DC Rental Basement Guidelines

Author: Susan Isaacs | The Isaacs Team

What makes a DC rental basement legal? DC rental basement guidelines for homeowners, renovators and home buyers. Highlights of the District of Columbia Housing Code.

DC Certificate of Occupancy

What is a Certificate of Occupancy?

A Certificate of Occupancy (CofO) is a document that specifies the use of a building, structure or land according to Zoning Regulations and the provisions of the DC Building Codes.

Its purpose is to ensure that the use of a building, structure or land in the District is compatible with the general intent of  Zoning Regulations. Consequently, no person can use a structure or land in the District for any purpose other than a single-family dwelling until a Certificate of Occupancy has been issued for that structure.

When It’s Required

Do I need a Certificate of Occupancy?

A new application is required each time a qualifying change occurs:

  • No Certificate of Occupancy has been previously issued (new construction)
  • Property has a change of ownership
  • Property has a change of use
  • Property has a change in occupancy load

Where Can I Obtain a Certificate of Occupancy?

Starting on October 23, 2023, the Dept. of Buildings digital platform is the accepted application venue. The fee for a Certificate of Occupancy is based on square footage.

Take Note

  • Learn guidelines before renovating
  • Read our DC legal bedrooms guide
  • Check to see if you need a new CofO
  • CofO applications are now available online
  • A BBL is required to rent property
  • Learn DC rental property laws

Adriana Says

“After a bad experience with another agent left us in a very tough position, Susan turned everything around. Despite the tough August market, we sold in less than 2 weeks.”

Is a CofO required for a single family home rental in the District?

No, but a Certificate of Occupancy is required for a rental establishment with 2 or more units. Let’s break it down for house hackers:

Two-Family Rentals
Two-family rental (includes English basement units, converted basement units, or carriage houses in a single-family home where the main residence is occupied by the property owner or another tenant.

Requirements

Applicants must register with the DHCD after the Basic Business License (BBL) has been accepted by the Dept. of Licensing and Consumer Protection (DLCP), there’s another step. Following registration, applicants must return to DLCP with the DHCD-stamped RAD Form in order for the license to be issued.

Both One Family, and Two Family Rental applicants must register with DHCD after the license has been issued by DLCP.

DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Occupancy

404.1 Privacy

Dwelling units, hotel units, housekeeping units, rooming units and dormitory units shall be arranged to provide privacy and be separate from other adjoining spaces.

404.2 Minimum Room Width

A habitable room, other than a kitchen, shall not be less than 7 feet (2134 rom) in any plan dimension. Kitchens shall have a clear passageway of not less than 3 feet (914 nun) between counter fronts and appliances or counter fronts and walls.

404.3 Minimum Ceiling Height

Habitable spaces, hallways, corridors, laundry areas, bathrooms, toilet rooms and habitable basement areas shall have a clear ceiling height of not less than 7 feet (2134 nun). Exceptions:

  • In one and two-family dwellings, beams or girders spaced not less than 4 feet (1219 nun) on center and projecting not more than 6 inches (152 nun) below the required ceiling height.
  • Basement rooms in one and two-family dwellings occupied exclusively for laundry, study or recreation purposes, having a ceiling height of not less than 6 feet 8 inches (2033 nun) with not less than 6 feet 4 inches (1932 nun) of clear height under beams, girders, ducts and similar obstructions.
  • Rooms occupied exclusively for sleeping, study or similar purposes and having a sloped ceiling over all or part of the room, with a clear ceiling height of at least 7 feet (2134 nun) over not less than one-third of the required minimum floor area. In calculating the floor area of such rooms, only those portions of the floor area with a clear ceiling height of 5 feet (1524 nun) or more shall be included.

404.4 Bedroom & Living Room Requirements

Every bedroom and living room shall comply with the requirements of Sections 404.4.1 through 404.4.5:

  • 404.4.1 Room area: Every living room shall contain at least 120 square feet (11.2m2) and every bedroom shall contain at least 70 square feet (6.5 m2).
  • 404.4.2 Access from bedrooms: Bedrooms shall not constitute the only means of access to other bedrooms or habitable spaces and shall not serve as the only means of egress from other habitable spaces. Exception: Units with fewer than two bedrooms.

Additional Requirements

404.4.3 Water closet accessibility: Every bedroom shall have access to at least one water closet and one lavatory without passing through another bedroom. Every bedroom in a dwelling unit shall have access to at least one water closet and lavatory located in the same story as the bedroom or an adjacent story;

404.4.4 Prohibited occupancy: Kitchens and non-habitable spaces shall not be used for sleeping purposes;

404.4.5 Other requirements: Bedrooms shall comply with the applicable provisions of this code including, but not limited to, the light, ventilation, room area, ceiling height and room width requirements of this chapter; the plumbing facilities and water-heating facilities requirements of Chapter 5; the heating facilities and electrical receptacle requirements of Chapter 6; and the smoke detector and emergency escape requirements of Chapter 7;

404.5 Overcrowding. The number of persons occupying a dwelling unit shall not create conditions that, in the opinion of the code official, endanger the life, health, safety or welfare of I the occupants;

404.6 Efficiency unit. Nothing in this section shall prohibit an efficiency living unit from meeting the following requirements:

  • A unit occupied by not more than two occupants shall have a clear floor area qf not less than 220 square feet (20.4 m2)
  • A unit occupied by three occupants shall have a clear floor area of not less than 320 square feet (29.7 m2) . These required areas shall be exclusive of the areas required by Items 2 and 3.
  • The unit shall be provided with a kitchen sink, cooking appliance and refrigeration facilities, each having a clear working space of not less than 30 inches (762 nun) in front.
  • Light and ventilation conforming to this code shall be provided.
  • The unit shall be provided with a separate bathroom containing a water closet, lavatory and bathtub or shower.
  • The maximum number of occupants shall be three.

404.7 Food preparation. All spaces to be occupied for food preparation purposes shall contain suitable space and equipment to store, prepare and serve foods in a sanitary manner. There shall be adequate facilities and services for the sanitary disposal of food wastes and refuse; including facilities for temporary storage.

Guidelines For Emergency Exits

Escape openings must be:

  • 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.

Guidelines For 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.

Guidelines For 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).

Guidelines For Exteriors

IPMC 302  Premises to be 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.

Roofs

Roofs on Historic Buildings  The Historic Preservation Office assists owners and tenants in historic structures to maintain, preserve, and enhance the roofs on their property.

Utility Meters

The Historic Preservation Office has developed guidelines for placement of utility meters on landmarks and properties located within historic districts.

Walls & Foundations

The Historic Preservation Office assists owners and tenants in historic structures to maintain, preserve, and enhance the walls and foundations on their property.

Window Repair & Replacement

Window Repair and Replacement: Preservation and Design Guidelines:  The Historic Preservation Review Board offers guidance for window repair and replacement for historic structures in the District of Columbia.

For properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places (U.S.), comliance to the 10 standards of The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation is required.

DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Accessory Structures

Accessory structures are to be maintained, with no damage or defacement of property and no inoperative or unlicensed motor vehicles present.

IPMC 304  Exterior Structure

  • Maintained in good repair and 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 and structurally sound
  • Chimneys structurally safe and in good repair
  • Handrails and guards fastened and in good repair
  • Window and door frames weather tight
  • All glazing free from cracks and holes
  • All windows easily openable & remain open
  • Insect screens provided and in good repair
  • Doors & locks maintained and operable
  • Basement hatchways (bulkhead enclosures) maintained weather and rodent tight
  • Basement windows protected against rodents

See additional guidelines below.

DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Building Security

Building Security requirements:

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

DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Stairs

Stairs Requirements:
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. [DCMR 12]
DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Interior Structure
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. See Additional Requirements below

DC Rental Basement Guidelines : Additional

Handrails & Guardrails [IPMC 306]

Handrails on all flights of stairs having more than four risers

Min. 30″, max. 42″ above the nosing
Guardrails on open sides of stairs, landings, ramps, decks, etc. more than 30″  above floor or grade below
Min. 30″ high with intermediate rails

Rubbish

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

Extermination [IPMC 308]  All structures free from insect & rodent infestation (Extermination not to be hazardous to human health, precautions taken against re-infestation).

Light

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.

Efficiencies

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).

Bedrooms And Living Rooms

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.

Ventilation

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 manufacturer instructions.

Required Facilities

Required Facilities [IPMC 502]  Each unit has bathtub or shower, lavatory, toilet & kitchen sink Bathroom is not used as passageway.

Toilet Rooms

Toilet Rooms [IPMC 503]  Bathroom has lockable door

Plumbing And Fixtures

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

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

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

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 Drain

Storm Drainage [IPMC 507]  Drainage of roofs & paved areas does not cause a public nuisance Storm water discharged away from structures.

Heating

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.

Mechanicals

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

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 Receptacles 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).

Egress

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

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. (DCMR 12)

*There may be additional requiremnets. Visit the Dept. of Building page for a full list.

DC Rental Basement Requirements Resources

DC HP Guidelines

Zoning Handbook|ADUs

DC Construction Codes

Inspection Checklist

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NW DC 20005

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