Apr 6, 2023 - Real Estate

How to find rent-controlled units in D.C.

Illustration of a key floating in a glass dome.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

D.C.’s rent-controlled units are one tool to battle high prices, especially as the housing market pushes some residents to rent for longer than they planned.

Why it matters: Living in D.C. isn't cheap, but anyone can benefit from the savings rent-controlled units provide, because they aren’t subject to income restrictions.

While the cost of rent-controlled units can increase from year to year, those increases are regulated and generally smaller than uncontrolled units.

Yes, but: Tenants in rent-controlled units could see 8.9% rent hikes this year, the largest increase since 1982, Washington City Paper reports. Increases are calculated using the Consumer Price Index plus 2%, with a cap at 10%.

  • The increases are capped at 5% for elderly tenants and those with disabilities.

D.C. Policy Center executive director Yesim Sayin Taylor says she thinks of D.C.’s rent control laws as more like rent stabilization that prevents price gouging.

State of play: There was an attempt by the D.C. Council during a meeting this week to slow the 8.9% increase, but it ultimately failed.

How it works: Most buildings with five or more units that were built before 1976 are subject to rent control rules.

The D.C. Policy Center estimated in 2020 that there were 73,000 rent-controlled units in the District. That’s compared to 124,600 total rental apartments. Wards 3 and 8 have the bulk of D.C.’s rent-controlled units, Sayin Taylor says.

Between the lines: The number of rent-controlled units drops when landlords sell properties, and turn units from rented to owned. This often happens when landlords feel that they aren’t getting a high enough return on their investment.

Pro tip: Sites like Zillow allow users to search for rental properties by the year they were built – a good place to start if you’re looking for rent-controlled units.


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