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Forming a Tenant Association (as per TOPA)

Tenants living in a building with five or more apartments who wish to buy under the Rental Housing Conversion and Sale Act must do so through a valid tenant association. Forming a tenant association in the District of Columbia is generally a simple process, but the Tenant Purchase laws outline specific requirements for purchasing tenant groups. A tenant association can also be a useful tool for protecting your rights as a renter. Tenants who act collectively are more likely to get better results than those working alone. If you are interested in finding out about tenant associations in Washington D.C. for reasons other than tenant purchase look here www.tenac.org.

Before you try to form an association we highly recommended that you contact either ULS Homeworks, or some other local housing professional to help you. Remember ULS Homeworks can come out to your building to answer questions help you get organized.

Getting Started

To get started interested tenants must conduct two votes:

1. To form an association, and
2. To elect a board of directors.
Directors are the persons who will initially make the day-to-day decision for the association once it is incorporated. At least three directors are needed. Because this association will have to be incorporated ULS recommends that all directors be building residents, over the age of 18, in good standing.
Note: It does not matter at this stage how many residents are involved. A board of as few as three directors can start the process and add members as time goes on.

Legal Requirements

To be recognized under the Tenant Purchase Laws the tenant association must:
1. Be incorporated
2. Represent greater than 50% of the occupied qualifying units
3. Have at least three persons serving as directors and officers, and
4. Be registered with the City


Participating tenant associations should incorporate as non-profit corporations in the District of Columbia. Incorporating a D.C. not for profit corporation currently requires a $70 incorporation fee and the preparation of two simple legal documents:

1. Articles of Incorporation- A short document –typically two or three pages- that registers the corporation with the government, and gives it some special protection and additional responsibilities under the law; and

2. Bylaws- A longer document –typically five to ten pages- that details the rules for operating the tenant association. Free examples of both documents, and advice about how to properly prepare and submit them, are provided by ULS Homeworks.


To be successful, tenant associations will need money to buy stationary supplies, pay administrative fees, and pay for their attorney’s legal retainer.

Membership Eligibility

Tenant associations must represent greater than 50% of the occupied apartments in order to be considered valid under the law. While all apartments can join the association for the purpose of buying, two categories of apartments are not counted towards the 50% threshold:

1. Apartments occupied by any persons who work for the property owner, or have done so in the last 120 days (live-in managers or custodians for instance), and
2. Apartments occupied by persons who have lived in the building for less than 90 days.

Defining Head of Household

The head of household is the person whose lives in the apartment and who has either their name on the lease or pays the rent. If you are confused about who is considered the head of household for your apartment in a tenant purchase situation call ULS Homeworks.

To figure out the number of occupied qualifying units take the total number of apartments in your building and subtract all of which are vacant, or occupied by persons who fall into one of the two categories above.

For Example:

Total # of units in the Building 100
# of vacant units -10
# of units occupied by new residents -10
# of units occupied by employees of the property owner -10
# of occupied qualifying units 70

A tenant association hoping to organize the building above would therefore need more than 35 apartments as members before qualifying under the tenant purchase laws.

If you have questions about how to proceed be sure to contact ULS Homeworks for help.