How to Check If Your DC Apartment Is Safe

Is your apartment legal and safe?

Two recent college graduates died last June when a fire erupted in the house near Dupont Circle where they rented rooms.

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs determined the townhouse was not licensed to rent rooms or apartments.

When property owners rent illegally, the safety of the apartments often is not checked.

But residents can perform easy safety checks to help protect themselves, DCRA Director Melinda Bolling said.

"Simple things save lives," she said.

Here's what you can do to help keep yourself safe:

Check Whether the Property Has the Proper Licenses -- DCRA urges every tenant to confirm online that the building where they live has a basic business license and that the certificate of occupancy matches how the property is used.

These licenses are important because to get approved, a safety inspection must be performed.

Anyone can check the D.C. Property Information Verification System to see if those requirements have been met. Type in your address and click on "BBL" and "Occupancy" to see if the owner of your building is in compliance.

Check Your Smoke Detectors -- Make sure smoke detectors are outside bedrooms and inside each bedroom, and test that they work. In newly constructed apartments, alarms must be hard-wired and interconnected.

Check Your Exits -- Your exit door should not need "keys, special knowledge or effort" to unlock from inside, a DCRA checklist says. The door must lock from the inside and outside.

Check Your Windows -- Any bars, grilles or grates on your windows must be removable from inside without a key, tool or force no greater than what you would need to break the window. Every bedroom must have a window that opens. Make sure you know two ways out of every room.

Check Your Outlets -- Each room should have two separate electrical outlets that work properly. Do not overload extension cords.

Check Your Heat -- If you do not control the thermostat, the landlord must ensure the temperature is at least 68 degrees during the day and 58 degrees at night in all occupied rooms.

Still Not Sure? -- Anyone who worries an apartment may be hazardous is advised to report it and ask for an inspection.

“If you’re a tenant and you see something in your unit that you think is unsafe, or you just wonder if it’s proper, call us and ask," DCRA spokesman Matt Orlins said. "There's no charge for the inspection, and you’ll know."

You can request a housing inspection by reading the instructions here and calling 202-442-4400 or emailing

If you believe your home has a violation that requires immediate attention, dial 311 or 202-442-9557.

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