliance with building codes. Please let us know if you have additional questions.

Corporation Requirements

If you plan to operate as anything other than a sole properietor, you will need to first register as a business with the Corporate Registration Division. Please see special instructions below. If you plan to operate as a sole proprietor, there is no need to register with this division.

STEP ONE: Office of Tax & Revenue (OTR) Registration
Before applying for your BBL, you’ll also need to register your business with OTR and submit a copy of your tax registration certificate with your application.  If you’re not already registered, simply complete and file a Combined Business Tax Registration Application (Form FR500). You get all the necessary forms and submit your application online at the Business Tax Service Center. For more information, please call the Tax Customer Center at (202) 727-4829.

STEP TWO: Clean Hands Certification

You’ll also need to certify that you don’t owe more than $100 to the District of Columbia government as a result of fees, penalties, interest, or taxes through completion of a Clean Hands form provided in your BBL application package.

STEP THREE: Certificate of Occupancy / Compliance for Zoning Regulations
Before applying for your BBL, you’ll need a Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) for the location where your business is conducted to demonstrate that your business does not conflict with building and zoning codes. If you have any questions about Certificates of Occupancy, please call the Zoning Administrator at (202) 442-4589 or go here.

STEP FOUR: Basic Business License Application
To make sure you get your BBL as quickly as possible, you must submit a properly completed BBL EZ Form.  All of your responses should be printed clearly in English.

STEP FIVE: DHCD Rent Control Registration
You must register the rental unit(s) with the Department of Housing and Community Development’s Rental Accommodations Division (RAD) at 1800 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, Washington, DC 20020 as required by the Rental Housing Act of 1985. You will need to complete and attach a Rent Control Registration Form along with the Basic Business License Application or visit DHCD to submit forms and payment. You’ll have to pay a $43.00 RAO fee, per unit, per two-year period in addition to the license, application, and endorsement fees.

RAD transmits the filed RAD Registration/Claim of Exemption Form to DCRA. If the RAD Registration / Claim of Exemption Form is for a 3+ rental unit housing accommodation and filed with RAD by 12 noon, the BBL can be picked up at DCRA by 4:30 pm the same day. In all other instances, the BBL will be mailed to the customer, or can be picked up by the customer at a later date.

For more information on the regulation of rental housing and the Rental Housing Act of 1985, or to obtain a copy of the Tenant Guide to Safe and Decent Housing, please call the DHCD’s Housing Services Center at (202) 442-4477.

NOTE: You must complete the DCRA Licensing Application, Certificate of Occupancy Application and the tax registration process before going to DHCD.

STEP SIX: DCRA Housing Inspection

A housing inspection approval is required prior to the issuance of this license. After your application is submitted, the DCRA Inspections Division will schedule an appointment time to inspect the premise for compliance to housing codes. Please see the checklist to help you prepare for this inspection.

48 responses to “Get Licensed

  1. Any chance of posting a sample set of forms. From the page, it seems like there are several trips through the dc government.

    1. Get C of O
    2. File FR500, wait for something to get returned to you.
    3. Submit BBL EZ and Clean hands (why? There’s one in the BBL EZ form).
    4. Get inspected (do we schedule or the city)
    5. wait for license

  2. Possible landlord

    Dear DCRA,
    Is the above order correct (in questions from March 15, 2010)? I thought an inspection was necessary for a CofO.

    I’m still lost on this one. What’s required to get a CofO?

  3. Possible landlord

    Also, what do the zoning designations have to do with anything? Are there zones in the city where you cannot have a “two-family household” (i.e., one with an English basement)? If so, what zones are these (specifically what zoning designations as described on the zoning map of DC)?

  4. Current landlord

    What if you already have a CofO? I bought the house with a CofO for the basement unit and before it was really clear what else was needed. I have the CofO in my name. Do I have to do it all over again?

    • dcracommunications

      Current landlord,
      You don’t need a new C of O, but you do need to get it inspected to get the license.

  5. Pingback: DCRA’s Step-by-Step Process for Applying for Basement Rental License « Rent Your DC Basement Apartment Legally

  6. newly licensed

    Hi! This is great info, but for those of us now legal on this end, would you consider partnering with the tax office and providing some info on the tax consequences of basement rentals?

    • dcracommunications

      Newly licensed,
      Several people have mentioned this and we’re definitely going to try to figure out a way to possibly have them guest post. Thanks for the comment.

  7. Thank you for the step-by-step guidance. Is it possible/suggested to get an inspection before starting the process so we know what work needs to be done ahead of time?

    • dcracommunications

      @Larry,
      Unfortunately DCRA does not provide this service pre-application. However, DC Codes follow the International Building Codes as do about 40 other states. Any licensed contractor or architect should be able to review your unit and give you very accurate guideance.

  8. I have the COO for the house as a two-family unit which I received from the previous owner and which is now in my name. I live in the top unit. If I go ahead and file for a BBL for the basement unit (which is the only unit I plan to rent out), will they just inspect the basement unit or will they inspect the top unit as well because the COO is for the whole house? Just trying to plan ahead.

    • dcracommunications

      @wondering
      Just the basement unit. Having the COO is key.

      • Thanks for your reply. It’s good to know that I only have to worry about the one unit. Makes it more likely I will move forward sooner rather than later.

      • So if you are only planning on renting out the basement, and they are only inspecting the basement, do you need to get a one-family BBL or a two family BBL?

  9. frustrated but hopeful

    So, this is a good start – but still a skeleton. Much more help is needed at each step and the links provided all send you back into the void of the DC gov website (which I have already spent way to many hours in browsing in circles).

    there needs to be help on how to fill out the app for a CofO. The form seems to assume that you have employees, that you understand phrases like “proposed occupancy load.” No where on the form does it even mention that this is something you would use for an apartment rental. Perhaps a first step would be for DC gov to have different CofO forms depending on your purpose. This would help the filer understand what needs to be done for his/her specific need.

  10. I’m stuck on step one. It says, “you’ll also need to register your business with OTR and submit a copy of your tax registration certificate with your application.” So I clicked the link provided and am taken to a page that says nothing about “registering a business.” Since the form number was mentioned, I tried searching on form FR500, but nothing. I tried searching on “register business” but nothing. How about a direct link to the form and instructions for filling it out? The whole reason we need this website is because the DC gov website is incomprehensible and poorly organized.

  11. On the FR-500, what should I put for question #4 “Legal Form of Business?”

    • dcracommunications

      When you rent units, you are running a business and you need to speak with accountant or lawyer regarding how to set up your business. There are all kinds of liability and tax issues w/running a business. If you are not concerned about these, you can just operate as a sole proprietor. That would be your legal form of business. We have a fact sheet outlining the different types of businesses here: http://dcra.dc.gov/dcra/cwp/view,a,1343,q,644101.asp

  12. When I purchased my rowhouse, I had a very detailed inspection done for the whole house, including the English basement. May I use that inspection that was already completed or will I need to have a new one done when I file my paperwork for the CofO?

    • dcracommunications

      You will need a new one done. If you have no record of permits or record of inspections, your basement was essentially converted into an apartment illegally. We need inspections and permits on record. We can help walk you through process.

  13. I have two rental apartments. One is the English basement of my row house that I live in. The other is the condo I vacated when moved into the row house. Do I get two business licenses. Are there different steps to the process for each one since one of my rentals is part of my house and one is in a condo building?

  14. Lots of good information….
    Two questions:
    1. A housing unit was created legally 30 years ago, and was issued a COO. The building code is much stricter now. I go thru this whole process and find out that there are now $30,000 in renovations needed to meet current code. Will I be prohibited from renting anymore even though the unit was to code originally?

    2. Just curious if the office of tax and revenue is using the application process to screen back tax returns for compliance with income reporting?

    • dcracommunications

      @whathappens,
      If you received a C of O, you’re unit meets the ceiling height issue. It actually used to be 8 feet before it became 7 feet. Since this tends to be the most expensive construction needed, I am very curious what will cost $30,000. In terms of OTR, the only thing you need is to register with them and get a clean hands (meaning you don’t owe District more than $100 for late taxes, tickets, etc.). OTR is not screening our applications at all.

  15. Zoning Question

    I am following up on the question regarding zoning designations. If I want to turn my basement into an apartment, are there any zoning regulations that will interfere?

    • dcracommunications

      Zoning,
      As a basic rule, Residential-4 and Residential-5 allow basement rentals. And, they can also be allowed in most of the Commercial Zones. You can check what zone your property or a property your planning to buy is with the Office of Zoning’s interactive map at http://dcoz.dc.gov

  16. Hi – the links in here – to a DCRA Clean Hands Form and to see if your place has a COO does not work. Help!

    Also – I own my cooperative apt and want to rent it out. Can I safely assume that the cooperative has a COO?

    Also – how long should/does the whole process take?

    Thanks –
    Katy

    • dcracommunications

      @Katy,
      Sorry, we just launched our new website and I tried to update all the links in the body of the blog. Comments is a little more difficult. To check if your property has a C of O, you go here: http://pivs.dcra.dc.gov/property/search and enter address and then go down to Occupancy. Any C of O issued would be listed there. And here is the link to the clean hands form: http://dcra.dc.gov/DC/DCRA/For+Business/All+Basic+Business+Licensing+Forms/Clean+Hands+Form

      I’ll try to go back through and update the links in the comments as best as we can. Thanks!

      • Hi – thanks for answering so quickly but I was not refering to the links in the comments but all the links on this page “Get Licensed”. The only one that works is OTC.

        The ones that don’t work in the page are:
        – Fact Sheet
        – Clean Hands Form
        – COO link
        – BBL EZ form

        None of them work. So its the main page, not the comments.

        Katy

  17. Dude, your very first link for the checklist on this page results in an error.

    QUESTION: When you fill out form FR-500, how long before you receive your certificate?

    Your downloadable fillable BBLEZ results in an error.

    QUESTION: Now that you have registered as a business, what taxes must you pay on your rental income?

  18. Thanks for creating this website and for responding to the comments. We’re still not understanding the process though and would love if this particular page could be updated. The fact sheet, BBL, and Clean Hands form links are broken. Also, where do I submit the BBL form? Do I have to go to DCRA in person? What exactly should I bring? Does someone call me to schedule the inspection? Is there a list of things I should make sure to have done before the inspector comes? Thanks again!

    • dcracommunications

      @dcresident,
      Sorry for the broken links. I just fixed them. We launched our new website http://dcra.dc.gov and have/had to relink everything externally. Appreciate the help. Just fixed them.

      You can submit the BBL Form in person at our offices at 1100 4th Street SW. You need to bring application, clean hands, tax registration, Certificate of Occupancy (if you have one, if not you need to follow that process) and your RAD form. Hope this helps. You can schedule the inspection while you’re here or they can set it up for you. Just talk to them about what works best for you. We posted a list of items inspector look for during the inspection here: http://rentmydcbasement.com/checklist/

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Thanks.

      • @dcresident — Actually, just to help you out since I just went through this — a couple of clarifications:

        1) if you don’t have a C of O, first go down to 1100 4th St. and go to the research dept. to see if there is one on file with DC. If not, then you’ll have to work through that process first. They would not allow me to file the BBL without a C of O.

        2) The RAD form was last. First I did all the steps at 1100 4th st, then they sent me to Martin Luther King Ave to file the RAD form. I don’t think I could have done it first, because I had to show a receipt that I had paid for the BBL filing in order to do the RAD.

        3) When you finish all the filing process for the BBL, you’ll get a letter telling you a scheduler for an inspector will call and if he doesn’t call in 10 days to call them. They let you pick a day, but not a time. Supposedly, you call early in the AM on the day of the inspection to get a time, but in my case, no one answered the phone when I called. I had call the main number and find out where my inspector was. I waited till afternoon to do this because I expected one of my previous messages to the inspector to be answered. So I advise, not to leave messages, but to call all the numbers they give you until you get someone.

        Hope that helps and hope DCRA will clarify if any of that was not how it should have been.

  19. I am trying to figure out what laws apply to condo owners that rent out their units (non-basement) but I cannot seem to locate any reliable info. Are the rules similar? (i.e. need a BBL and COO?)
    If there is reliable information somewhere that I can be pointed to, I would appreciate it!!

  20. Is there a consequence for renting without a license?

  21. This website is GREAT, but it seems that you need to read not only the “List of what inspectors look for,” but all the posts to figure out what you need to do to rent a house or basement apartment (I have both) legally. For instance, the list does not cover the fact that a space must have access to its own electrical panel; I ran across that in the comments. Is there a comprehensive list somewhere that covers all of this?

    • dcracommunications

      Helene,
      Thanks for the email. We are certainly working to create a definitive list as we move forward with this process. There are literally thousands of variables, but the separate panel is certainly worth adding immediately. Thank you.

  22. Hello there,
    I just recently purchased a house with an English basement apartment that I need to rent. Apartment is realy nice, it would pass the inspection if the ceiling height would be 7 feet. I am missing only 4 inches. the height is 7 feet 8 inches. I read the list to understand the requirements to get CofO, DC goverment adopted international codes that requires 7 feet ceiling heights. As all we know that In DC many houses builded a century ago it is not rational to expect everthing is perfect as a new building you see in suburban. It does not make any sense that DC goverment expect the international code. Also the living standards and taxes were not the same a century ago, they did not build these houses to rent their english basement. Today’s world most people like me need to rent their English basement apartment to effort living in DC while supporting Dc goverment with considerably high taxes. So should I bother myself to get CoO or is there any exception or change in recent regulation for ceiling height. I am not trying to show disrespect to the rules made by city (I would like to get CofO that is why I am here) I wish DC goverment would more supportive and helpful to DC residents in this matter. Thanks.

    • dcracommunications

      Betsy,
      Slightly confused by your post as you state the ceiling height is 7 feet 8 inches, but here is an explanation for the code and a little bit on the history of codes in DC – it used to be 8 feet – from an earlier post: http://rentmydcbasement.com/2010/03/19/new-checklist-posted-ceiling-height-zoning-and-ideas-going-forward/

      To answer the question many of you have asked, the minimum ceiling height for basement apartments – and all habitable rooms actually – is 7 feet. Many people have emailed, tweeted and commented about this requirement and if it is higher than what was required in the past. It’s not. The 1930 DC Building Code actually required 8 feet on every story. As did the 1933 Building Code and all building codes through 1991 when it was changed to 7 feet as it stands today. We will post a more details soon and cover some of the exceptions and variables, but none of the exceptions currently included approval of units with rooms where people are “living, eating, sleeping, or cooking” with a ceiling height lower than 7 feet. The DC codes are identical, in nearly every case, to the codes adopted by most U.S. states, counties and cities.

  23. I recently bought a home with a rented apartment that has a valid COO issued to the former owner in 1999. Earlier posts make it sound like this transfers to the new owners upon sale, and the COO itself says it’s “valid indefinitely” but “is not transferrable to another person.” Is the COO for the premises still valid or not?

    • dcracommunications

      @New Owner,
      You can certainly transfer the C of O. It would require an inspection to ensure the premises were still being used for what the orginal C of O stated, but cthey can be transferred. Would like to see a copy of the language? Can you email a photo or scan? michael(dot)rupert(at)dc.gov

  24. Hi — I just bought a house I’m fixing up on Georgia Ave. in Petworth. The house is three stories (basement, 1st & 2nd). Currently the first and second stories are set up as separately metered apartments, with separate entrances, kitchens, etc… Both the basement and first floor have front and back doors. I plan to live on the top floor, rent the first floor, and finish the basement to rent that as well. Do I just follow the same CoO process as “renting my basement”? Do I have additional requirements for a 3 unit house vs. 2 unit?

    Thanks, Kamal

    • dcracommunications

      Kamal,
      Without knowing the zone you’re in and the size of the home, it’s difficult to say. If the 1st and 2nd are already seperated, it could already have a Certificate of Occupancy as a rental unit. You can check the C of O status here: http://pivs.dcra.dc.gov/property/search. If not, you’ll essentially want to get a new C of O for the whole house as a 3-unit flat. And then get licenses for the basement and second floor seperately. Depending on the C of O status, you may be able to license the whole house as a 3-unit apartment and get a single license. Hard to say at this point.

  25. Who do I call or ask for to learn more? I tried calling DCRA, and was given the name of an inspector to call who then never called me back. I don’t mind coming in to the office either. But I need to ensure I can talk to someone or be pointed in the right direction. Thanks!

    • dcracommunications

      Kamal,

      Send me an email at michael (dot) rupert (at) dc (dot) gov and provide my number and I’d be happy to talk with you and/or get you the additional information from the experts. Thanks, Mike

  26. If the house we’re buying has a c of o, is it legal to rent the apartment while we apply for our BBL and get inspected, or not until that process is complete and it’s approved?
    Thank you for your help!

  27. I am wondering who is supposed to fill out the pre-occupancy data sheet. It has a place for an examiner’s signature, but I don’t know who this should be and who to contact to get this done. Please help.

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