As students set off to find affordable off-campus housing in the area, a new initiative by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs aims to help potential tenants of basement apartments find their match.

By heading to, owners can access helpful resources regarding leasing, such as instructions on how to obtain a rental license and a checklist of safety standards that must be satisfied in order to meet D.C. building codes.

Building code requirements include a minimum ceiling height, proper light and ventilation, adequate emergency escape access, reliable and level walking surfaces, and sufficient appliance, electrical and facilities upkeep. Owners must also ensure that doors and windows are weather-tight, renters have access to a fire extinguisher, and bedrooms are free from items such as gas meters.

Catherine Dokurno (COL ’12), who is looking to rent an apartment this summer, said she thought the site would be a useful resource.

“I would definitely want some kind of group to help guide me through the process and make sure it would be a legitimate transaction because I would have no idea how to differentiate between a safe and legitimate deal and a shady one,” Dokurno said.

Cat Skolnicki (COL ’13) was pleased to hear of the Web site, saying she has noticed some unsafe conditions in area apartments.

“I was in someone’s basement apartment in Georgetown recently and definitely saw more than one violation of the items on that safety list,” she said. “This basement had walls made completely of exposed insulation and huge cracks.”

An initial DCRA attempt to improve rental conditions for students,, was launched in 2008 and allows students to verify if their landlord is licensed by providing access to online databases. The Web site also contains an inspection checklist and fire safety tips.

While some students worried over rentals’ adherence to safety codes, others stuck with a simple mantra: cheaper is better, even if an apartment is unlicensed.

“I’m sure these Web sites are helpful, but a lack of licensure wouldn’t deter me from renting a place,” Joe Mekhail (COL ’13) said. “For college students on a budget, it’s more important to get a more affordable rental than to have level staircases.”

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