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DCRA Launches Website For Basement Landlords And Tenants

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Barrett Colombo has lived in his basement apartment in Mt. Pleasant for two years.
Rebecca Sheir
Barrett Colombo has lived in his basement apartment in Mt. Pleasant for two years.

By Rebecca Sheir

The so-called English basement is a widespread rental option in Washington, as row-house buyers often expect to lease their lower level to help with the mortgage. A new website from D.C.s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is educating landlords and tenants on how to rent out basement apartments legally.

Features on the website is a note from DCRA that says the agency has uncovered a number of illegal rentals recently, including units filled with carbon monoxide from leaky water heaters.

Certainly because there's less air flow in basement apartments, carbon monoxide and other hazards can be a bigger deal, says Barrett Colombo, who has been living in basement apartments like this cozy and rustic unit in Mt. Pleasant, for about three years.

"This is the main room," says Colombo, as he gives a tour of the place. "As you can see, its a shared space. And so we have a kitchen, a couch, and more of a table space."

Though Colombo hasn't encountered anything as hazardous as carbon monoxide, he says basement living does have its drawbacks.

"We saw some kind of terrestrial mollusk coming up out of the drain the other day," he recounts. "I mean, that's part of living near other animals that live at our same level."

The website offers guidelines and checklists for landlords, and a discussion forum for tenants. So far, users have posted items about licenses, exit points, ceiling heights-- but no mention of mollusks yet.

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