The Catholic University of America

Summary of District of Columbia Laws

Real Property


Commercial Leasing: Normally, the tenant of commercial premises performs any work necessary for occupancy because the property is delivered to the tenant in "as is" condition. The landlord, however, may perform specified work or provide the tenant with the resources to do so. If the landlord performs the improvements, the work agreement and plans must be clear, define the scope of the work, the cost, the timing of completion, expenses, compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and permit responsibilities involved in the project. If the tenant makes improvements upon the property, the landlord must ensure that the contractors are financially responsible and insured and should retain the right to approve the improvements and secure a bond or other surety to prevent lien problems.

Generally, when the lease ends, the tenant is required to either return the premises to its original condition, except for reasonable wear and tear. Therefore, it is important for the parties to inspect the premises and make detailed records regarding its condition at the commencement of the lease.

There is no implied warranty of habitability for commercial leases. Instead, commercial leases are subject to the building code which mandates that various structural requirements be met. Also, zoning regulations govern the potential use of the premises. Generally, the tenant is required to obtain a certificate of occupancy, but occasionally the landlord may be required to if he/she is performing a build-out.

The landlord should take steps to ensure that the tenant is financially responsible, beginning with analyzing detailed financial information, specifically the financial statements of the tenant. A commercial lease will often prohibit or restrict assignment or subletting in order to minimize risk. Also to minimize risk, the landlord may require a large security deposit or other collateral, or require a guarantee with adequate consideration. If a corporation or other entity executes a lease or guarantee, it is important to ensure that the proper signatures and evidence of authority are applied and that the entity resolutions have been obtained.

Generally, commercial leases have independent covenants, and thus, the tenant has a duty to pay the rent irrespective of the condition of the premises and regardless of whether the landlord has fulfilled his/her contractual obligations under the lease. Usually commercial leases contain default provisions for breach, notice requirements, and opportunities for the tenant to cure the default. Commonly, statutory notice to vacate is waived by the commercial tenant. The landlord has the right to file suit immediately in the event of a default and failure to cure.

The landlord may include in the lease the right of the landlord to terminate the lease along with the requirement that termination will not relieve the tenant from liability for future rent. The tenant's right to remain on the premises, cure defaults, and redeem the lease may be restricted pursuant to the Bankruptcy Code.

If the tenant breaks the lease, self-help is not available for commercial landlords. The landlord must use court proceedings to evict the tenant, and a tenant may be liable for compensatory and punitive damages.

Reference: For general information about commercial leases, see under "Commercial Law - Commercial Leases"

Residential Leasing: For every residential lease, there is an implied warranty of habitability. For responsibilities of the landlord (university) and tenants (students) see, e.g., the CUA residential leasing contract.

Q and A:

Q. Are student dorms covered under landlord tenant laws?

A. If a building is owned by a University and 95% of the occupants are students of that University, it is considered a "dorm" under DC law. DC Code Section 42-3502.05(e) provides that rent control laws do not apply to dorms. So, this exempts dorms from the rent stabilization and eviction control provisions of DC law. Dorms are still subject to various other housing regulations. (answer courtesy of Linda Schutjer, Associate General Counsel, The George Washington University).

Links updated 6/9/08 rab
Page checked August 5th, 2010, FJL.