Requirements for Washington DC rental basements. Highlights of the DC Housing Code. You can obtain a full copy of the DC Housing Code from the DCRA.

Did you know?

A Certificate Of Occupancy does not survive a change of ownership in the District of Columbia. Buyers must reapply for a CofO if they plan to rent the basement or accessory building of their home.

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 the 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. The fee for a Certificate of Occupancy is based on square footage.

Do I need a Certificate of Occupancy?

A new C of O is required when:

  • No Certificate of Occupancy has been previously issued (new buildings)
  • Property has a change of ownership
  • Property has a change in occupancy load
  • Property has a change in use
Where can I obtain a Certificate of Occupancy?

Apply to the DCRA’s Permit Center for a Certificate of Occupancy at 1100 4th Street, SW, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20024.

I rent a single family dwelling unit in the District; do I need a Certificate of Occupancy?

No, but a Certificate of Occupancy is required for a rental establishment with 2 or more units.

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 Widths
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 Heights
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, gird- ers, 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 and 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 stitute the only means of access to other bedrooms or habit- able spaces and shall not serve as the only means of egress from other habitable spaces.
  • Exception: Units that contain 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; 
  • 04.4.4 Prohibited occupancy: Kitchens and nonhabitable 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;
  • 404.7 Food preparation. All spaces to be occupied for food preparation purposes shall contain suitable space and equip- ment 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.
  • 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.
DC Rental Basement 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.
DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Fire Resistance Ratings

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.

DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Fire Protection Systems

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).

DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Exteriors

Exterior [IPMC 302]  Premises 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.

DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Accessory Structures
  • Accessory structures maintained No inoperative or unlicensed motor vehicles
  • No damage or defacement of property.
  • Exterior Structure [IPMC 304]
    • Maintained in good repair & 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 &structurally sound
    • Chimneys structurally safe & in good repair
    • Handrails & guards fastened & in good repair
    • Window & door frames weather tight
    • All glazing free from cracks & holes
    • All windows easily openable & remain open
    • Insect screens provided & in good repair
    • Doors & locks maintained & operable
    • Basement hatchways (bulkhead enclosures) maintained weather & rodent tight
    • Basement windows protected against rodents.
DC Rental Basement Guidelines For Building Security
Building Security requirements are:
  • Unit doors equipped with dead bolt 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 [DCMR 12]  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.
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. 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 & 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 [IPMC 308]  All structures free from insect & rodent infestation (Extermination not to be hazardous to human health, precautions taken against reinfestation).


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.


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 [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 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 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.
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 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).


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 (DCMR 12) 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.

DC Rental Basement Resources

Numerous laws and regulations have been adopted in the District of Columbia to govern the construction, alteration, and demolition of buildings and structures, and the maintenance of all premises in the District of Columbia including lots, parcels of land, buildings and structures.  DCRA enforces the District of Columbia Construction Codes (12 DCMR) and portions of the Housing Code (14 DCMR, Chapters 1-15)which are applicable to housing businesses.  DCRA also enforces those portions of the D.C. Official Code that relate to buildings and structures, including Title 6 (Housing and Building Restrictions and Regulations) and Title 42 (Real Property).  DCRA publishes Administrative Bulletins in the DC Register, to communicate official Department policies and interpretations, in order to assist applicants, staff and the public in following operational, technical and legal procedures. DCRA’s Administrative Bulletins are available on the DCRA website. 

The main purpose of the Construction Codes is to protect the public health, safety and general welfare of the occupants or users of buildings and structures and the general public. The District of Columbia adopts the International Codes (ICC Codes) published by the International Code Council, and the National Electrical Code (NEC) published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), subject to any changes, deletions and/or additions to the ICC Codes or the NEC as set forth in Title 12 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) (the District of Columbia Construction Codes Supplement). The ICC Codes are a complete set of comprehensive, coordinated building safety, property maintenance, and fire prevention codes that have been adopted in fifty states and the District of Columbia. For further information about the ICC and its code development process, please refer to the ICC’s website.

 Effective March 28, 2014, the District of Columbia adopted 11 of  the 2012 ICC Codes and the  NFPA’s 2011 NEC with changes, deletions, and/or additions set forth in the 2013 District of Columbia Construction Codes Supplement, 12 DCMR, Subtitles A through L. Updating of the Construction Codes is an ongoing function of the Construction Codes Coordinating Board (CCCB)

In addition to the laws and regulations enforced by DCRA, numerous other agencies and entities, both local and federal, have jurisdiction over issues and matters related to buildings and structures in the District of Columbia.

In October 2015, the Construction Codes Coordinating Board (CCCB) commenced a new code development cycle to review the 2015 ICC Codes and the 2014 NEC.  For more information about the CCCB and its code development process, see the Construction Codes Coordinating Board website.

Inspection Checklist
DC Historic Preservation Guidelines
Learn about DC Historic Preservation Design Guidelines
DC Two Family Rental License
DC Zoning Handbook For Accessory Dwellings