Does a Washington DC Landlord Have to Accept Roommate Requests?

Does a Washington DC Landlord Have to Accept Roommate Requests?

As the demand for housing grows and the price of rental properties increases, roommates are becoming more and more common.

Your tenant is likely requesting a roommate because it’s convenient for them—someone to share the bills and help take care of the apartment. As long as you’re still receiving your rental income, you may think approving a roommate request won’t be a problem.

However, a roommate situation can get more complicated than you think. As opposed to a co-tenant, a roommate doesn’t have the same responsibilities. But as a landlord in Washington DC, are you obligated to accept your tenant’s roommate request? Here’s what you need to know.

You’re Not Obligated to Accept Roommate Requests

The short answer is no: you’re not obligated to accept roommate requests. Unless the roommate is your tenant’s spouse or child, you don’t have to approve any other person to live in the unit simply because your tenant requests it.

In certain cases, you can’t consider adding another person due to limit on the number of occupants in a DC dwelling. For example, only two people are allowed in a studio apartment, three people in a one-bedroom, five in a two-bedroom, and seven in a three-bedroom.

So if you already have two occupants in a studio apartment and they request a roommate, you won’t be able to accept the request according to DC law. But if you can technically approve a roommate, should you?

Always Screen Potential Roommates Before Granting Permission

Automatically approving a roommate is never a good idea. You should still screen this person just as you would a new tenant, because after all, they will be your new tenants! Have them fill out a rental application, run a background and credit check, and verify employment.

Since a roommate is technically someone who isn’t listed on the lease, you can avoid problems by insisting that they sign a new lease as a co-tenant. This means they have the same responsibilities as the primary tenant.

You should have an enforceable lease that states that both tenants are jointly liable, meaning they are both responsible for the rent and must comply with any lease restrictions. If you need to change your contract to include language referring to both parties and joint liability, do it. It’ll save you a headache later!

When approving a tenant request for a roommate, have both parties submit the rent amount in one full payment, not two separate payments. This way, you avoid getting involved in their financial business, and if one party is short rent for the month, they have to figure it out among themselves rather than taking it up with you.

Be Clear About Subleasing

While you’re not required to sublet your apartment in Washington, DC, you may choose to. Subleasing, or subletting, means should your tenant need to move out before their lease is over, they find someone to take over their responsibilities as tenant for the remainder of the lease.

However, be clear about your subleasing policy in the rental agreement. The person subleasing the apartment should be screened and sign a rental agreement just like your original tenant. In fact, terminating the original lease and having the subletter sign a new one is advisable to avoid potential legal complications.

Make sure your tenant knows that should they intend to sublet your unit, they must have written permission from you first. 

Should You Accept Roommates?

Deciding whether to approve a roommate request is a decision that each landlord has to weigh for themselves. There are certainly advantages to accepting a roommate, but be sure to protect yourself in the process!

Need help deciding whether or not to allow roommates, co-tenants, or subleasing agreements? FAS Management can help. For over 70 years, our property management team has helped Washington DC income properties be successful. Call us today at (202) 337-5080!


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