Landlords in the Washington D.C. market often run into tenants who don’t pay rent on time, violate the terms of the lease, or even commit crimes in their rental property. In such circumstances, an eviction often becomes the only course of action that can be taken. However, it’s important to know the laws and rules governing evictions in Washington D.C. so that you can protect yourself legally and ensure that the eviction goes smoothly.
Grounds for Evicting a Tenant
There are specific circumstances or reasons that allow you to evict a tenant. You must have at least one legal reason for eviction, and cannot legally evict a tenant simply because you dislike them.
Two of the most common reasons to evict are failure to pay rent or violation to a particular part of the lease, such as keeping a pet when the lease forbids it. Other reasons include damaging property by your tenant, illegal activity within your property, or situations where you want to immediately move into the property occupied by your tenant.
You can also evict a tenant because you wish to make alterations to the rental unit such as renovations, plans to demolish the property, or to convert the unit into a non-rental property,
Successfully Evicting a Tenant
In Washington D.C., you must go to court and ask for an eviction. Only after a judge orders the eviction can you take steps to remove the tenant from your property.
So-called "self-help" evictions are illegal in D.C. Self-help tactics include:
If you want an eviction to proceed, it’s important to ensure you coordinate your activities with the U.S. Marshals Department, or you may face serious legal repercussions.
Serving a Notice to Quit in D.C.
Even with a “judgment for possession,” you are still required to serve your tenant a “Notice to Quit” explaining why they’re being evicted and how the tenant can remedy the violation in question.
In most cases, you will have to serve this notice at least 30 days prior to the eviction, but in certain circumstances you may have to wait up to 180 days after serving this notice, depending on why you’re evicting the tenant. The notice must be in both English and Spanish.
Many landlords in D.C. insert certain contract language into a lease regarding non-payment of rent. This language indicates the lease serves directly as a “Notice to Quit” in situations involving non-payment for rent, waiving the tenant’s right to receive a 30-day warning.
You cannot personally deliver the Notice to Quit. You must use a delivery service that can deliver the Notice to Quit to your tenant, or send the Notice to Quit via certified mail. At that time, the Notice to Quit must be signed by your tenant and mailed back.
In circumstances where you’re not immediately sure whether you need to serve a Notice to Quit to your tenant, you should seek the personal advice of a lawyer knowledgeable about the eviction process. This will help protect you from any legal challenges or lawsuits down the road.
When the Tenant’s Lease Ends
It’s important to know that just because a tenant’s lease ends doesn’t mean you are legally able to evict a tenant. After the tenant’s lease has expired, they are automatically permitted to live in your rental on a month-to-month basis. The important factor to understand is that the tenant can stay in the apartment regardless of whether you choose to renew the lease.
You cannot simply evict your tenant after a lease expires unless you have a legal reason to do so. This same principle applies to landlords who have their tenants on a month-to-month lease to begin with, and even in situations where there was no written lease at all.
Evicting a tenant in Washington D.C. can be an uphill battle, but pursuing your eviction the right way will help protect you from bad tenants and keep you safe from legal difficulties.
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