What Do Inspectors Look For? Updated 

The purpose of the Basic Business License Safety inspection is to ensure that  rental properties are in compliance with the District of Columbia Building Codes. Below is a more thorough – as you all requested – checklist of the items an inspector reviews when determining if your apartment meets code. Like most U.S. cities, counties, and states, the District of Columbia has adopted and enforces the International Codes developed by the International Code Council. The codes below are taken from the 2006 Edition of the International Property Maintenance Code unless otherwise noted. These guidelines do not cover all of more detailed electrical, plumbing, and other building codes used by professionals, but does cover the vast majority of codes that need to be met to rent your unit.

If you are considering renovating your basement as a rental unit, this is an excellent summary of the codes that need to be met to get a Certificate of Occupancy and pass your inspection as part of the mandatory licensing process. As we continue to build out this site, we’ll feature posts on some of the codes that property owners has raised concerns about. Your contractor can be the best resource to discuss your options.

Occupancy Limitations [IPMC 403]

  • Dwelling units provide privacy
  • Habitable rooms are min. 7 ft wide
  • Kitchen passageways are min. 3 ft clear
  • Habitable spaces have min. 7 ft ceiling height
  • Min. 1/3 of required floor area in bedrooms with sloped ceilings shall have min. 7 ft ceiling height
  • Max. 1 family per unit
  • Room available for food prep., storage & disposal

More on Ceiling Height

– Minimum height in habitable spaces is 7′, which includes living rooms, bedrooms, and other similar living spaces
– Minimum height in kitchens and bathrooms is 6’8″

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

– You can have a support beam, i-beam (as many people do) that is below the 7′ – but no lower than 6’8″ – so long as 4′ on either side of that beam meets the 7′ minimum

Bedrooms & Living Rooms:

  • Living room is min. 120 sq ft
  • Each bedroom is min. 70 sq ft
  • Access to bedroom not through another bedroom
  • Access to bathroom not through a bedroom
  • No sleeping in kitchens & unfinished spaces

Efficiency Units (max 3 occupants):

  • 1-2 occupants: min. 220 sq ft
  • 3 occupants: min. 320 sq ft
  • Kitchen sink, stove, refrigerator each have a clear
  • working space of 30 inches in front
  • Separate bathroom (min. sink, toilet, shower)
Exterior [IPMC 302]
  • Premises kept in clean, safe & sanitary condition
  • Soil graded to prevent erosion & stagnant water
  • Walkways, driveway & parking maintained
  • Free from (noxious) weeds, tall grass
  • Free from rodent harborage & infestation
  • Vents, etc. not discharging onto adjacent property
  • Accessory structures maintained
  • No inoperative or unlicensed motor vehicles
  • No damage or defacement of property

Exterior Structure [IPMC 304]

  • Maintained in good repair & structurally sound
  • Exterior surfaces in good repair, no unprotected wood
  • Street numbers, min 3” high in Arabic numerals and contrasting background, shall be posted over the main entrance and visible from the public right-of-way (DCMR 12)
  • Structural supports maintained & adequately sized
  • Foundation plumb & free from open cracks
  • Exterior walls weatherproof & maintained
  • Roof, flashing & gutters weatherproof & maintained
  • Cornices, decorative brick, etc. in sound condition
  • Soffits, overhangs, etc. maintained & securely fastened
  • Exterior stairs, decks, porches, etc. maintained &structurally sound
  • Chimneys structurally safe & in good repair
  • Handrails & guards fastened & in good repair
  • Window & door frames weather tight
  • All glazing free from cracks & holes
  • All windows easily openable & remain open
  • Insect screens provided & in good repair
  • Doors & locks maintained & operable
  • Basement hatchways (bulkhead enclosures) maintained weather & rodent tight
  • Basement windows protected against rodents

Emergency Escape Openings:

  • Maintained to code in effect at time of construction
  • Operational without the use of keys or tools
  • Bars, grills & grates are releasable/removable from inside without key, tool or force greater than that of window

Fire-Resistance Ratings [IPMC 703]

  • Fire-resistance-rated walls, fire stops, shaft enclosures, partitions & floors are maintained
  • Integrity of fire resistance rating at unit separation walls, rated access corridors, stair enclosures, generator rooms, hoistways and vertical shafts shall be maintained. No gaps at top & bottom of fire partitions, separation walls and other assemblies. No voids, unprotected openings or unsealed penetration in any rated floor/ceiling or wall assembly (DCMR 12)
  • Opening protectives maintained & operable
  • Fire & smoke barrier doors are not blocked or inoperable

Fire Protection Systems [IPMC 704]

  • All fire detection, alarm & suppression devices are maintained & operable
  • Alarms located outside bedrooms and in each bedroom
  • Alarms hardwired & interconnected in new construction
  • Fire alarm boxes (pull stations) shall remain operational and unobstructed (DCMR 12)

Building Security:

  • Unit doors equipped with dead bolt
  • Locks to open without keys or special knowledge
  • Windows within 6 ft of grade are lockable
  • Basement hatchways secured against entry

Stairs [DCMR 12]

  • Stair treads in sound condition and not less than min width
  • Stair risers not exceeding max heights and within variation limits on a single flight

Interior Structure [IPMC 305]

  • Maintained in clean & sanitary condition
  • Structural support maintained & adequately sized
  • Interior surfaces maintained in good condition
  • Stairs, walking surfaces in sound condition
  • Handrails & guards fastened & in good repair
  • Doors fit well, open & close as intended

Handrails & Guardrails [IPMC 306]

  • Handrails on all flights of stairs having more than four risers
  • Min. 30 inches, max. 42 inches above the nosing
  • Guardrails on open sides of stairs, landings, ramps, decks, etc. more than 30 inches above floor or grade below
  • Min. 30 inches high with intermediate rails

Rubbish & Garbage [IPMC 307]

  • Free from accumulation of rubbish & garbage
  • Rubbish & garbage placed in approved containers
  • Owner provides leakproof, covered, outside garbage containers
  • Doors removed on abandoned, stored refrigerators

Extermination [IPMC 308]

  • All structures free from insect & rodent infestation (Extermination not to be hazardous to human health, precautions taken against reinfestation)

Light [IPMC 402]

  • Each habitable space has at least one window
  • Glazing shall be min. 8% of total floor area
  • Other spaces have adequate lighting
  • Multi-unit Dwellings (more than 2 units): adequate light on common halls & stairs min. 60 watt per 200 sq ft, max. 30 ft between

Ventilation [IPMC 403]

  • Min. one openable window in every habitable space
  • Total openable area to be min. 45% of required glazing (see above)
  • Window or mechanical ventilation in every bathroom & toilet room
  • Exhaust vents where fumes, gases, etc. produced
  • Clothes dryers exhausted per manuf. instructions

Required Facilities [IPMC 502]

  • Each unit has bathtub or shower, lavatory, toilet & kitchen sink
  • Bathroom is not used as passageway

Toilet Rooms [IPMC 503]

  • Bathroom has lockable door

Plumbing Systems & Fixtures [IPMC 504]

  • Fixtures are properly installed & maintained
  • Fixtures have adequate clearance
  • No hazards in plumbing system to occupants or structure—may include: undersized piping, inadequate venting, cross connections, lack of backflow prevention, damaged or worn piping or fixtures, inadequate support, inadequate water pressure or volume

Water System [IPMC 505]

  • Sinks, laundry facilities, bathtubs & showers have hot & cold running water
  • All water inlets located above flood-level rim of fixtures
  • Hose bibs & faucets with permanently attached hoses have vacuum breakers

Water heaters:

  • Adequate combustion air in small rooms
  • Temp. & pressure-relief valve & discharge pipe
  • Electrical & gas lines properly installed
  • Accessible gas shut off valve
  • Approved vent/chimney; approved material in good
  • condition; adequate slope, clearance & support

Sanitary Drainage System [IPMC 506]

  • All fixtures properly connected to sewer
  • Every stack, vent, waste & sewer line in good condition
  • Sanitary drainage system free of leaks, approved materials, correct slope, free of “patching”
  • Fixture vents provided & maintained
  • Each fixture has a trap
  • Adequate support on all piping

Storm Drainage [IPMC 507]

  • Drainage of roofs & paved areas does not cause a public nuisance
  • Storm water discharged away from structures

Heating Facilities [IPMC 602]

  • Heating facilities capable of maintaining 68°F in all habitable rooms, bathrooms & toilet rooms (Measured 3 ft above the floor, min. 2 ft from wall)
  • Portable heaters, gas fired type, strictly prohibited (DCMR 12)
  • If A/C provided, able to yield temp of 78 degrees or not less than 15 cooler than outside temp.

Mechanical Equipment [IPMC 603]

  • All equipment properly installed & maintained
  • All fuel-burning equipment connected to approved chimney or vent
  • Clearances to combustibles maintained
  • Safety controls maintained in effective operation
  • Combustion & ventilation air provided in the space containing fuel-burning equipment
  • Energy conservation devices installed are labeled & approved

Electrical Facilities [IPMC 604]

  • Min. 60-amp service with proper fusing & overcurrent protection
  • No hazards in electrical system to occupants or structure—may include: insufficient receptacle distribution, lack of sufficient lighting, damaged or worn wiring, improperly installed wiring, lack of grounding, inadequate support, exposed conductors, missing cover plates, excessive use of extension cords, overloaded receptacle or circuitry, lack of GFCI protection

Electrical Equipment [IPMC 605]

  • All equipment properly installed & maintained
  • Min. 1 lighting fixture in every hall, stairway, toilet room, bathroom, kitchen, laundry & mechanical room


  • Every habitable space has min. of 2 (separated)
  • Laundry outlet to be grounded and/or GFCI
  • Every bathroom has min. 1 receptacle (New receptacles to be GFCI protected)

Means of Egress [IPMC 702]

  • Safe, continuous & unobstructed path to public way
  • Egress doors do not need keys, special knowledge or effort to unlock from the inside
  • Exit signs shall be remain visible and illuminated at all times (DCMR 12)
  • Exiting through another dwelling unit or bathroom is strictly prohibited (DCMR 12)


Gas grills prohibited from roof terraces or combustible balconies within 10’ of combustible construction (DCMR 12)


  • Is unit occupied?
  • Is there a lease?
  • Are all occupants listed on the lease?
  • Is there a designated head of household?
  • Is rent paid solely through the designated head of household?
  • Does the landlord/operator reside off premises?
  • Is landlord/operator aware of Lead Based Paint notification requirements? ( &
Required Certifications
  • Water Heating Facilities (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (12 DCMR §PM-505.5)
  • Central Heating System (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §501.10)
  • Air Conditioning (inspect between September 1 and May1) (1+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §510.2)

All requirements must be met prior to receiving a license. Failure to meet all requirements within forty-five (45) days from the date of application may result in your application for a Basic Business License being denied and loss of paid fees.

NOTE: Failed items are also subject to the issuance of a notice of violation.





70 responses to “Checklist

  1. I like the site, however w/ the checklist, any way to make it a bit friendlier? IE, actually list ceiling height and how it is measured (ductwork, etc) What are teh number of light fixtures? pointing people at DCMR I’m pretty sure is illegal under cruel and unusual punishment clause in the constitution

    • dcracommunications

      Absolutely. We are going to pull out all of the details and tell you exactly what you need to do. We’re just getting started (didn’t know DCist was going to post today🙂 ). Thanks for the comment. Ceiling height is 7 feet in all living spaces – living room, bedrooms, etc. And 6 feet 8 inches in bathrooms and kitchens. We’re going to do our first post this week about ceiling height and options for coming into compliance.
      – Mike Rupert, DCRA

      • I have a basement that is 7′ or more everywhere (Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom. Living Room, Dining room). The only spot that is less than 7′ is the hallway which is 6’8 due to duct work in the hallway.

        Would this not be permitted?

      • dcracommunications

        Sorta Vague,
        7 feet is for living spaces so I don’t think this would be an issue.

  2. Ceiling Height?

    If the basement ceiling height falls short of the required 7 feet by a few inches, are there any options (other than removing our tenant and spending a large amount of money to dig out the floor by a few inches)?

  3. My finished basement ceiling height is approx 6.8 and I am sure I am in the majority when it comes to DC row houes. Could the ceiling hight requirment be reduced to 6.5 so that most can get thier apartments legally rented? I think spenting an insane amount of money to dig down 2 or 3 inches is crazy.

  4. Recommendations?

    A few of the basic requirements are pretty onerous. Hardwired smoke detectors are not required for a residence or unrented finished basement, and are probably very expensive to install. Why is it legal for any residence to have normal, battery-operated ones, yet if you happen to be taking money from a tenant you need hardwired ones?

    Having exit doors that can be opened without keys means no deadbolts. Most of us living in DC wouldn’t dream about having no deadbolts, and most people have security gates too. Unless of course your front door has no windows which nobody really wants — but that’s still not a substitute for a deadbolted gate.

    To get legal on these two points would probably cost a homeowner a lot of money: housewide electrical work, sophistocated/expensive new doors, gates, and locking mechanisms. I am not even sure how one could provide for a window in a basement bedroom that also served as a keyless exit. Basement windows are the most common breakin area in houses, so most people have security bars on them. There are security bars that can be locked with a padlock, but that would still need a key to open.

    How would you advise a homeowner who wants to get legal on these points, but also provide for safety from break-ins, which, honestly, is a much more serious concern than fire safety for much of DC? In my own home, I have deadbolts but keep a key hanging near the door in the event of fire. Obviously this isn’t good enough for a basement rental under these laws.

    I guess I realize the law is the law and you’re not going to change it, but the fact that these requirements would be pretty challenging and expensive for many to meet in a reasonable way will be a big roadblock for people who want to be in compliance.

    By having requirements that seem oriented more towards larger buildings rather than a basement rental — maybe they’re even the same — seems likely to result in worse overall safety. Since many people will not be able to meet these requirements without great expense they have little choice but to remain out of compliance, which is worse for safety in the big picture.

    Personally I think that if non-hardwired smoke detectors and deadbolts are legal for a non-rental, they should be legal for a basement rental. The configuration of the structure is no different than if it wasn’t rented. The laws should reflect that the structure is basically a residence and not an apartment building, where these laws make much more sense.

    Assuming that this will not change, though, perhaps you can make recommendations as to how people could solve these problems. What kind of security gate can be opened from the inside without a key, and without allowing an intruder to just reach around? Where do you get one? Can you retrofit existing ones? How much does it typically cost? How much does it cost to have a house upgraded with hardwired smoke detectors? Do you have to hardwire them to the whole house, or just the ones in the basement?

    Having some research or links available would probably help people understand better what they are facing.

    • I want to provide my kudos to DCRA for this site…I’m anxiously waiting for more info to be posted and explained so hopefully one day I will feel confident in the process.
      Toward that end, I want to echo the very articulate posting by “Recommendations?” about the challenges of being compliant with DCRA inspection codes, yet providing tenants/roommates a very basis day-to-day sense of security and safety against robbery and intruders, with bedroom windows/exit doors having security bars, etc. This is a huge concern. I asked the former go-to store on Cap Hill about what the “code” security bars for a ground level window and door might be (so didn’t need key, special knowledge, etc)….it was a grate-like crisscross window covering…very jail like in appearance and an immediate turnoff from a homeowners’ asthestics perspective. So, I would be very interested AND GRATEFUL to have DCRA share info on what models are considered compliant to install, etc as “Recommendations?” requests.
      Thanks again, looking forward to what this site might become for those who want to do the right thing.

    • Federal City Ironworks made short, affordable work of my emergency egress needs for my basement. 8 inch iron tube welded to inside of existing wrought iron security door allowed retrofit with thumb-turn deadbolt. Bedroom egress window with finger-proof iron mesh and internal slide bolt. Less than $1000 for peace of mind. (Putting in the egress window itself was another story!!)
      An electrician put in hardwired smoke detectors for about $600 with labor.

    • I think you should read the checklist again. Not only does it not say you can’t use deadbolts, it says you MUST provide a deadbolt.

      It just has to be the kind that uses a lever or knob action to unlock from the inside. Not the ‘double cylinder’ kind that requires a key on both sides.

      If you want to rent a unit that has a double cylinder lock, it is very easy to change. It shouldn’t cost you more than about $20.

      • Charlie, deadbolts that are not double-keyed are almost useless for security. That is the point. Unless the door in question has no windows (or, more likely, it’s a security gate) an intruder can easily knock out a window and reach around to open it. It is the most common way to break into a house and is the entire reason for double-key deadbolts.

        Few tenants would want to live somewhere so easily compromised. Hence the need for expenisve or complicated solutions in order to provide good security as well as meet the fire safety requirement.

        Ironically, the result of this code is most likely that landlords will do exactly what you are saying. As a result, people are safer in a fire, an extremely rare event, but their safety from break-ins, a much more common event, is not protected in any way.

      • Jimmy-proof deadbolts are available with a thumb-turn action on the inside and are most definitely not ‘useless’.

        All this complaining just makes it even more evident that there are landlords who don’t want to comply. Get off the sofa, and off the internet, and go to the hardware store and see what is available instead of insisting that it isn’t possible to comply.

  5. Any chance that you’d want to provide links to the property maintenance codes identified above?

  6. What happend to my post?

  7. What is an adequate emergency escape and rescue opening in a bedroom? Is there a required distance from the floor to a window opening?

    I think what you guys are doing with this site is fantastic. It will be so helpful to have a one stop site where we can get all the information we need to make our apartment legal.

  8. I look forward to hearing more about Item No. 6 related to gas meters and fuel burning appliances. That’s the biggest issue for getting my basement in compliance.

  9. Hi,

    I posted yesterday, but it looks like it got deleted, so I will try again.

    First, thanks for the site, it is very helpful.
    Second, is there a requirement that a basement apartment must have two exits, or is one door sufficient? If not, is it acceptable to have one door to the outside and another door that leads up to stairs to the first floor, where there is an unlocked door, and in an emergency, the basement tenant could walk through the main home to get to the front door? Thanks

  10. One additional comment – – I completely agree with FFX’s comments. My ceiling is around 6ft 10 in, and it seems exceptionally onerous to have to dig out the basement for an additional two inches. Digging out a basement, as you are most likely aware, is not only expensive but could in fact danger the foundations of the houses next to you. Can you have a process where you can apply for a waiver when you are talking a few inches, or can you make a specific exception for basement apartments? It would be a shame to let my unused basement go to waist when it could bring a tax-paying resident into the city. thanks

    • dcracommunications

      We’re working on our next post which will address the ceiling height requirement and options for property owners. Stay tuned. – Mike Rupert

  11. Recommendations?

    Thank you for providing this resource and more importantly for being available and responsive. As you can see from my long comment above, I think that the law as it seems to be now is challenging and not necessarily the balance of safety and reasonability. But laws evolve slowly and I realize that’s what we’re dealing with today.

    Right now the fact that you are here, got this resource online in record time, and seem genuinely interested in helping people is a huge and refreshing departure from the “old DC way.” I think most people want to do the right thing and feeling like you’re on our side instead of our antagonist is the best thing you could possibly do. This is the best thing I’ve seen come out of DC government in a long time. Kudos and keep it up.

  12. I could not agree more with the comments of “Recommendations?’.” It is so nice to see a DC Agency be so responsive. Of course, an additional benefit is that it will increase the number of affordable, safe rental units to DC residents and hopefully bring in more tax revenue to the city.

  13. I too appreciate this. It is amazing how one relatively simple outlet, such as this could have a HUGE impact when it comes to residents and city government. I congratulate [DCRA] for deciding to do this great service. I learned so much more already and the DC gov is becoming less scary thing. Topics such as Ceiling height, whether or not separate metered electric and water is required for rental basement, etc are all interest to me.

  14. dcracommunications

    To Recommendations? and RD,

    Thanks for the nice comments. Thank you very much for your thorough – “long” implies bad to me – response and these are all items that we are going to address in the coming weeks. We depend on you to let us know what we need to do a better job of communicating. So, thank you.

  15. No more stairs...

    I bought a house where the previous owner had spent an enormous amount of money to create a basement unit. She had the floor dug down, put in a front entrance, removed the stairs between the main house and the unit, and put in a full kitchen, bathroom, and laundry facilility. I kept the tenant who was living there when I bought it five years ago. She is planning on moving out at the end of this month.

    I am ambivalent about renting the space again specifically because I’ve gotten such inconsistent information. What I am concerned about are:
    -utilities are all still shared. There is no separate metering. (Fortunately, they are not in the bedroom space.)
    -The stairs between the main part of the house and the basement are gone and the bathroom downstairs is the only logical place they could go.

    Everything else checks out, with regard to safety requirements. It is my understanding that I need to have a C of O, in this case to be legal, but that I can’t get one unless I separate out the utitlies (which would not make financial sense for me at this point).

    Any input from DCRA is greatly appreciated.


  16. To follow-up on Matt’s question, it would be really helpful if you could link us to the proper codes and regulations applicable to DC (particularly the ones sited in the checklist). I have searched on the general DCRA website and was not able to find them. Thanks

  17. Lamont St's Finest

    Now, if only DCRA could make dealing with bad contractors more resident friendly!

  18. Federal City Ironworks made short, affordable work of my emergency egress needs for my basement. 8 inch iron tube welded to inside of existing wrought iron security door allowed retrofit with thumb-turn deadbolt. Bedroom egress window with finger-proof iron mesh and internal slide bolt. Less than $1000 for peace of mind. (Putting in the egress window itself was another story!!)

  19. @Chris Linton – good to know, but I don’t know if I’d call less than $1000 (presumably not that much less) affordable. The cost of an entire security gate installed when I did it a year ago on my home was barely over $1000.

    Since you’ll probably need two gates, double it. Then there’s the window bar issue.

    This is a tough regulation to comply with in a reasonable way. I have seen the iron tube solution on security gates to apartment buildings – but only when the gate is separate from the main entrance. It seems pretty inconvenient for a main egress that is used frequently, and assuming there’s a regular door 6-8″ behind it with its own doorknob, could be difficult to implement in that space.

    This seems like one of those areas where a well-intentioned law that makes sense for a larger multi-unit building may not be practical for a basement rental. In reality most single family homes with security gates have double-key deadbolts on them. It is most certainly a potential problem in a fire, but it exists for the vast majority of residences already. If the solution is difficult or prohibitively expensive to implement, then perhaps the regulation doesn’t make sense for this kind of rental. If it’s too hard for people to resonably comply with certain regs then a lot of people will end up remaining off the books — which may be worse for the big picture than if this regulation didnt exist.

    The separate meter requirement also seems odd. What a huge expense for anyone who might try to rent an existing finished basement legally– just not going to happen. What’s the benefit? Consumer protection from gouging of electric bills by the renter? Isn’t this something that can just be agreed upon between the two parties?

  20. Pingback: New Checklist Posted, Ceiling Height, Zoning and Ideas Going Forward « Rent Your DC Basement Apartment Legally

  21. Thanks for this information. I don’t see any mention of a need to separate electricity – so that the basement would be separately metered and fuses for the upstairs would actually be upstairs.

    Is this not a requirement? I have seen other unanswered comments on this subject, so any clarification would be much appreciated.

    • dcracommunications

      Each dwelling unit tenant needs to have 24/7 access to their service panel. Generally, you have separate meters for each panel, but in a remodel, if the service panel amperage is large enough to support two dwelling units one meter can serve the main service panel and a sub-panel (not metered) can serve the second dwelling unit, but each panel must be accessible by each tenant. Hope that make sense.

  22. “Access to bathroom not through a bedroom”

    I’m assuming this is for units with more than one bedroom… wouldn’t’ this be OK for a 1 BR apartment?

  23. Thanks for that answer about the need for each dwelling unit to have access to their panel.

    Just so I am clear: if a basement apartment houses an electric panel (for the upstairs) and a subpanel (for the basement), this is acceptable. How would an inspector determine whether each dwelling unit would have 24/7 access? This could be written into the lease, I suppose.

  24. Pingback: Great Resource For Landlords With Basement Apartments in DC « Ethical Homes

  25. Charlie, how would any deadbolt with a thumbturn on the inside be secure if there is a window on the door? Maybe you didn’t understand my concerns. An intruder can break the window and reach around. This is one of the most common types of break-in.

    Likewise, a thumb turn would be completely uselss (yes, really) on a security gate which is just bars.

    I’m sorry you think of this as “complaining” rather than expressing concern over the challenges in providing a rental that is both safe AND secure without breaking the bank.

    Why would anyone with no interest in complying even be reading this?

    • As I wrote in reply to JA before: regular thumb-turn deadbolt with a steel tube welded to the inside – cut to either a “no-reach-around” length for a security gate with space behind, or cut to meet flush to an inward-swinging door on the same jam, is a simple, secure fix. Cheap too. Problem solved.

  26. Again, thanks for this great DCRA website!

    In reviewing the checklist, it sounds to me like the list includes within it items for commercial/larger-than-two-units residential apartment rentals versus just those items that must pass inspection for a legal basement unit in a residential house. For example: “Fire alarm boxes (pull stations) shall remain operational and unobstructed (DCMR 12)” or “Exit signs shall be remain visible and illuminated at all times (DCMR 12).”

    Could DCRA review this checklist and revise it with those items that are just applicable to renting out one’s residential basement as a legal separate unit (i.e., making a single family home into a two unit residence), as that is the professed mission of the information on this website. That would be very helpful so one doesn’t just take a guess about which of the currently listed items applies to getting a C.O. for a place that is other than a residential two-unit family home (i.e., a commercial or larger residential apartment building).

  27. What is the required height clearance for stairways? I have an old basement that only has 6’8″. The only way out of the basement is up the stairs or out the back door. Will this affect my ability to rent the basement as a bedroom?

    You are not specific in section “Stairs [DCMR 12]”

  28. TryingToDoRight

    If I dont meet the requirements to rent my basement separately, I can still rent the whole house and give me tenant access to the basement correct?

    • dcracommunications

      @ TryingToDoRight,

      You definitely can. I would still be sure the basement meets at least minimum standards for habitability – having several exits, smoke detectors, etc. – if they plan to use basement as bedroom or rec area. Basements are just basements until you have a bedroom down there. It’s all about amount of time spent and how that time is spent. But basic answer to question is yes.

  29. The code was written for apartment buildings, not basement apartments. The effect of applying it strictly will be to close down most basement apartments.

    The iron bars and double cylinder deadbolts on basements are essential for tenant safety. Banning ones that are fixed or locked in practical effect bans them.

    The 8% of square footage in window space is impossible in most basements. That would mean a small 500 sq.ft. basement would have to have 40 sq. ft. of windows. Impossible in most.

    The new business license requires a new inspection of existing buildings that have a Certificate of Occupancy already for 2 units. Not only that but since the law requires that both the basement and the owner’s unit be licensed, even the owner’s unit will have to be inspected for code. Gross infringement of privacy.

    Why can’t people who live in the same residence just have housemates, who admittedly have their own areas, and avoid this basement separate apartment nightmare.

    Also if someone already has a C of O listing the basement as a legal separate unit and they fail this new inspection required by the Business License, what happens to their C of O? Is it downgraded to single unit?

    • dcracommunications


      The codes were written specifically for basement “dwelling units” and are specifically singled out in the codes. The window bar rules do not necessarily “fail” the unit if the unit has legal egress that does not include the windows as emergency egress. This is not a deal breaker as long as there are suitable other means of egress. If you live in the main house, you do not need a license for your own home. Not sure where that is implied in any way. People who all live together in a home and have housemates does not require a business license – in this case the basement is not a separate dwelling unit. If you have a kitchen, bathroom, etc. in the basement and it is clear that this is being used as a separate unit it would be tough to make the argument that you’re housemates though. If people share the whole house, this means they spend a limited amount of time in the basement. That’s the theory behind the codes. If they spend all their time there – it needs to support that level of use.

      The 7′ law is the biggest hurdle for the C of O. I a unit already has a C of O it 99 percent means the ceiling height is not the issue. If they fail for code violations, they need to make the repairs like any other housing unit. Hope this helps.

      • Thanks DCRA but that’s unfortunately not the case. I just applied for my business license and had to get licenses both for the basement rental and for my main house in which I live. Everyone else on my block who’s gotten business license applications in had to do the same. That would mean the main house would have to be inspected too I assume, although people who got their licenses last year didn’t have any inspections on either unit. I was just given a receipt for my payment and a letter saying before the license was issued an inspection would have to be done. That if it wasn’t done in 10 business days to contact DCRA for a date and that it had to be done within 45 days or my application would be cancelled, fees forfeited, and I could be subject to fines. This surprised me since I’ve been registered with RAD for many years and had an inspection when I got my C of O for 2 units.

        I’ve had my C of O for 30 years and my Rental Registration for at least 10 years. I’m prepared to take down some front bars and iron gates and switch some locks to single cylinder, but taking them off the rear door and windows and off the basement windows is more dangerous than any chance of fire.

        In my case I have no problem with ceiling height as when I originally had the house renovated I had the basement floor lowered to get 8 foot ceiling height and I also have wired smoke detectors in all bedrooms, living room, den, and stairs.

        My problem in keeping the basement legal will be that there is no way for me to get to 40 sq. ft. of windows for the 500 sq. ft. basement. I probably have about 25 sq. ft. including the glass front basement door and that’s more than most. The house was built in 1865 and I don’t want to fool with the foundations to dig larger window wells.

        My friend’s son lives in the basement and I have a housemate in the main house. We all have keys to all locks in the house and share many areas.

        But you do have to get a Business License even if you have housemates or even room mates I was told (I declare the income on my taxes).

      • dcracommunications

        If you own the house and live upstairs, you do not need a license for the house you own and live in. Period. Let’s chat. Email me at michael.rupert (at) and we’ll figure this out. Again, you DO NOT need a business license for your own home. Private homes also do not need a Certificate of Occupancy. Email me, please.

      • dcracommunications

        I’m also not sure where you are getting the window size requirements from? – Mike

  30. Bsmt Apart upgrades

    Required Certifications
    ■Water Heating Facilities (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (12 DCMR §PM-505.5)
    ■Central Heating System (inspect between March 1—September 1) (2+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §501.10)
    ■Air Conditioning (inspect between September 1 and May1) (1+ Dwellings) (14 DCMR §510.2)

    What does this. Do I hire a Heating/cooling company to inspect to make sure working properly. Do I get a certificate from them stating the inspection. What does inspect between Sept. and May mean?

  31. Hi, I have 3 questions with regard to my basement apartment.

    1. I have a gas stove in the unit. There is a light/fan above the stove. The fan just re-circulates the air and is not vented to the outside. Will my apartment fail inspection if this is not vented to the outside.

    2. With regard to this requirement: “Other spaces have adequate lighting.” Does this refer to the amount of light let in throw windows or is there a specified number of light fixtures that are required per sqft. in a room. If light fixtures are lacking can portable lighting be used(i.e. floor lamps)

    Also, what are these certifications? :

    “Required Certifications

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

    Who certifies them(heating, plumbing guy) or city inspectors? How often do they have to be certified. Why are there specific dates for the certification?


  32. Looking forward to future topics.Good job!

  33. I don’t mean to be a pain, but I’m going to re-post my spring entry and hope for some clarification with this re-dux entry…I’ve re-read the checklist again today and it still seems that some of these provisions are applicable to larger commerical rentals, not just basement apartments. Could DCRA please clarify how we know if an inspector is going to adhere to ALL these items on the checklist, or if there are some on this checklist we’re supposed to know don’t apply to basement dwellings. See my two cites in original post as examples of where I’m confused. Thanks again for this line of communication with DCRA!!

    Cap Hill // March 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Reply

    Again, thanks for this great DCRA website!

    In reviewing the checklist, it sounds to me like the list includes within it items for commercial/larger-than-two-units residential apartment rentals versus just those items that must pass inspection for a legal basement unit in a residential house. For example: “Fire alarm boxes (pull stations) shall remain operational and unobstructed (DCMR 12)” or “Exit signs shall be remain visible and illuminated at all times (DCMR 12).”

    Could DCRA review this checklist and revise it with those items that are just applicable to renting out one’s residential basement as a legal separate unit (i.e., making a single family home into a two unit residence), as that is the professed mission of the information on this website. That would be very helpful so one doesn’t just take a guess about which of the currently listed items applies to getting a C.O. for a place that is other than a residential two-unit family home (i.e., a commercial or larger residential apartment building).

  34. My neighbor has just installed a natural gas line to install a gas grill on his wooden deck that covers the entrance to his rental basement unit and that sits less than 1 foot from my wood framed sun room. Is this legal?

    • dcracommunications

      He would have needed a permit and the location sounds dubious. Send me an email at michael (dot) rupert (at) dc (dot) gov with address and your contact info and we can check it out.

  35. My inspector told me that ALL the outlets in the bathroom and kitchen needed to be GFI outlets. I’m skeptical because I don’t see this in any other house or apartment I’ve been in.

    He also said that the water heater needed an “electrical disconnect” but then went on to say that if the cabinet it was located in did not have a door on it, then this would not be required. This seems strange to me. While I can see that an electrical disconnect might be required, I can’t see what that has to do with a door.

    Can I read these items as they are written in the code to help me understand them before my next inspection?

    • dcracommunications

      The inspector was absolutely correct with the GFI outlets. This is universal code. You may have lived in older homes/apartments that were built before this was in the code, but I believe this has been a requirement for a long time. I’ll check with our inspections experts about the water heater. Thanks for the questions!

  36. There are several comments above, mine included, that have gone unanswered for a good bit of time. Is there any chance we might see some information back from DCRA about the inquiries or should we just repost them again? Still trying to do the right thing but definitely still need some more clarity about the process. Thanks again!

  37. Thanks for trying to keep up with the questions. I am still dumbfounded by two requirements mentioned by others but not answered yet:

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

    and 2.
    Light [IPMC 402]

    ■Each habitable space has at least one window
    ■Glazing shall be min. 8% of total floor area.

    -Does this mean that each separate room (living, dining, bedroom) have its own windows? That of course is impossible in a rowhouse.
    -The apartment is big, so even if the entire front wall was glass, it wouldn’t cover 8% of floor area. Are there exceptions made?

  38. Hi, Would you please clarify the number of exits required to rent a basement apartment in a single family unit? I have a backdoor that goes directly outside from the basement to the driveway and will covert one window so that it meets egress requirements. Contractor says I need a front door from the basement as well. I had planned to use the basement back door as the tenants front door. House is on the corner, so backdoor is easily accessible from the street. Would one door and one window meet egress requirements?

    • dcracommunications

      It really depends on the layout of the apartment, meaning where the bedrooms are in relationship with the main exit door, where the additonal egress window is located, where the window leads to, whether or not the bedrooms lead to a hallway or directly to the main exit door. It’s not easy to answer the questions without seeing the layout.

  39. is there a regulation for apartments in DC above the first floor that indicated a certain percentage of the floor has to be carpeted and if so, does this also apply to homeonwers carpeting theri first floor if they rent out their basement unit?

  40. I already have a business license for a house I have rented. Now I want to rent out my basement. I have the original blue prints, the permits, and inspections that were conducted. Will these documents be sufficient to get my C & O? Also, do I need another inspection? Can I just go to DHCD Rent Control Registration?

    • dcracommunications

      Ms. Roy,
      A basement apartment has different requirements than just a finished basement. However, it sounds like you’d be able to get your C of O pretty quickly if it does meet the codes. You need to apply for a change of use from one-family dwelling to two-family dwelling and you will have a C of O inspection. Hope this helps.

  41. Hi, Is there a list of inspectors that is current? The link provided on a previous page is a non existent page. I would like to have hire an inspector to do a pre inspection to see if my rental complies so that I know what hurdles I may come up against. Also, purchased this property 9 years ago and it had already been renovated. How do I get copies of the permits used in the renovation?

  42. Thanks so much for this website. It is a valuable source of information for homeowners, as well as renovators.

  43. Who do you call to get a “required certification” for water heating and central heating systems?

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