If your tenant is late on the rent again or the list of lease violations keeps growing, you may be ready to pursue eviction. But before you try to evict your DC tenant, it is crucial to learn the laws and the steps in the DC eviction process.
Legal Reasons for Eviction
Washington DC law allows landlords to evict tenants for only 10 specific reasons. And even when one of those legal reasons applies, the law forbids landlords from performing a so-called self-help eviction, such as changing the locks or removing the tenant’s property. Property owners must go through the courts to evict a tenant. The 10 permitted reasons are:
- Failure to pay the rent
- Participation in illegal acts within the rental unit
- The landlord plans to personally use and occupy the unit
- The landlord sells the unit to a new owner who plans to personally use and occupy the unit
- The tenant violated the rules or obligations in the lease and did not correct the violation when notified of the problem
- The landlord plans to demolish the rental property
- The landlord intends to substantially rehabilitate the property
- The landlord intends to make renovations to the property and cannot do so safely while the tenant continues to live there
- The landlord wants to convert the rental property to a condominium or a cooperative after receiving approval
- The landlord does not plan to continue the use of the property as rental housing
Steps in the Eviction Process
Before you can file an eviction lawsuit against your tenant, you must give the tenant a written notice, which is known as a Notice to Vacate or a Notice to Quit. Owners are usually required to give 30 days notice, but some reasons for evictions require longer periods – up to 180 days.
Exceptions to the notice requirement include cases where the tenant is using the property as a drug haven or if the tenant failed to pay rent and waived their right to notice in the lease. The waiver of the tenant’s right to receive a notice applies only if the tenant has failed to pay rent and this is the primary reason for the eviction.
After the notice period has elapsed, you can request a judgment for possession by filing a Complaint for Possession of Real Property in the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the D.C. Superior Court. Use a standard form from the court to file the complaint and follow the court instructions for serving the complaint carefully.
Once you have filed the Complaint for Possession, the court will assign a hearing date to your case. Both you and the tenant will have the opportunity to present your claims. If the court decides in your favor, you will obtain a judgment for possession. You must then file a Writ of Restitution and you can schedule the tenant’s eviction through the U.S. Marshals Service.
The best way to avoid this lengthy and complicated eviction process is to carefully and thoroughly screen all adult applicants – including checking references, income, and credit history – before giving them possession of your rental property.
A property management company can also screen and select tenants to ensure you have qualified residents. Lawhelp.org also has answers and information for frequently asked questions by owners about the eviction process.