Credit: Darrow Montgomery Credit: Darrow Montgomery

The rent may be too damn high, but soon, it could be less of a burden for tenants who face significant late fees for missing payments by the first of the month.

Under a bill the D.C. Council is expected to pass Tuesday, a late fee charged by a landlord would be limited to 5 percent of a tenant’s monthly rent. The legislation applies to all rental housing, not just rent-controlled buildings. Its proponents say it’s meant to create fair and uniform standards for rental late fees, which to date vary widely.

According to At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds—who chairs the Council’s Committee on Housing and Community Development—the bill represents the first D.C. effort to regulate these fees, setting five calendar days after rent is due as the threshold for late payments. In a statement, Bonds says the legislation will protect tenants in more than 156,000 rental units from “unscrupulous landlords and outrageous late fees when they fall behind on their monthly rental payments.” (The bill is now on the Council’s non-consent agenda, so it could be tweaked.)

In its current form, the policy requires lease agreements to specify the maximum amount a tenant would owe for being behind on their rent. It also bars landlords from charging interest on late fees, evicting tenants based on non-payment of a fee, and deducting a fee from a future rental payment, because some landlords count a timely payment of monthly rent as late when a tenant hasn’t paid off a prior late fee.

On the other hand, the bill allows landlords to charge tenants late fees to be paid within 30 days after the five-day grace period, and to take out any “unpaid, lawfully imposed late fees” from tenants’ security deposits. It creates penalties for landlords who violate its provisions, too.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel Bowser says the executive supports the legislation and views it as a matter of consumer protection.

Bonds, who introduced the bill with Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, and Mary Cheh, notes that the District would join states like Maryland, Maine, and North Carolina in adopting such legislation.

This post has been updated with comment from the mayor’s office.