Stumbling Blocks

If you have had trouble or have questions about renting a basement apartment, this is the place to post comments and we’ll answer any and all questions as best we can.

Scheduling the inspections was simple and didn’t take long. I called on a Friday they were there by Wednesday. The process does not have to take a long time at all. - SingLikeSassy


183 responses to “Stumbling Blocks

  1. 1. If my basement unit has only one exit, can it still be considered legal? 2. If two exists are in fact required, if there is one exit in the basement, and then a set of stairs leading up to an unlocked door on the first floor of my house and then through the hallway to the front door, is that considered sufficient? thanks

  2. The “Get Licensed” page links to the DCRA’s basic business license for a two-family building. My understanding from talking with inspectors is that if the basement is connected to the house then it’s a single-family property, not a two-unit.

    Would someone from DCRA please confirm this? Also, what’s the process for renting out the basement of a single-family home? Or for that matter, an in-law suite with separate entrance anywhere in a single-family house?

    Thanks very much.

    • dcracommunications

      JF,
      The license for basement apartments is called a “Two-Family.” If your entire property/home is being rented by one person/family you need the “One-Family” license.

      However, if the basement has cooking facilities, bathroom, etc. and is being rented seperately it needs a seperate license and inspection and the “Two-Family” license. The main house would need a “One-Family.” Hope this helps.

  3. I’d like more information on egress points as well. Is there a minimum window and door height and width? Is there a minimum distance from the floor to the window?

  4. Single Family Home

    Great website! We recently bought a house with an English basement rental. I did not have a certificate of occupancy but we were told we shouldn’t have any problems. So when I eventually started looking for more info about getting the certificate, I didn’t find anything applicable to my house. It’s zoned as a single family house and it has only one electrical system, one meter for all utilities, etc. My tenant pays a flat fee with all utilities included. I called the DC gov and I was told that I don’t need the CofO for my English basement because it is a part of a single family home. Is that true? Now that we have to file taxes, and have to report this as income, do we have to get any other paperwork taken care of? Business license, perhaps?

    Thanks!

    • I’d like to follow up on this concept. Can DCRA share if there is indeed such as thing as an “in-law” suite? Or, is that typically just the realtors way of advertising during a house sale that i has an unlicensed basement rental unit? I’ve seen potential places to buy where the first floor of the house has been used as a separate rental space while the upper two floors are considered the main residence area for the landlord, i.e., they all live in a single family house where all levels can be accessed by all parties from the interior of the house. Is this more akin to renting to a “roommate” situation? Maybe this is more a tax code issue than a licensing DCRA issue? If so, it’d be fabulous if DCRA could perhaps ask the proper DC tax dept to share on this forum the associated topics of what landlords need to do to comply with their legal rental or roommate situation that brings in extra income.
      Thanks again!

      • dcracommunications

        Cap Hill,

        An “in-law suite” is typically a bedroom and sitting area/living room with a bathroom and is directly connected and open to the main house. Many illegal basement apartments we come across were “in-law suites” and then a kitchen unit was added illegally with permits or inspections to turn it into a rental. To meet the requirements for the license, you need to have a kitchen for “food preparation, storage and disposal.” If you own and live in the property, you can certainly have roommates but the habitable area still needs to meet basic building codes. We can certainly try to get someone to discuss tax issues at some point soon. Thanks!

    • I have the same question as Single Family Home. Can someone please respond to that one? I was told that I have to install a separate meter for my English Basement before I can even begin the process. I’m not sure if that is true and certainly can’t afford the expense. Nothing in the post on what you need for your inspection mentioned that a separate meter is required.

      • dcracommunications

        @StillTrying,
        You do not need a seperate meter, but each unit needs to have access to their electric panel. Meaning you shouldn’t have to go into your rented basement unit to flip the circuit and vice versa. Hope this helps.

      • NewHomeOwner

        I want to know if there are any exceptions to the requirement to have a separate electrical panel. It is my guess that most homes, especially homes that are 100+ years old, don’t have two breaker boxes/electrical panels. The cost of installing a separate unit, as well as the need to tear up some of the existing first-floor walls seems to be excessive. Are there ways to avoid having to do this? Would this be an automatic rejection of an application to get a legal rental unit? I’d appreciate a procedural response from DCRA, as well as any suggestions from folks who have the same issue, or have overcome this problem. Perhaps this is where having roommates is superior to having a separate unit? Thanks much.

      • dcracommunications

        There is really is no exception to this rule unless there is a public area accessible from both units where a single box could be located. In older homes, this “space” usually doesn’t exist and you’d have to move the current box. This is a major life safety issue. Hope this helps.

      • Thanks so much for getting back to me! It’s very nice to get a response. Just so I can be sure that we are all talking about the same thing, what is the major safety concern with having access to the electrical panel? I want to be sure I understand the concern here. Would this be an automatic rejection of the application to get a legal rental? Thanks so much.

      • dcracommunications

        The concern is if a fire breaks out in your unit or you need to shut off power in an emergency and you do not have access to the upstairs apartment this could get dangerous. And vice versa. Both tenants need to have access to their own panel. Whether there are one in each or one in an area both can access. Hope this makes sense.

      • @dcra – thanks so much for the clarification about separate meter vs. separate electrical panel. I submitted my plans for a building permit and am being told that the electrical panel, which is in a closet, must be moved outside the closet. Is this true? I have seen many electrical panels inside closets and did not think that would be a code violation.

      • dcracommunications

        It is a requirement. If a fire breaks out on the panel, the clothes, boxes, etc. cause the fire to burn expontentially faster. You can have the panel inside a closet designed for the box, but not a clothes closet. Hope this helps.

  5. What should you do if you find yourself in a basement rental that’s totally illegal? I rented a basement apartment (in a total rental house – another tenant lives upstairs and my landlord lives off-site) only to discover after moving in that the entire basement unit was done illegally. No permits pulled for electrical, plumbing, mechanical or structural, no ANC approval, no zoning variance for two units, no fire barrier between me and the upstairs, not even any insulation between me and the upper tenant. My landlord even filed for a homestead deduction even though she doesn’t live here and never has, and lacks a basic business license for her rental empire.

    I can’t even get mail at my address since I don’t have a legal address according to USPS. I’ve had to rent a PO Box to get mail. At this point, I just want to move – I hear every single thing from the upstairs tenants, who are college freshman style tenants with beer pong parties. Can DCRA declare my unit illegal and make my lease invalid?

    • dcracommunications

      NE DC,
      You can call 202-442-9557 or email dcra.housingcomplaints(at)dc.gov and schedule a housing code inspection. They will check to make sure unit is safe and verify owner is not licensed. This is the best way to get started. We can also put you in touch with the Office of the Tenant Advocate to talk about your lease.

  6. @DCRA: What happens after the inspection? When they fail, will I be evicted? Can they evict me for reporting them? Can they keep my security deposit since I’m the one who’s doing something that is going to cost them a lot of money?

  7. Possible landlord

    I am considering buying a property with an English basement. I would need the rental income from the basement in order to make the mortgage comfortably. The basement is an efficiency (one big room) with a kitchen. It also has a bathroom, W/D, and front and back entrances. It is not connected internally to the rest of the house. The seller says that there is a Certificate of Occupancy for the entire house. I am pretty sure by now that I need a separate CoO for the basement if I am to rent it legally; is that correct? Is an inspection required to get a CoO? Hence, if my seller obtained a separate CoO for the basement unit, is that a guarantee that it has been recently inspected and is legally rentable?

    Thanks for making this website!

    • dcracommunications

      Thanks for comment Possible landlord,
      I would definitely ask for copy of C of O for basement unit. Single family homes don’t have Certificates of Occupancy so that makes me suspicious but they could be confused. If they have one (I can check for you to if you email me the address at michael(at)rupert@dc.gov) then yes you should be fine. You would need to get name changed on C of O to yours which is easy and then you need to get basic business license for two family rental. We have the fact sheet posted under Get Licensed on this site. If they don’t have a C of O, then it’s your decision on what you’d like to do. You may want to talk to home inspector on whether it meets code. We don’t do those type of pre-purchase inspections. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait to make purchase, apply for Certificate of Occupancy and take your chances. Hope this is helpful.

      • StillTrying

        Thanks for the response DCRA as I am in the same situation as possible landlord. In my case, the seller told me that everything was in place and that the unit had been used by him as a business and that I could rent it immediately. I did research to obtain his CofO so that I could put it in my name, but there has not been one filed since 1967 when the building was a tenement. Did my seller run his business illegally since he didn’t have a CofO?

      • dcracommunications

        Yes. He was illegal.

  8. I recently bought a house in an area zoned for multifamily residential. The house has undergone one or several renovations after being vacant for a while. The house has an English Basement that on first glance appears to meet current building codes except that I would need to increase the size of the window in the bedroom or make it a door for egress purposes-not a big financial cost to change.

    The units have separate electric meters, two entrances and exits each, and no internal connecting stairs. However, the house ‘s Certificate of Occupancy is for a single family dwelling. I was told by the District’s building department folks that changing the C of O to two units would require a change of use, which triggers a whole lot of inspections, work, risk, and costs. I was told that I would need architectural drawings and, with the new building codes that went into effect at the end of 2009, fire sprinklering of the entire house (at an estimated cost from a sprinklering company of at least $5,000 and $8,000 to $11,000 if the water flow isn’t sufficient, and it often isn’t in old houses, I’m told). Architectural costs, flow testing, sprinklering, and then hoping that the unit passes building inspections; it’s enough to make renting the basement legally neither financially feasible nor worth the risk and hassle.

    I understand the value of fire sprinklers and building codes, but there has to be a better system for ensuring health and safety at a reasonable cost. Especially when I know that this house is in far better shape than lots of rentals in the city that might have a two-unit c of o.

    Here’s an idea off the top of my head. How about giving single-family dwellings in multi-family residential zones automatic two-unit C of O’s? The unit would still have to pass the same rental unit inspections. I’d argue there’s little difference between a house with an English Basement built in 1920 that has a C of O for two units and the same house with a a C of O for one unit. Both have probably been updated numerous times. Both are equally likely to be in compliance with building codes in general and with the items on the rental checklist in particular.

    I’m not going to rent the unit if it’s not legal, so the net effect of the current system is to reduce the city’s housing stock and my income to pay the mortgage. Do you have any solutions?

  9. Possible landlord

    I’ve read a number of posts on Prince of Petworth regarding necessary ceiling height in the basement to pass inspection for a separate unit. The “checklist” site linked to here mentions an appropriate ceiling height, but doesn’t state what that height is (but does refer to a district code). What is the ceiling height?

    I’m asking because as I consider buying a place with an English basement I’d like to figure out if the basement would be rentable. While a number of the other points on the checklist seem like they could be addressed somewhat readily (smoke detectors, etc.), the ceiling height is something that one would think could not be easily altered.

  10. With respect to your post tomorrow on ceiling height, is DCRA going to present realistic options other than digging out the basements (e.g., like a waiver)? Just curious.

  11. Also, I was not following what you DCRA was saying on the question by Cap Hill re: in-law suites. So, if you have a separate kitchen does that make an in-law suite no longer an in-law suite? Did you mean that a kitchen was added illegally “without” a permit (it says with a permit)? So, I am confused if the problem with the in-law suite was that there was a kitchen attached to it or that there was a kitchen without proper permits attached to it? Can’t you have a basement with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and its own exit, but still allow free access to the rest of the house and not need a license? thanks

  12. This site is a good idea in theory. However, it doesn’t look like this site has been updated all week. What are the plans to actually put useful information on this site and how often? You’re leaving us hanging here…

  13. I’m considering buying a house with a basement rental. These are the questions I have:

    – According to the DC office of Zoning website, the house I’m considering is zoned R-4. Are basement rentals allowed in areas zoned R-4? The site states “Conversions of existing buildings to apartments are permitted for lots with a minimum lot area of 900 square feet per dwelling unit. Rear yard requirement is twenty (20) feet.” The rear of the house I’m considering is only separated from the alley by about 10 feet. Does this mean it cannot meet the zoning requirement of a legal rental?

    – What is the best way to locate a private company to assess the property and it’s ability to obtain a C of O? Are there any companies certified by DC to provide this service?

    • dcracommunications

      DN,

      Thanks for comment. As a basic rule, basement apartments are allowed in R-4 and R-5 and most commercial zones. I just sent your comment to zoning folks for a quick assessment. Will get back to you tomorrow with answer. We don’t have third party inspections for approval of licenses. But there are a lot of private inspection companies that can do this. We, unfortunately, can’t recommend any specific agency. You want to make sure they are certified in the recent codes. DC current building codes are based on the 2006 International Codes so be sure to ask for their certifications. Here is a list of all the codes we follow currently. I’ll get back to you tomorrow on zoning.

    • dcracommunications

      DN,

      Here is the answer to the zoning question I promised:
      The establishment of a ‘basement rental’ is usually the conversion of the basement level into a separate dwelling unit which would change the building from a single family home into a duplex or ‘Flat’ use. A Flat is a use permitted as a matter of right in a R-4 District, and the 900 sqft lot area rule does not apply (it applies only to apt conversions which is defined as three or more units in a building).

      The ‘non-conforming’ rear yard setback is grandfathered and is not an issue for the establishment of a Flat use.

  14. Can DCRA please post a reply to RD 3/18/10 2:34 post? I think the far majority of basements fall into this category and it is not clear that the requirements are for “in-law” suites that are connected with stairs to the main unit and do not have separate utilities but do have separate entrance(s). Why would it be ok for a family member to live there w/o C&O and license but not for a tenant?

    • dcracommunications

      Hills,
      There really isn’t one answer for this. A typical “in-law suite” is not considered separate “dwelling units” because they don’t have full kitchens and other facilities. But aside the from layout, it really depends upon how the space is used. Do you share the living room, front door, kitchen of the upstairs? Is the exit upstairs locked from the main house? Lots of variable. To your second questions, we are regulating rental properties not private homes in this case. If someone has their child living in the basement, and the basement doesn’t meet building codes, it probably ISN’T safe for a family member to live there. But it’s not a license issue. Hope that makes sense.

      • Thanks. To clarify, the ‘in-law’ suite has a kitchen, living area, bathroom, bed-room, and laundry facilities. No space is shared with the main house. There is a door that can be locked that connects the basement with the main house. The basement has two separate (front and back) entrances for a potential tenant to use. The house was bought in 2004 after complete renovation with this configuration and no issues were noted during the home inspection. I assume therefore that building codes are in order for a single-family home. So is this considered a separate dwelling that needs a C&O? Can I get a C&O if the space is connected and utilities are shared?

      • dcracommunications

        Hills,
        While we all refer to these units as ‘in-law suite’ or ‘english basement’ they are really defined in the codes as ‘dwelling units.’ So if you plan or are already renting you should get a c of o and a license. If the construction was permitted, it should have received a C of O. If you give me a call at 202-442-4513 I can check for you or email me at michael.rupert (at) dc.gov. If you do not want to provide address, it sounds like you shouldn’t have any major issues if the construction was done well. Here is the checklist that covers many of the codes that we check for http://rentmydcbasement.com/checklist/ and here are the steps to getting a license http://rentmydcbasement.com/steps-to-get-licensed/

  15. correction… not clear *what the requirements are..

  16. Single Family Home

    I posted a question here a couple of weeks ago under “Single Family Home” but didn’t get a response.

    We recently bought a historic row house with an English basement rental. It did not have a certificate of occupancy but we were told we shouldn’t have any problems. So when I eventually started looking for more info about getting the certificate, I didn’t find anything applicable to my house. It’s zoned as a single family house and it has only one electrical system, one meter for all utilities, etc., for the rental and our living area. My tenant pays a flat fee with all utilities included. I called the DC gov and I was told that I don’t need the CofO for my English basement because it is a part of a single family home. Is that true? If I don’t need the certificate, what do I need?

    Thanks!

    • dcracommunications

      Single Family Home,
      We’ve mentioned this several times, but any potential homebuyer – if they are depending upon the rental income – needs to be sure the basement apartment has a Certificate of Occupancy. If the unit is operating as a separate apartment and they do not share your living space, you definitely need a Certificate of Occupancy and a license. Here are the guidelines http://rentmydcbasement.com/steps-to-get-licensed/ and here are most of the codes your unit should meet http://rentmydcbasement.com/checklist/. We have heard of many horror stories of people who were told by the realtor that you “shouldn’t have any problems” but the apartment was no where near code and in some cases from prohibited by zoning laws. This was one of the big reasons for started this site. It is definitely not impossible to come into compliance after the purchase, but if you are depending upon income immediately this is something to consider. Coming into compliance can be inexpensive or expensive depending upon how much work it takes to get up to code. Hope this helps and we highly recommend you come in and we can work with you to make sure it’s safe.

  17. Thanks DCRA for clarifying the rules for single-family homes (SFH). To follow-up on a the post by Single Family Home, I looked through the checklist but I can’t find a clear answer to 3 common issues with basement apartments in SFHs. I was hoping you could clarify whether the following conditions are barriers for obtaining a C&O:

    1) Can the basement apartment (confirmed as as dwelling unit) be connected to the main dwelling by stairs with a locked-door?
    2) Can the SFH have one heating and one cooling system shared for the whole house?
    3) Can the utilities (gas, electric, water) be shared (not separately metered) between the main unit and basement apartment?

  18. This post was left in the comments the week before last but went unanswered so re-posting:

    Thanks DCRA for clarifying the rules for single-family homes (SFH). To follow-up on a the post by Single Family Home, I looked through the checklist but I can’t find a clear answer to 3 common issues with basement apartments in SFHs. I was hoping you could clarify whether the following conditions are barriers for obtaining a C&O:

    1) Can the basement apartment (confirmed as as dwelling unit) be connected to the main dwelling by stairs with a locked-door?
    2) Can the SFH have one heating and one cooling system shared for the whole house?
    3) Can the utilities (gas, electric, water) be shared (not separately metered) between the main unit and basement apartment?

    • dcracommunications

      EB,
      Sorry for the delay. For 1) Yes, however it would need to have enough exits/egress. A locked door would not be counted if locked from outside. Many variables here. 2) Yes. 3) Yes, however most homes would require an upgrade to their system or “heavy up” and many times it is easier to create a separate metered panel. Hope this helps.

  19. Hello,

    I love this site. My questions is: what are the specific requirements for proper egress? Does the bedroom need to have a window and if so, what the specifications for the window? My basement has front and rear exit doors and a window in the bedroom area, but not sure if the window is compliant with code.

    Thanks.

  20. TryingToDoRight

    I bought a single family house three years ago. When I purchased it, there was a separate kitchen and bathroom downstairs. I upgraded the kitchen (brought a new stove, refrigerator, and added new cabinets) and I put new tile in the bathroom. I don’t want to rent the basement separately, I want the people down there to have access to the full house. I do not have a separate entrance for the basement; there is just one leading down the stairs. Can I rent the downstairs rooms the same as I do the upstairs rooms?

    • dcracommunications

      Without seeing the house, this is difficult for us to determine. This wouldn’t be considered a “Basement Apartment” in terms of the codes if you would be sharing the living spaces in the home. However, it is very, very important you have the proper egress – i.e. big window that people can climb out of easily, have the right fire barriers, alarms, etc. If your tenant complains and reports you, then you could have serious issues if you’re not in compliance. The codes essentially change based on amount of use, meaning if there is a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living area then you would, should essentially meet all of the “basement apartment” requirements anyway regardless of whether you share the whole house. If it was just a bedroom, the codes are a little more lenient. Hope this helps.

  21. New Young Landlord

    Dear DCRA,

    I’m a young (25 years old) homeowner and I am interested in having my friends live with me and pay rent in my house. My first question is do I need to follow these steps? I have 2 bedrooms free and a basement room. Second question is if I do need a Certificate of Occupancy and a BBL which one (BBL) do I need? I’m a little overwhelmed so can you point me in the right directio?

    • dcracommunications

      @ New Young Landlord
      If you’re the homeowner and live there, you can have roommates and not have to get a license. There are different limits on how many based on size of home and also zoning, but essentially not more 6 unrelated people. So sounds like you’re good to go. The basement apartments we’re talking about are completely separate apartments. If have just a bedroom downstairs and you share the rest of the house, the licensing rules do not apply. However, many of the safety related issues are important and you should certainly review them and make sure the basement is safe, get smoke detectors, etc. Thanks so much for your comment.

    • Re. being able to have up to 6 unrelated people as housemates…how do you count them? If a couple and their child own and live in a six bedroom house and rent out three bedrooms to three individuals unrelated to each other or to the family, and also rent out one bedroom to a married couple (who are unrelated to everyone else), there are 8 people in the house but how many are considered “unrelated?” Thanks very much.

      • dcracommunications

        Housemate,
        Unrelated is based on the relationship to the owner – not to each other. (That sounds like a crazy situation BTW. Not real, right?)

  22. C of O application

    I really appreciate what you are trying to do with this website. I’m still a little confused about getting the C of O and have a few question I am hoping you’ll be able to answer:
    1) Do we get the C of O before getting a license? If so, is an inspection really needed to get a license if it was just inspected to get the C of O?
    2) On the C of O application, there is a section on “Information on Occupancy”. I am not sure what box to check for #9. The basement has been rented out for years, but it has never had a C of O. As the new homeowner, what box should I check?
    3) #14 asks if this is “Business Sexually Oriented”. What the heck does this mean?

    In short, it would be really helpful if you could asnwer these questions and just give more guidance on how to fill out this form. Thanks!

    • dcracommunications

      @ C of O application,
      If you do not have a C of O yet, you need to get the C of O and an inspection. When you get the license this inspection will suffice. If you already have a C of O – then you need to get the inspection as part of the licensing process. The C of O application is for all buildings, so for #9 just be sure to write in the comment section what you are doing. I believe you check new building but I’ll double check tomorrow and post on this, excellent question. If not leave blank and the zoning official can help. For #14, you should obviously check no. But this is for sex toy stores, strip clubs, etc. It is important that they mark this when they apply so we can verify once the business opens. Hope this helps. And let me know if you have any additional questions.

  23. Hi,

    Can you tell me whether it is possible to get a C of O if your converted basement apartment’s door is in the rear (alley) as opposed to the front of the house, or does every legal basement unit have to have a front door entrance? There is no way possible to add a front door given historic restrictions. thanks

    • dcracommunications

      @RD The location of the doors – meaning front vs. back doesn’t really matter. It just that you have to have the proper egress. If you email me at michael.rupert (at) dc.gov I can give you more specifics on egress. You have to have either a door to the exterior and/or at least one in the bedroom. Hope this helps. Some other variable , i.e. how many steps outside door, size of window, etc. come into play but I can send specifics if you need them.

  24. Hi,

    Im trying to rent my studio English basement in Burleith, zoned R-3, while i live upstairs. The basement has kitchen, bathroom and laundy rrom but it doenst have separate power, water meters. Also the heating is common for the whole house. I’ve seen that R-4 and R-5 allow rentals, but not sure about R-3 and i heard that is typically not allowed. Can i rent the basement? Do i need to get a “Two-Family” license or is it a ” single family home”? Thanks a lot for your help

    • dcracommunications

      @RE Basic rule is that R-4 and R-5 allow Basement rentals. And, they can also be allowed in many of the Commercial Zones. R3 will require a special review and maybe a special zoning exception. Hope that helps. The basement license is a “Two-Family Rental” and we have a step-by-step post here: http://rentmydcbasement.com/steps-to-get-licensed/ The first step for you would be to apply for a C of O which would trigger the zoning review and they will advise at that point. But you are right, not typically allowed in R3. Sorry. Hope this helps.

      • Thanks a lot for the prompt reply, ill try to get the CofO asap. However im a bit confused now, seems that most of Burleith (at least the square of 39th, Whiteheaven, 35th and Reservoir) is R-3. But thats the area north of Georgetown University where most of the students rent. Some rent a whole house, but there are also a lot of houses where the owner lives in the house and rents the basement to students. Starting in June, seems every other house rents the basement. Is that practice not legal then? Or is it not enforced? A neighbor told me its ok and i dont need CofO if there is not an oven range in the basement since in that case is not really a separate apartment. Is that right? Or do most of the houses go through the “special zoning exception” and in that case is not that special exception anymore? Again, thanks a lot for your help

      • dcracommunications

        We just sent letters to at least 120 possibly illegal rentals in that area a few months ago and more than 60 have come in to get licenses and inspections. If you rent a room and share the whole house, there is a very similar, but slightly less strict set of codes that apply. You don’t need a C of O to rent a room, but if “renting a room” is disguising what it is really happening and it’s being used as a seperate unit and you do not share the rest of the house, then what you’re doing is illegal. Again, it’s all about amount of time spent in area and how that time is spent. Hope this helps.

  25. Incompetant plan reviewers

    My experience has been that the biggest stumbling block for converting a basement to a legal apartment is the DCRA plan reviewers. I know of a current project that is having to resubmit revised plans for a third time over the period of seven months. The plans are fine, the reviewers are citing codes that are not applicable or even relevant. Or, they will sign off on one area and then add more comments during the next review. Even after a meeting with the reviewers, they could not give sufficient advice on how the get a permit. They acted completely dumbfounded by the idea of a basement conversion. The reviewer for each discipline passed off each issue to someone else who couldn’t make a decision or passed it off again. Their latest “requirement” was that the drawings have a professional electrical engineer’s stamp for the electrical plans! DCMR clearly states that this is not needed! And they also want an electrical riser diagram – also not needed. This kind of obstructionist attitude of the plan reviewers is a major reason why people go the illegal apartment route – and I don’t blame them.

    • dcracommunications

      @IPR This is unacceptable to us. Please email me at michael.rupert (at) dc.gov with address and your contact and I will put you in contact with the Director of Permitting right now to figure this out and get plans approved.

      • Incompetant plan reviewers

        Mike – We’ve emailed you about the project in question and it’s been a few weeks without a response. Have you made any progress?

  26. Thanks for this website! I’ve been suggesting something like this for years. I recommend that you publicize with the real estate agents, as just this past weekend at an open house, I heard them spouting all kinds of misconceptions. But the website does need some improvement. Some of the same questions are coming up over and over again, and it would be nice to see them all answered clearly in a single place as part of the checklist or an FAQ, instead of making people hunt through the site for previous posts. Perhaps each checklist item could be clickable for more details. You really haven’t clearly or comprehensively answered some of these most commonly asked questions, like how many means of egress are needed, whether there must be separate meters (as opposed to panels), the stairs/in-law suite issue, and ceiling height (what about hvac chases?), so these would be perfect for elaboration in a single place.

  27. Can you clarify about double-barrelled deadbolt locks that requires a key on both sides on security gates? We have those installed on our gates and the basement for heightened security, but the main door to the house and basement have a thumb-turn inside. It seems like this are common, and desired for security – are these deadbolts on the security gates a problem with the bbl inspection? It’s been mentioned in the comments but I don’t think DCRA addressed it.

  28. Well, folks, don’t bother even trying this process right now. I mailed in my BBL-EZ last week, and nothing has come through yet. I just called the DCRA helpline, and the (very, very friendly) operator on the line told me everything is backed up from their office move, and I can expect my BBL-EZ form to be processed no earlier than FOUR WEEKS.

    Yep – four weeks!

    I still have no idea if I even attached a check in the right amount, so it’s possible in my case that I will end up having to wait even longer than four weeks on this intermediate step in what, I guess, is a far, far longer process than I anticipated from reading the checklist.

    I do thank you all at DCRA for this one-stop website — it is very, very helpful, and I can tell it would have been very difficult to embark upon this process without the checklist. You might consider adding in some notes about the time these processes will take… if I had known the BBL alone would take upwards of one month, I would have started all this before I even closed on the house.

    • dcracommunications

      @Bob,
      The length of time is not because of the move, but because the application is mailed. The application and check go to a lockbox where your check is cashed and then your materials are sent to us. This alone takes about two weeks. We have been working hard to get this time down, but unfortunately that adds to your time. If you brought in the application, this process would be much shorter. We hope to get online applications and payments up soon but we’re unfortunately not quite there yet. It will make the whole process much easier for you (and for us). Thanks again for the comments and feel free to email for updates. michael.rupert (at) dc.gov.

  29. Also, can you explain these “required certifications”? What is required for an air conditioning inspection – is that performed by the bbl inspector or does the owner have to hire a separate third-party?

    • dcracommunications

      I am working with the inspectors to get a better explanation for these. I don’t think they apply to the types of basement apartments most of us are talking about. Stay tuned. I’ll get something back to you soon.

  30. Mike, I appreciate what you are doing with this website, but having just come back from an entire morning spent at DCRA no closer to obtaining a C of O than when I arrived, I can say from experience that this website has failed to identify a MAJOR step in obtainin a C of O. I thought I could just go in and submit an application, but I was wrong (and thus so is this website). Although my house is properly zoned for a multi-family use, my house is not registered as a 2 unit dwelling. I was told that before I can even submit a C of O application, I first need to obtain a building permit for an as is conversion to a 2 unit dwelling. In order to get this permit, I must submit architectural drawings for ALL three floors of my house (even though I am just renting out the basement) that show electrical and mechanical risers, hardwired smoke alarms etc. I am checking with DC archives to see if there are plans for my house on record (I just bought the house so have no idea), but have been told it will take at least 3 to 5 days to even get an answer as to whether these plans are available. AND, if the plans do not specifically say that the renovations done back in the 80’s were for a 2 unit conversion, I need to hire an architect, pay a lot of money to get the drawings, then go through the permit process. NO where on this website is this mentioned and this is a HUGE hurdle and I am starting to wonder if I even want to go through with all of this.

    What a pain in the you know what. Please stop misleading people with how easy a process this is. My basement rental is up to code (separate meters, no connecting stairwell, correct ceiling height, etc) and I just cannot believe the hurdles that I will have to go through to get the C of O for an up to code apartment.

    • dcracommunications

      Frustrated,
      Thank you for your comment and our phone call this afternoon. As we discussed, it is important to know that the “conversion” of the basement from a basement into a separate living space was done according to code. When we come across a refurbished basement and have no evidence of permits it is difficult for us to see what’s behind the walls. Why is this important? For many reasons but most importantly because of fire safety codes and ensure you and your tenants are protected. As I mentioned, we strongly advise you request a certificate of occupancy and any building permits be provided BEFORE you purchase a house if you are dependent upon the income. Real Estate agents know this information very well. And while we can definitely understand your frustration, if we simply issued a certificate of occupancy without knowing the house was safe, it would be contradictory to what this process is meant to do in the first place. I will follow through on my promise to you this afternoon and you’ll hear back from me soon. And we do say right at the beginning of the licensing step-by-step that building permits may be required. We’ll do a post on this issue by the end of the week. Thanks again for your patience.

      • dcracommunications: Your response to Frustrated is confusing. It seems to say that if I want to rent my basement as an apartment, even if it was renovated to code, I need to know before hand if it is up to code. Is that not the purpose of the inspection? You have told me beforehand, in private email, that I should submit for the CofO in order to have the inspection determine what else needs to be done to bring the basement to code – if anything. Now you are saying that I need to know beforehand if it is to code, but you provide no guidance on how I can possibly know this without having an official DCRA inspection.

        -Thoroughly Confused.

      • dcracommunications

        @ Confused,
        If you renovated the basement, the work should have been done with permits – i.e. electrical, plumbing, fire stops, etc. If it wasn’t, it’s a little more difficult.

  31. Could you explain this “difficult” part – what do you need to do in order to get your basement that was built (probably) without permits up to the speed? Thanks!

    • dcracommunications

      @worried,
      The biggest issue we face is not knowing whether the construction to convert the basement into an apartment was done to code if there is no C of O and no record of permits. A lot of the work – electrical, plumbing, fire stop, HVAC, etc. – is closed up behind walls and determining whether it is done to code 5, 10, 15, years later can cause issues for is. So if you have no C of O, we need to you apply for building permits for the previous work was done. To apply for these permits, we need drawings of the unit. And depending upon the state of the basement, we may also require you hire an architect or engineer to certify that this meets code before permits are issued and inspections take place. While this can be frustrating, we cannot just make a guess on the legality of the construction behind the walls. We are trying to finalize a plan to allow residents to submit their own drawings – to avoid having to spend money for engineer/architect – and give them some guidelines and we expect to have that ready shortly. Many say, why not just come inspect and tell us what we need to do. While this would certainly be quick for property owners, no building department in the country is equipped or staffed to essentially do design work for new apartments. I hope this makes sense.

      • So there must be a way to simply determine if work previously done was done with the proper permits and avoid having something inspected that may have been properly permitted and inspected in the first place?

        If so what is the list of work that needs permits? And then the list of departments for that permit to research this?

        And my house has shared heating/AC between the upstairs and downstairs – was it necessary to have permits when both systems were installed? Assuming the original systems were properly permitted, inspected and approved that would cover now adding a basement rental unit?

        Thanks

      • dcracommunications

        If it was converted properly with permits, it would most likely have a C of O. If your basement was converted with permits but there was never a C of O issued, then you can come to our records department and ask for any and all permits ever issued for the property. That helps. Most work requires permits. We have a list here of work that does not: http://www.dcra.dc.gov/dcra/cwp/view,a,1343,q,634854.asp#8 Hope this helps.

  32. Got a question: I have a tenant in the “inlaw suite”-we share all utilities, there is not an entrance b/n the upstairs and downstairs. I have a c/o for a two-family flat. It was previously listed as a family unit, now it is listed as a RE conversion. Now, I can not get my home refinanced.
    The bank says to have it changed back to a sfh. Here’s the tough part.
    I don’t intend to rent where I live, only the basement, do I require a license as a two-family flat? Why not just for the unit? Why can’t the use be listed as a “house with dwelling (aka sfh with in-law suite) rather than a two-family flat? I have paid taxes for over 3 years and had the c/o, the problem is the license requires an “all or nothing” approach. Has DCRA ever issued licenses for the English basement/in-law suites? Can I get a waiver from BBL Office instead of getting a two-family flat license?

    Please advise.

  33. Thanks for your response!

    “While this can be frustrating, we cannot just make a guess on the legality of the construction behind the walls.”

    Since the walls are closed, does the inspection involve tearing down some drywall or are the drawings sufficient?

    “We are trying to finalize a plan to allow residents to submit their own drawings – to avoid having to spend money for engineer/architect – and give them some guidelines and we expect to have that ready shortly.”

    Where is this information going to be available? I am hoping you will post a notification on this website.

    • dcracommunications

      @worried,
      We will absolutely post here as soon as it’s ready which will hopefully be in the next few days. Thanks again.

  34. Thanks! Could you please answer my first question regarding your statement “While this can be frustrating, we cannot just make a guess on the legality of the construction behind the walls.” – since the walls are closed, does the inspection involve tearing down some drywall or are the drawings sufficient?

  35. Hi – DCRA, in your April 14th reply to a question, you said “If you’re the homeowner and live there, you can have roommates and not have to get a license. There are different limits on how many based on size of home and also zoning, but essentially not more 6 unrelated people. ” I’m a realtor about to rent out a single family house (a 3 bedroom row house, zoned R3) and I’d like to know if you can direct me to the actual regulation for the maximum number of unrelated occupants. I had thought that it was no more than 4 (irrespective of the size of the house), but I see you quoting 6, and I’d like to be able to reference the regulation exactly. I have searched for it but I cannot find it anywhere. Many thanks in advance !

    • dcracommunications

      John,
      I’ll get the codes to you tomorrow and post here. Essentially there are two things that address this, the zoning regulations – which regulate number of unrelated people – and the building code – which regulates the number of people based on number of bedrooms and size of home. I’ll get exact verbage ASAP. Thanks for question.

  36. Hi DCRACommunications – Any luck getting that info on the maximum number of permitted un-related adults which can occupy a dwelling ? I am aware of the 2x#bedrooms+1 rule, but let’s say the dwelling is 3 bedrooms, in R3 zoning (if the zoning matters), that means 7 possible occupants. What if the occupants are all students or other un-related adults ? Is there another rule that says no, only up to 4 or 5 or 6 or whatever number of un-related adults, even if the number of bedrooms would suggest larger number, and if so, where is the code or regulation to state that exact figure for the maximum number of un-related adults ? — Many thanks again for you finding that exact reference for me, as I understand that there IS a rule for a maximum number of unrelated adults, but I have not benn able to confirm it exactly and precisely anywhere todate.

    • dcracommunications

      John,
      Here is the reference:
      A “one-family dwelling” is defined as “a dwelling used exclusively as a residence for one (1) family”, 11 DCMR 199.1. A family is defined to include six or fewer unrelated persons. Id. Thus, six unrelated persons constitute a “family” and may occupy a dwelling without first obtaining a C of O.

      Hope this helps.

      • Roberta Hill

        Dear DCRA,

        I own a home with four bedrooms upstairs and an in law suite w/ a kitchen and bathroom in the basement. I live in the basement and my son and three unrelated adults live upstairs . As the home owner, I regularly go up stairs to spend time with my son, cook his meals etc.. The basement has a separate front door entrance as well as a second egress through the basement bedroom that leads upstairs to the kitchen through an unlocked door ( a door with a door nob only and no lock) I also use the front porch and back yard. It is just that because I am older than the three tenants upstairs, I do not socialize with them that much. My son does socialize with them.

        My question: do I need a C of O ? And secondly, if my son and I go away for two months during his summer holidays from school and I rent out my living quarters in the basement for 60 days, do I need a C of O ? Do I need this even if whoever rents the basement continues to come upstairs as I do ? If renting out my basement fro the summer to a hill intern requires an inspection, an architect, ripping out walls to look at electrical work for licensing, etc… is there a minimum period I may rent out my basement without needing to get a C of O ?

        Thanks

  37. Dear DCRACommunications, for some reason, I am not getting the answer to the question I posted twice. Does getting a building permit for the previous work involve opening/tearing of the walls?

    • dcracommunications

      Worried,
      If during the inspection they are unable to determine whether your basement is up to code because things are covered up, they won’t approve the inspection. We won’t open up the walls. We are posting new information on Monday that will help answer some of these questions and how property owners can get this done much easier than in the past. Thanks.

      • worried too

        Can you clarify your answer. You say you won’t open walls, but you also say it won’t pass inspection. So, that isn’t really helpful.

        If they can’t see what’s behind the walls, is the homeowner going to have to tear everything out and start from scratch???

        What types of things need to be uncovered to to see if it’s’ up to code? Electrical wiring?

  38. Thanks “worried too” – you are asking the same question. @ DCRA -what happens if you don’t pass the inspection? Where should we look for the information – under which section is it going to be posted? Thanks!

  39. My neighbor rents a basement apartment but doesn’t have a COO, at least not one according to my search of your site. I know the house. The basement apt. has both water heaters in a single closet. There is a door out of the basement front but no door or window in the back or on the side, so the only fire exit is at the front of the house. I worry about fire risks since the tenant is very nice and I wouldn’t want her to be hurt. Is this basement apt. safe?

  40. too_tall_jones

    The regulations state that habitable spaces must have a minimum ceiling height of 7′. What are considered the habitable areas in an apartment? Just the bedrooms/living rooms, or also kitchen, bathroom, etc.? Thanks!

    • dcracommunications

      @too_tall_jones,
      Habitable spaces are definitely the bedroom, living room and possibly other rooms depending on what their intended us are. Kitchens and bathrooms heights need to be 6′ 8″ as well. Hope this helps.

  41. We are looking at a house with a basement that is less than 7 ft. Is it possible to pass inspection for a C of O if the ceiling is 7 ft between the exposed beams? The exposed beams would be about 6 ft 8 inches.

    The ceiling and exposed beams would be covered with fire retardant drywall.

    So it would measure 7 ft between the beams and 6ft 8 under the beams.

    Thanks

    • dcracommunications

      @basement The exposed beam can be lower and essentially need to have four feet at 7′ on either side to pass. But yes, it is possible with lower beams. Thanks for the question.

      • DCRA, I wish there was a single place where you could explain what seems varying answers on ceiling height. This is what I understand so far from having to read so many individual answers:

        o Minimum height in habitable spaces is 7′, which includes living rooms, bedrooms, and other similar living spaces

        o Minimum height in kitchens and bathrooms is 6’8″

        o There is no minimum height for closets, storage, etc… which can and are often placed under a sofit for ac/ducting etc…

        o You can have a support beam, i-beam (as many people do) that is below the 7′ or 6’8″ minimum, so long as 4′ on either side of that beam meets the 7′ minimum

        Is all of the above accurate?

        If so, I have an additional questions that would go a long way to clarifying this further:

        o How much below the 7′ minimum can the beam extend (can it prove 6’6″ clearance, 6′ clearance, 5′ clearance, etc…)

        Thanks, Kamal

      • dcracommunications

        Kamal,

        I will take care of this right now. And your summary is exactly correct. The minimum height for beams is 6′ 8″. I’ll post a separate entry on this soon and add to checklist. Thanks!

  42. Hi. I have a basement that I plan to turn into a rental. One of the contractors providing me with a quote stated that it is ok to have access to the utility closet (furnace and water heater) via the bedroom as long as the ventilation for the two is not into the bedroom (i.e., into the main living area as it is currently). Is this correct? Or is it required that access to furnace and water heater not be through a bedroom?

  43. Hello. Is anyone still monitoring this topic? It looks like almost 2 weeks now without any responses to new posts.

  44. Hi DCRA – I have a similar question as “Basement,” 3 above. We are renting a house that has a partially finished basement, but with exposed (and white-painted) joists. The height from the floor to the bottom of the joists is 6′ even. To the top of the joits (where the subflooring is for the upper floor) it is 7′. We intend to keep the joists exposed. Can this basement be used as habitable space if it does not fail other requirements ? The house was previously rented (but hadn’t had an inspection) and the the basement was used as a bedroom by the past tenant. That tenant has moved and a similar tenant wants to rent the house and also use the basement as a bedroom. Based on what I have described as to the ceiling height, when I have the house inspected, will the basement pass as habitable space or will the ceiling height as I’ve described it cause that space to not be allowed to be used as “habitable space”. Thanks for clarification on this detail !

    • dcracommunications

      @John,
      I definitely know six feet is not going to make it. The code is minimum of 6′ 8″ for the joists. Hope this helps.

  45. Hey,

    I’m a young guy (24) looking to become a homeowner in DC. I am looking at a house with an unfinished basement that I want to turn into a separate basement rental unit. I have a few questions though.

    1) I measured the ceiling height of the unfinished floor to unfinished ceiling in several locations around the basement. The measurements were from 6′ 11.5″ – 7′ 1″ depending on where I measured. I am worried that after I finish the floor and ceiling that the ceiling height will be SLIGHTLY lower than the required 7′ in some areas (maybe 6′ 10″). Is this acceptable?

    2) There are 2 pipes running across the basement that are about 6′ 6″ from the floor. If these are left exposed, is this a violation of the ceiling height requirement?

    3) The basement has 2 egresses, a front and back door, as well as several windows. The windows are not low enough to be considered emergency egresses. Does each room in the basement need to have an emergency egress? If not, which ones do?

    4) I read the following in DCMR Title 14 chapter 4, “Any room with more than fifty percent (50%) of any exterior wall area from floor to ceiling below ground level (using average level along each exterior wall) shall not be used as a habitable room…” Is this applicable to a basement apartment? Will all habitable rooms be greater than 50% above ground?

    5) One final question on room size. The house is listed as a 3 bedroom, with 3 separate rooms upstairs, each with a closet. One of the rooms is small, 7′ x 8′ 6″ approximately for the room size plus a closet. Can I rent this room to someone or is it too small?

    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. I know that I have a lot, but I’m trying to hard to clarify the information that I get from my real estate agent. I just want to make sure that if I buy this house that I will be able to build it into what I want it to be, legally.

    • dcracommunications

      Scott,

      Scott,
      We are pretty strict on the ceiling height. The 6′ 6″ is too low even for the rafters. There is a variance for rafters which is at a minimum of 6’8″ and needs to have at least 4 feet at 7 feet on either side. It’s very difficult for us to make some of these determinations without seeing the house – as I’ve said before there are a lot of variables. I would strongly suggest calling a contractor to take a look and check this out for you. In terms of the upstairs bedroom, here is the basic rules for occupancy:

      Each dwelling unit shall contain the following minimum amount of floor area in order to comply with the occupancy requirements of this subtitle:

      (a) At least one hundred thirty square feet (130 ft.2) of floor area in habitable rooms for the first occupant of the dwelling unit;

      (b) At least ninety square feet (90 ft.2) of additional floor area in habitable rooms for each additional occupant of the dwelling unit up to a total of seven (7) occupants; and

      (c) At least seventy-five square feet (75 ft.2) of additional floor area in habitable rooms for each additional occupant of the dwelling unit if the dwelling unit is to be occupied by more than seven (7) persons.

      So 8 feet by 7 feet is less than half of the allowable space.

  46. I am thinking about buying a house on capitol hill which has a CofO, but I’m concerned that the basement unit does not conform to code and that I will be unable to rent it. There is a front door, but no rear door. The unit connects to the upstairs with a stairway, but i’m assuming we could close that off. There is no rear exit, however, there is a window that someone may be able to crawl through to get out in an emergency. Does this qualify as a proper egress? Thanks.

    • dcracommunications

      MCH,
      Thanks for the email. The code has many variable for egress including whether the rooms go directly to a hallway or directly to another room or directly to the living room. It also takes into account whether there are stairs outside the room, how many, etc. So we can’t say based on your description. I would definitely have your inspector take a look and give some advice. Make sure they are certified and licensed as well. Sorry, it’s just difficult to give detailed advice – especially on something as important as egress, online. The basic question is yes, you can find ways to meet the code with just one exit door, but may require a larger window and possibly additional windows. Hope this helps.

    • dcracommunications

      However, if it does have a C of O, that means it was inspected and certified as a legal unit and you’d just need to get licensed. Now if additional work was done since the C of O was issued, it could jeopardize it. Thanks again.

      • Magee Haines

        Hi,
        The original CofO was issued in 1998, before the construction of a large back area of the house. The CofO was just re-issued this month. Can I be sure that there was, in fact, a new inspection before the new CofO was issued. My concern is that the CofO was issued based on the old configuration of the apartment, not the new one. There was a back door and back window in the original unit, but the addition built in 2006 shut off any exit to the back. Thanks.

      • dcracommunications

        What does the new C of O say on it? It should say two-family. If it doesn’t then you’ll have to get new inspections.

  47. Hello. I just bought a house that already has a fully finished basement apartment. The renovation was apparently done when the entire house was renovated 6 years ago. The house has changed hands a few times since then. Do I need to dig up whatever permits were pulled when the full renovation was done in order to get my certificate of occupancy?

    • dcracommunications

      Marc,

      Are you sure there is no C of O for your property? You can check your property on our new PIVS application at http:/dcra.dc.gov – You’ll see the icon in featured services. If no, then yes having the permits and inspection approval stickers will be a huge help. If not, see our last post about what to do. You can also visit our records department at 1101 4th Street, SW, Second Floor and put in a request for records.

  48. Hi DCRA – Can you tell me what the requirements are for a dryer vent in a DC home (basement or otherwise) ? Must it be vented to the outside and if so what is the minimum diameter and the maximum length from the dryer to the exterior vent hole that the tubing/vent hose can run ? Can flexible tubing be used, and can the vent hole be through a window pane (like a basement window pane) ? — Thanks !

    • John-

      Not sure about the code requirements for a dryer, but I can offer some advice regarding options if venting is not required.

      The old school way of not venting a dryer was to have it exhaust into a bucket half filled with water. However, the safer and cooler method would be to get a vent-less dryer. I lived in an apt with a Miele brand vent-less dryer that worked quite well and it didn’t throw off a lot of heat as you might expect. One thing you will need to provide is a drain for the dryer as it uses some sort of condenser to take the moisture out of the air.

    • dcracommunications

      @John,

      Thanks for question. The code requires dryers be vented to the outdoors. Depending on the type, size and power of the dryer, the questions you ask can vary. You should follow the manufacturers installation requirements. Sometimes the pumps in the dryers – again, depending on the dryer – won’t push the air if the tubing is too long or bends too much and you’ll have an issue. I am checking on the window pane question. Thanks!

      • dcracommunications

        John,
        Here is the code citation and while there is no prohibition on the exhaust termination through a window pane specifically. However, there are variables that can occur with this that we would need to know; such as is the window operable and/or required to be operable such that if opened the exhaust could readily be drawn back into the structure…is the window a required emergency means of egress thereby the installation of the exhaust duct could lower the net clear opening of the window causing another unforeseen hazard…etc…

        Code:

        SECTION 504

        CLOTHES DRYER EXHAUST

        504.1 Installation. Clothes dryers shall be exhausted in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Dryer exhaust systems shall be independent of all other systems and shall convey the moisture and any products of combustion to the outside of the building.

        Exception: This section shall not apply to listed and labeled condensing (ductless) clothes dryers.

        504.2 Exhaust penetrations. Ducts that exhaust clothes dryers shall not penetrate or be located within any fireblocking, draftstopping or any wall, floor/ceiling or other assembly required by the International Building Code to be fire-resistance rated, unless such duct is constructed of galvanized steel or aluminum of the thickness specified in Section 603.4 and the fire-resistance rating is maintained in accordance with the International Building Code. Fire dampers, combination fire/smoke dampers and any similar devices that will obstruct the exhaust flow, shall be prohibited in clothes dryer exhaust ducts.

        504.3 Cleanout. Each vertical riser shall be provided with a means for cleanout.

        504.4 Exhaust installation. Dryer exhaust ducts for clothes dryers shall terminate on the outside of the building and shall be equipped with a backdraft damper. Screens shall not be installed at the duct termination. Ducts shall not be connected or installed with sheet metal screws or other fasteners that will obstruct the exhaust flow. Clothes dryer exhaust ducts shall not be connected to a vent connector, vent or chimney. Clothes dryer exhaust ducts shall not extend into or through ducts or plenums.

        504.5 Makeup air. Installations exhausting more than 200 cfm (0.09m3/s) shall be provided with makeup air. Where a closet is designed for the installation of a clothes dryer, an opening having an area of not less than 100 square inches (0.0645 m2) shall be provided in the closet enclosure.
        504.6 Domestic clothes dryer ducts. Exhaust ducts for domestic clothes dryers shall be constructed of metal and shall have a smooth interior finish. The exhaust duct shall be a minimum nominal size of 4 inches (102 mm) in diameter. The entire exhaust system shall be supported and secured in place. The male end of the duct at overlapped duct joints shall extend in the direction of airflow. Clothes dryer transition ducts used to connect the appliance to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet (2438 mm)and shall be listed and labeled for the application. Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction.

        504.6.1 Maximum length. The maximum length of a clothes dryer exhaust duct shall not exceed 25 feet (7620 mm) from the dryer location to the outlet terminal. The maximum length of the duct shall be reduced 21/2 feet (762 mm) for each 45 degree (0.79 rad) bend and 5 feet (1524 mm) for each 90 degree (1.6 rad) bend. The maximum length of the exhaust duct does not include the transition duct. Exception: Where the make and model of the clothes dryer to be installed is known and the manufacturer’s installation instructions for such dryer are provided to the code official, the maximum length of the exhaust duct, including any transition duct, shall be permitted to be in accordance with the dryer manufacturer’s installation instructions.

        504.6.2 Rough-in required. Where a compartment or space for a domestic clothes dryer is provided, an exhaust duct system shall be installed in accordance with Sections 504.6 and 504.6.1.

        504.7 Commercial clothes dryers. The installation of dryer exhaust ducts serving Type 2 clothes dryers shall comply with the appliance manufacturer’s installation instructions. Exhaust fan motors installed in exhaust systems shall be located outside of the airstream. In multiple installations, the fan shall operate continuously or be interlocked to operate when any individual unit is operating. Ducts shall have a minimum clearance of 6 inches (152 mm) to combustible materials. Clothes dryer transition ducts used to connect the appliance to the exhaust duct system shall be limited to single lengths not to exceed 8 feet (2438 mm) in length and shall be listed and labeled for the application. Transition ducts shall not be concealed within construction.

  49. Hi DCRA – Thanks for all the info. Here’s my situation, I’m looking at a basement apartment that would meet all other CoO requirements except: it has separate entrances, but it’s also connected to the house via an interior staircase, and it’s not separately metered or paneled. What do I need to do to get a CoO; if I wanted to rent it under a roommate arrangement, what regulations cover that? — Thanks.

    • dcracommunications

      M,
      The basement does not need to be separately metered, but you would need separate panels unless there is a location where both the basement tenants and the upstairs tenants can access without having to go to the other unit.

      If the work to change the basement was permitted and inspected and you can’t find the records, you can do two things. You can either come to our records division and do a search. It takes a few weeks to pull stuff from archives but can be helpful. Or you can get new permits for the work and have it reinspected by a third party inspection firm. We posted on this option here: http://rentmydcbasement.com/2010/06/09/dont-have-certificate-of-occupancy-were-making-the-process-easier/

      Hope this helps.

      • Thanks for the quick response. What about the interior staircase? Do I really need to remove it/close the space up to qualify for a CoO?

      • dcracommunications

        You don’t need to get rid of it or close up space. It just can’t be counted as an emergency egress if the door is to be locked. Did someone tell you you needed to remove it?

  50. DCRA-

    First, thanks for the great site, it does a great job of pulling together information that was previously almost impossible to figure out.

    My question concerns if a C of O is required for a a basement apartment on a property. Per the DC tax records the Use Code of the property is “23 – Residential Flats-Less than 5″. Does this mean a C of O is not required? Also could you let me know if the property having this use code changes any of the other requirements for having a basement apartment (BBL, rent control registration, etc).

    Thanks in advance

    • dcracommunications

      @Chris,

      Is this an apartment building then? If so, you wouldn’t need a separate C of O for the basement.

      • Thanks for the quick response.

        The property consists of two units in a rowhouse that is zoned R-3, but as a mentioned has Use Code of “23 – Residential Flats-Less than 5″.

        A follow up question would be could a third unit be added to this property without seeking a zoning exception (assuming all proper building permits, historic approvals were granted)?

        Thanks again.

      • Hi dcracommunications-

        Thanks again for your quick response.

        I never heard back on my follow up question of:

        The property consists of two units in a rowhouse that is zoned R-3, but as a mentioned has Use Code of “23 – Residential Flats-Less than 5″.

        A follow up question would be could a third unit be added to this property without seeking a zoning exception (assuming all proper building permits, historic approvals were granted)?

        Thanks!

      • dcracommunications

        @Chris,
        It’s hard to say unless we can see a plat. A lot of the zoning issues are based on setbacks, whether you needed an addition, if there is parking, etc. It’s allowed in the zone, but zaries based on layout of property. Hope this helps.

  51. Back in May I had reported an illegal basement apartment. The unit has a separate entrance, full kitchen, bathroom, living space. I have not yet heard about the status of the investigation. How long do these investigations usually take?

    The owners claim it is a “roommate” and not a “tenant”, hence they have not gotten an inspection or the necessary permits. Would DCRA let this “slide” as a roommate situation even though it is a complete basement apartment? The unit does not seem to have safe egress in the evnt of a fire.

    • so how do you know it is illegal? or are you merely taking the approach of an informant trying to turn in your neighbor to the authorities? my guess is there is more to this story than you are sharing?

    • dcracommunications

      @Deek,

      Send me the address at michael (dot) rupert (at) dc (dot) gov and I’ll check on the status. Thanks.

      • This is a great service! My home is zoned R-1B. We would like to age in place, have maintained the house well, love it and wish to stay. We are 64 and 76 respectively, with some health problems.
        Our grandson would like to move into our second floor with a layout similar to first floor, providing a nice sitting room, bedrooms and 2 baths. He wants (and we like the idea of) the following modifications to his suite on the 2nd floor:
        1. Adding his own Kitchen
        2. Building an exterior staircase to 2nd floor deck with entrance to his sitting room
        3. Wall built in 2nd floor hall and stair well to separate the two units

        There will be an unlocked door at landing for him to enter our living space and visit us at will. He will pay some rent and we want to pay taxes on that and to procure a business license. Since our zoning is R-1B I know we cannot get a C of O. Every alteration would be to code with permits.

        My questions are:
        A. Is it legal and permissible to have items 1-3 above as part of the package?
        B. With #1-3, can he legally be considered a boarder/roommate? Or would this be an illegal unit?
        C. What if he moves on; may we have non-related Boarder/roommate occupy this space?
        Please, please be as specific as possible. Thanks so much.

      • dcracommunications

        @PLR,
        Thanks for message. I am checking with our Zoning Department. Will let you know ASAP. Thanks.

  52. Hi, I know you are busy and backed up, but please don’t forget my questions from August 5, 2010.
    Thanks so much!
    PLR

    • dcracommunications

      @PLR,
      Still getting answer from zoning. Didn’t forget and thanks for patience.

    • dcracommunications

      @PLR
      So the rule for zoning in your area is that the kitchen upstairs really throws thing off and would result in denying the application. You are allowed to have up to two “boarders” in your home as long as there is no additional kitchen. You could have an additional kitchen but there could not be a locked door between the two units. This is to prevent single family homes in these zones from becoming essentially apartments. Hope this helps.

  53. I found permits from a renovation done to an apartment from twenty years ago, but it appears that even though the original homeowner went through the necessary steps to get the permits, the work was never inspected and so there is no C of O. Do I have to reapply for the permits? Or can I just have it inspected?

  54. First of all, thank you for checking with zoning. I wonder if zoning confused you as much as me.
    You said I could have the following:
    1. up to two borders
    2. I could have an additional kitchen but there could not be a locked door between the two units.

    You added that a second kitchen upstairs would result in denying the application. My questions are:
    a. what application? For the Business License?
    b. The message is contradictory, please clarify: if we have no more than two borders living in an upstairs suite with a second kitchen (and a dedicated exterior staircase) with an unlocked hall door separating it from the first floor owner’s suite (with the original kitchen) , can we get a business license?
    c. and get a building permit for 2nd floor changes?
    We can’t afford to waste money on permits and construction only to be denied a business license? Should we come in and talk to someone, or call? Which department or person?
    Thanks so much for your help.
    PLR

    • dcracommunications

      @PLR,
      The zoning issues have to do with what the code refers to as a “dwelling unit” which has a kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, etc. If you put a kitchen in upstairs and then section it off as a separate “dwelling unit” then different codes apply. For example, one family could have two kitchens in their house – no issues because the house is all one “dwelling unit.” If you separate the house into two “dwelling units” the, again, different codes and regulations apply. If you are a family and rent out a bedroom to a boarder, it is not creating a separate “dwelling unit,” it’s just a room.

      In terms of the “application,” you would apply for a building permit. Part of the process of getting that building permit approved is a zoning review. The zoning reviewer would see the kitchen and ensure it was allowed in your zone. If you put in a kitchen, this would be flagged and they would check to see if the construction would be created another unit. Your building permit application would be denied. Hope this helps.

  55. Howdy Michael Rupert and thanks for making DC gov more user friendly.

    I live in and own a basement condo unit in a 1911 building redone and converted in 1979 to an 8 unit condo in Strivers Row Historic District.
    Shall I assume that most of the basement apt issues refer to my own basement condo as well?
    I am particularly concerned about the fire, theft, and assault security of my egress window which opens onto the street with locked opening bars.
    Thanks

    • dcracommunications

      If you are in a condo building, the basement is likely already part of the building’s C of O. This site is mainly for basement apartments that are part of a single-family home. However, many of the codes do apply.

  56. I am planning to rent out my home and I was told that I needed to add rails to the stairs coming down from my porch. Is this a requirement that has to be met to obtain a BBL? I live in a historic district and I think that adding rails would severely affect the look of my place on the outside. Is there an alternative?

  57. Hi, I bought my property a few years ago, had the C of O transferred to my name — was told I did not need an inspection — and rented the separate apartment on the first floor of my three story house. (It is not a basement, but I’m assuming the information on this site still applies to me because I have a two family C of O.) I only now realize that I need a separate BBL. It was my fault for not researching this sooner. I will bring everything into compliance, but have some questions. Will I be required to pay fines for not having the BBL when I started renting the apartment a couple of years ago? Also, will an inspection really be necessary — as I said it is not a basement apartment and already has a C of O? The only thing on the checklist that I may not pass is that all entrances have a gate as the outer door for security that requires a key to open from the inside. Will these need to be replaced? I feel they are very effective for security and are extremely common in the district. I look forward to your reply. Thank you for the helpful site!

    • dcracommunications

      GG,

      Thanks for your email. If you come in, we do not fine people for coming into voluntary compliance. In terms of the gates, send me an email at michael dot rupert at Dc dot gov and we can discuss the options.

  58. There is a lot of confusion about getting a business license. If we rent out a room or a suite in our house to a border do we need to get a business license?
    Is an inspection of the premises required?

    • dcracommunications

      No, you can have a boarder – up to 3 – without needing to get a license as long as you live there. The boarders need to have access to the whole house. Hope this helps.

  59. Hi, I have a lonlord/employer who is a total slumlord. We are from Old Orcgard Beach, Maine. Are ruls the same everwhere? He has an basment apartment right under us that he has decided to rent out. The place only has one door, and the windows are crank, so they only open 9 inches or whatever. Also none of the wiring is covered when you walk in, a total fire trap. Are these both illigal? Hope to hear back really soon!! Thank You!!!

  60. For a room to be considered a bedroom, is there a minimum closet size requirement?

  61. On April 9 I asked a question about whether the heating and cooling facilities in a single family home could be shared with basement unit. DCRA answered ‘Yes’. I wanted to clarify the rules on this. Can the two units share ductwork or have connecting ductwork? For instance, can the air intake for the AC be in the main house but the furnance is in the basement? I assume it can because it is permitted to have one furnance. Also, if the thermostat is in the main house and the basement has supplemental heat with water/oil-based space heaters, is that permitted? Lastly, is there any consideration if if the property owner occupies the main house? It seems that a lot of these rules would seem to be more applicable if both units were rented out i.e., seperate electrical panels. Any clarification on these issues would be appreciated.

  62. Basement Dweller

    My basement apartment has flooded for the third in a year. It’s in the same spot and each flood has the same characteristics so it is obviously a recurring problem that has not been fixed. The first two times, my bedroom was uninhabitable for a week while everything dried out, and I’ve had to clear everything out of the bedroom again this time and the smell in the apartment is pretty overwhelming that I may need to leave altogether. Currently, the only place for me to sleep is on my couch. The landlord is telling me that it may be Monday or Tuesday before he even knows what the problem is and what the options are. At this point, since I have endured this three times in one year, I wonder what whether the warranty of habitability has been violated and the lease is violated. I am sure that they will say that it is fixable, but I’ve heard that before. What steps are available to me to move out in the middle of my lease? I am worried that they will just clean it up as they have done before and say that everything is fine and then I won’t have grounds to move.

    • dcracommunications

      Basement Dweller,
      If the owner takes action and cleans it up properly, there is little else we can do unfortunately using our building code authority. You might want to contact Office of the Tenant Advocate at http://www.ota.dc.gov. They might have some additional ideas on how to approach.

  63. Thanks for clarification re Boarders.

  64. I posted a question on 9/30/10 but have not seen a response. Can DCRA please comment? To add to my question on an owner-occupied house with basement rental, can a C/O be made conditional on the owner residing on the property and as a result some requirements can be relaxed?

  65. Although I have a BBL due to owning a condo that is currently rented out since my husband and I bought a house together. Would I need to add an endorsement to my BBL for a separate rental since I am planning to rent out the basement of our house? We would like to know our next steps to make sure we can rent out our basement. Additionally, we know (after reading some the comments) that it would not pass the inspection for the C of O due to the ceiling height (it is 6’4″ not 7″). I’m assuming that it would be best to classify our 1 bedroom basement as a “room share” even though it has a separate entry, bathroom, full kitchen, bedroom, and windows. We were not anticipating sharing the entire house since the basement is equipped with everything. Please advise us on how to proceed since we would like to rent out the space, but want to make sure that we are following DCRA’s guidelines to renting.

    • dcracommunications

      Owner,
      Give me a call to discuss this particular issue. Mike at 202-442-4513. Thanks.

      • I have a very similar concern – not the BBL, but in fact the basement height being slightly below code (around 6′ 8″). We are homeowners living in the house, and lif we were to rent out the basement, it would be in the same way as Owner describes. It seems that we should call it a room share, since it won’t meet the very specific height requirement. Should I also call to discuss the issue in more detail?

  66. My landlord who lives in the floors above tehbasement does not have a certificate of occupancy or a license according to the PIVS webstie. Is the PIVS website reliabl/if the landlord does not have a certifcate or license according to the site, can I trust that it is true? Secondly does this have any impact on the validity of my lease considering I have been in the basement for 4 month? Thanks.

    • dcracommunications

      The lease is a seperate binding legal document that operated seperately from the city’s licensing requirements. If you would like to report your unit to us, please call 202-442-9557 and hit “6” and we’ll have an inspector come out.

      • Thank you for the quick response. Does this mean that even if the English basement apartment does not have a certificate of occupancy or a basic business license, the landlord can still rent the unit? We are current tenants. According to a fire inspection, the landlord also had natural gas piped through copper pipe but they said this was a DCRA issue. We have also complained about flooding issues that have not been fixed. IN order to address the BBL, CoO, and other complaints listed, do I need to have three different inspections?

  67. As part of my plan to rent my basement, I’m upgrading the electrical service to the house to accommodate higher amperage and separate breaker boxes for the basement and upstairs units. Since I have to do this, I’m going to install separate electrical meters for each unit as well, even though I realize from previous posts that this is not a requirement.

    My electrician’s question is whether we need to do anything before he applies for the permit to install the new 2 meter stack. He stated that he had only applied for this type of permit when the building was already designated as two units. Since my home is currently single family, we were unclear whether we’d be approved for the electrical permit. Can DCRA please comment on this?

    • dcracommunications

      @too_tall_jones,
      I believe the certified electrician can get a Supplemental Permit online for this work and I don’t think – even if you were not renting – that having the license or C of O would prohibit. I’ll check with our Permits Division and get back to you quickly. Thanks.

    • I have the same question. I am in the process of converting a three level row home to a 2 unit dwelling. The basement and the upper level already have separate breaker panels currently so the only electrical work is to install a 2 meter stack (400A Heavy-up Service) and have Pepco hook it up.

      Can I get the permit to do this work before the basement work is complete (before getting a C of O) so that I can start renting the upper unit? How do I go about it? Who do I contact for this?

      • dcracommunications

        Any electrical contractor can get permits for this work. And you have to be an electrician to get an electrical permit. Hope this helps.

  68. I recently bought a row-home that has an English basement ( there are no stairs connecting the basement to the upper level) however the basement has it’s own front and back door. The previous owner was apparently trying to convert the basement ( didn’t quite complete it though) to a legal apartment and so had separated the utilities. I would like to pursue the project of making the basement legal but in the meanwhile rent the upper level. I have applied for a BBL/rental license as a one unit. I plan on applying for a building permits, submit plans etc. for the basement project etc. My Q is – can i rent the upper level while i have work going on in the basement ( i will explain upfront to my tenant that there will be work happening in the basement and make sure they consent to that in the contract). and my 2nd Q is when I apply for a Certificate of occupancy for a 2 family unit, will the inspector want to inspect both the units or just the basement for which I pulled the building permit ? I am not getting any work done in the upper level.
    Thanks

    • dcracommunications

      Manishi,
      Does this home have just two levels or do you live on a third level? If the “tenant” is only occupying the main house and not living in the basement I don’t see why this would be an issue at all. Unless you live on a third floor, then there might be an issue. Thanks, Mike.

  69. DC_House_Hunting

    Similar to some other posts, I am looking at a property to potentially purchase but cannot comfortably afford the monthly mortgage payment unless I rent out the English basement 2BR apartment. There is only one door entrance/exit from the outside to the basement apartment. It appears that the original back door exit was closed off when an addition was put on the main level.

    Is this single egress legal? My realtor said it needs to have two egresses, but I have been unable to corroborate that with my online research. Thanks!

    • dcracommunications

      @DC_House_Hunting
      It really depends upon the layout, windows, grade of where windows and doors in terms of what counts are emergency egress and how much you need. Two is usually minimum. The best situation is to use our PIVS application http://pivs.dcra.dc.gov and find a house that already has a Certificate of Occupancy for the basement. This makes the whole process easier and faster if you are counting on the income. Go to the app, search by address and then click on C of O. It will list the basement if it’s already been used as a legal rental. Hope this helps.

  70. Hello, you mentioned earlier that you were going to reply about the “required certifications” in the Single Unit housing inspection. They are listed as follows:

    A. Water Heating Facilities (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (12G DCMR §PM-505.5)
    B. Central Heating System (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §501.10)
    C. Air Conditioning (inspect between September 1 and May1) (1+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §510.2)

    Can you clarify what would be required for a single unit to pass the inspection? I appears the first two are not relevant to single units, it looks like however the air conditioning unit must be inspected before the DCRA inspector arrives?

    Thanks

    • dcracommunications

      The certifications are a requirement for the Licensing Division. They are performed by Licensed contractors in each discipline and are at the expense of the owner. The certifications are required even if the units are newly installed. The installing contractor, if licensed and a permit was obtained, should be able to provide this documentation. The dates indicate the time of year that those times of the year when the equipment will not be required to be in use and can be inspected and certified.

      • Craig Johnson

        Is there a specific form for these inspections? Or can I just get a letter written stating they have been inspected and certified?

  71. Hello DCRA,

    If I am a renter currently in a townhome basement (my landlord who owns the building lives upstairs), how do I get the landlord to separate the utilities. It’s in our lease that the utilities will be separated, but I’ve asked twice and it doesn’t seem like he is doing anything. I checked the DCRA PIVS system and the online permit application status site and he doesn’t have any pending permits. There was also no basic business license or certificate of occupancy. Is there a way I can get my utilities separated? Thanks.

  72. DCRA,
    I recently completed major renovations to my basement and received close-in inspections for plumbing, HVAC, and electrical. I did all the framing and fire separation myself. What inspection codes do I need to satisfy before hanging drywall. ie 120,100,110. Are there specific third party inspectors who specialize in walking homeownwers through the C of O process?
    Thanks

    • dcracommunications

      HU,
      During the permit process, did you state that the construction was for a conversion to a two-family dwelling? If so, you certainly wouldn’t need a third party inpsector to get the C of O. You just bring in the inspection stickers and you’ll get it. If you are ultimately still working on the existing permits, you can come in and have them adjusted to state the work is for a conversion and quickly rereviewed and the C of O process will be easy. Hope this helps. Checking with inspections on the drywall issue and will get back with you quickly. Thanks!

  73. DCRA,
    Great news on getting the C of O. Is there a list of inspections that you would like to see in order to get the C of O. I’m a handy homeowner acting as my own General Contractor and don’t know what inspections are required for Basement Apartments.
    Thanks

  74. DCRA,
    Any update on the specific Inspection code for Fire Stop?
    Thanks

    • dcracommunications

      HU,

      From our Deputy Chief Inspector:

      Ideally, 120 (Building Close-in) should be first – checks framing and fireblocking……then install the building insulation and schedule the 110 (Building Insulation)….once approved drywall can be installed.

      DCRA hasn’t historically done specific energy code inspections so I would be ok allowing the insulation to be in place for the close-in if it is already installed.

      – Hope this helps, Mike

  75. Mike
    Thanks for your help.

  76. In a basement apartment, which has the Hvac and water heater to the whole house, does there need to be a direct acccess to the exterior( for the upstairs owner). or can the mechanical room/closet be contained within the apartment.

  77. What if I rent a room and a bathroom? An ‘in-law’ suite, right? What do I legally need in order to rent? A business license?

    • dcracommunications

      Jacey,
      If you rent a room and a bathroom and share the rest of the space with them, they would be considered a roommate and you would not need a license. Hope this helps.

  78. I also want to rent the basement of my house (two bedrooms and two baths) but share a kitchen with the renter. According to the email written to Jacey, I would not need a BBL. I am confused because on another government page even boarding houses needed BBL. What would be the difference here? I own my home and I am renting out a floor, and just because the renter and I share a kitchen, then no BBL is needed?

  79. I asked a question above, but it posted out of order so here i go again:

    I am a home owner who lives in the basement of the house I own. My son and three unrelated adults live upstairs. The basement has a bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen with a stove and ‘frig. There is a separate front door entrance, but rear exit is through my bedroom door, up basement stairs and through an unlocked door ( door nob only, no lock) into my kitchen.

    I go upstairs regularly to have dinner with my son. I do not socialize w/ the adults housemates upstairs as I am older than they, but my son does socialize with them as well as come downstairs to spend time with me.

    The fuse box( separate panels) is in front of house and everyone can access without entering anyone’s space. The utilities are shared ( not separate)

    Do I need a C of O ? Do I suddenly need a C of O we flip and I move upstairs and one of our house mates who is say a smoker, moves downstairs, but door to upstairs remains without a lock ?

    If I want to rent out my basement for the summer, do I need a C of O if that roommate continues to come upstairs ?

    Thanks

    Roberta

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