What Types of Deeds Are Recognized in Washington, DC?
Washington, DC, recognizes three types of deeds for transferring real estate ownership during the owner’s life. Each type provides the new owner a different level of assurance about the quality of the transferred property’s title.
Washington, DC, Warranty Deed Form
A Washington, DC, warranty deed form—also called a general warranty deed—provides complete warranty of title. The current owner (the grantor) guarantees a valid title subject only to exclusions listed in the deed.1 The current owner promises that, if a third party makes a claim against the property, the current owner will resolve the issue. The new owner (the grantee) can sue the current owner for breach of warranty to recover any financial loss caused by a problem with the property’s title. DC warranty deeds typically state that the current owner transfers the property “with general warranty” or will “warrant generally the property hereby conveyed.”
Washington, DC, Special Warranty Deed Form
A Washington, DC, special warranty deed form—sometimes called a limited warranty deed—also guarantees a good title. The guarantee, though, is limited because it does not cover the property’s entire ownership history—just the period while the current owner held title.2 Any title problems from before the current owner acquired the property are outside the warranty. The parties are effectively splitting the risk of title issues—depending on when a specific issue arose. Special warranty deeds in DC typically say that the current owner transfers the property “with special warranty” or will “warrant specially the property hereby conveyed.”
Note: Washington, DC, general warranty deeds and special warranty deeds that rely on the statutory key phrases “with general warranty” or “with special warranty” implicitly include the common law covenant of warranty and covenant to defend.3 DC real estate statutes have key phrases for the covenant of quiet enjoyment, covenant against encumbrance, and covenant of further assurance.4
Washington, DC, Quitclaim Deed Form
A Washington, DC, quitclaim deed form provides no covenants or warranty of title—placing all risk of title problems on the new owner. The legal effect of a DC quitclaim deed is that the new owner takes as is whatever interest the current owner has in the property. The new owner cannot sue for breach of warranty if the transferred interest is invalid and a third party with superior title takes possession of the property. DC quitclaim deeds typically say that the current owner quitclaims the property to the new owner and often expressly disclaim a warranty of title.
What Types of Estate Planning Deeds Are Used in Washington, DC?
Estate planning deed is an informal term for deeds that transfer real estate efficiently when the owner dies. Washington, DC, law authorizes three estate planning deeds that automatically transfer a deceased owner’s property to a new owner chosen in advance. Each DC estate planning deed allows property to bypass the often complex and costly probate process.
Washington, DC, Transfer-on-Death Deed Form
A Washington, DC, transfer-on-death deed—often called a TOD deed—names a beneficiary who will take title at the owner’s death.5 A property owner records a TOD deed while living, but the deed is fully revocable and does not limit the owner’s right to sell or transfer the property during life.6
Washington, DC, Life Estate Deed Form
Life estate deeds are a traditional deed form that lets an owner reserve a lifetime interest in real estate and also grant a remainder interest to another person.7 The owner keeps the property for life, and when the life estate concludes because the owner dies, the holder of the remainder interest takes possession of the property. Once recorded, a life estate deed gives the remainder-interest holder a vested right to future possession, so it limits the current owner’s property rights. For example, the owner cannot sell complete ownership of the property—just the life estate.8
The term survivorship deed is sometimes used to describe a deed that gives title to two or more co-owners with survivorship rights. When one of the co-owners dies, the other automatically receives the deceased co-owner’s interest. A survivorship deed is like a joint bank account in the same way a TOD deed is like an account with a payable-on-death (POD) designation.
What Are the Ways in Which Multiple Owners Can Jointly Own Washington, DC, Real Estate?
A deed that transfers real estate to two or more owners should identify the form of co-ownership the new owners will use. DC law offers three options.
Tenancy in Common
Tenancy in common is a co-ownership form in which each co-owner holds a distinct share of the real estate’s title. The partial interest held by a co-owner—called a tenant in common or co-tenant—is usually described as a fraction or percentage. A DC deed to two or more co-owners creates a tenancy in common unless it specifically provides for a different co-ownership form.9 A tenant in common can transfer his or her partial interest by deed, by will, or under District of Columbia inheritance law.
Joint tenancy—often called joint tenancy with right of survivorship or written as JTWROS—is a co-ownership form characterized by a right of survivorship between the co-owners (the joint tenants). A surviving joint tenant automatically receives a deceased joint tenant’s interest, so real estate co-owned by joint tenants does not go through probate. A DC deed must expressly create a joint tenancy.10 That is usually done by transferring real estate to the new owners “as joint tenants with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common” or similar phrasing.
Tenancy by the Entirety
A Washington, DC, tenancy by the entirety—sometimes called tenancy in the entirety—is very similar to joint tenancy but with a key distinction. Co-owners who are tenants by the entirety must be married spouses or registered domestic partners.11 Tenancy by the entirety can also have asset-protection advantages and limits the right of either co-owner to sell or transfer the property without the other’s consent.
Real Estate Ownership through Trusts
Two or more persons can share possession and control of DC real estate through a living trust. DC trust law allows the same two persons to be a trust’s co-trustees and co-beneficiaries—as long as one person is never the trust’s sole trustee and sole beneficiary.12
A deed transferring real estate to a trust may title the property in the name of the trust itself or in the name of the trustee.13 A deed to a trustee must clearly indicate the trustee’s role as trustee and identify the trust. A deed to a trust must refer to the instrument that created the trust.
What Are the Rules for Spousal Ownership of Washington, DC, Real Estate?
Washington, DC, law has rules that apply when a property owner or owners are married. Legal rights given to spouses—including inheritance rights—can also affect how a property owner chooses to hold title to real estate or arrange an estate plan.
Washington, DC, Homestead Rights
A homestead is a property the owner uses as his or her primary residence. Some jurisdictions require a non-owner spouse’s consent to transfer a homestead owned by the other spouse. DC law does not have this rule. The DC statute that requires a non-owner spouse’s consent to homestead transactions applies only to a “mortgage, deed of trust, assignment for the benefit of creditors, or bill of sale upon exempted articles.”14 DC does, though, give a surviving spouse or domestic partner priority rights in a homestead in a deceased spouse’s estate.15
Washington, DC, Dower and Curtesy Rights
Traditional dower and curtesy rights can make a non-owner spouse’s consent necessary to transfer real estate owned by the other spouse. Only a few states still recognize dower and curtesy. DC abolished dower and curtesy rights in 2001.16
Spousal Elective Share
DC law gives surviving spouses and domestic partners an elective share in a deceased spouse’s estate—including real estate. 17 The elective share law lets the surviving spouse claim a minimum share of a deceased spouse’s estate instead of a lesser amount provided under the deceased spouse’s will. The spousal elective share in DC is equal to the surviving spouse’s intestate share—or the amount the spouse would receive had the deceased spouse left no will. However, the elective share cannot be more than 50 percent of the net estate distributed under the deceased spouse’s will.18
DC’s elective share law can result in different distribution of real estate than a real estate owner intended in his or her will. So, a property owner’s estate plan should account for the elective share when arranging for the distribution of real estate. DC law allows a married person to waive elective share rights through a valid pre- or post-nuptial agreement.19
Spousal Intestate Share
A surviving spouse’s intestate share is the portion of a deceased spouse’s estate the surviving spouse inherits when there is no will. DC’s intestate share for surviving spouses is either one-half, two-thirds, three-fourths, or the deceased spouse’s entire estate. The amount depends on whether the deceased spouse leaves surviving children or parents and, if so, whether either spouse has children who are not the other spouse’s children.20
DC is not a community property state.
Where Are Deeds Filed in Washington, DC?
The Washington, DC, recorder of deeds—a branch of the Office of Tax and Revenue—maintains DC’s land records. A deed that transfers title to DC real estate must be filed with the recorder of deeds for recording to provide notice of a transfer to third parties.21 DC law requires a deed to be recorded within 30 days after it is signed and notarized.22
The recorder of deeds office accepts deeds filed by mail or by hand delivery. The recorder’s address is District of Columbia Government, Recorder of Deeds, 1101 4th Street, SW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20024.
Does Washington, DC, Allow Electronic Recording?
Washington, DC, has adopted the Uniform Real Property Electronic Recording Act that lets the recorder of deeds accept deeds and other instruments in electronic format.23 The DC recorder of deeds accepts electronically filed deeds through its e-recording vendors. A deed in electronic format with an electronic signature that meets the law’s requirements qualifies as an original, signed written document.24
What Is the Cost to File a Washington, DC, Deed?
The filing fee required to record a deed in Washington, DC, is $31.50. The amount consists of a $25.00 base fee and a $6.50 surcharge.25 DC law lets the mayor adjust recording fees to cover the recorder of deeds’ operating costs.26
Does Washington, DC, Charge a Transfer Tax for Real Estate Transfers?
Washington, DC, assesses two parallel taxes at the time a deed is recorded—transfer tax and recordation tax. The taxes apply to non-exempt deeds that transfer ownership of real estate from one person to another.27
Transfer tax and recordation tax are both based on the consideration provided in exchange for the real estate.28 The consideration for transferred real estate is the price or amount actually paid or that will be paid, including mortgages.29 Tax on a property transferred for nominal or no consideration is based on the fair market value.30 Consideration is nominal if it is far below fair market value. Consideration below 30 percent of fair market value is considered nominal by regulation.31
Washington, DC, Transfer Tax and Recordation Tax Rates
DC’s transfer tax and recordation tax rates are parallel. The result is that each tax makes up half of the tax payment required when recording a DC deed. The total tax rates—combining transfer tax and recordation tax—are as follows:
- The standard combined rate is 2.2 percent of the consideration.32
- The combined rate is 2.9 percent for deeds transferring nonresidential real estate or with consideration of $400,000.00 or more.33
- The combined rate is 5.0 percent for deeds transferring real estate classified as Class 2 Property under34 for consideration of $2 million or more.35
Which Deeds Are Exempt from Transfer Tax in Washington, DC?
DC’s transfer tax and recordation tax laws each list certain transfers that do not require payment of the tax.36 A person who requests recording must provide the recorder of deeds evidence that supports a claimed exemption. The most common exemptions apply to both taxes and include the following deeds:
- Deeds between spouses or domestic partners, parent and child, or grandparent and grandchild without consideration;
- Deeds to a qualifying lower income homeownership household;
- Deeds to revocable trusts for no consideration if the transferor is the trust’s current beneficiary;
- Deeds transferring property from a revocable trust to the trust’s beneficiary due to the death of the trust’s grantor;
- Deeds transferring property from a revocable trust’s trustee if the transfer would be exempt if made directly by the trust’s grantor;
- Deeds transferring property to a business entity converting to a new type of entity;
- Deeds from an estate’s personal representative to an estate beneficiary for no further consideration;
- Deeds pursuant to a decree of divorce or separate maintenance agreement or under a written agreement related to a divorce or separation; and
- Deeds to a transfer-on-death deed’s beneficiary due to the owner’s death.
Does Washington, DC, Require Any Additional Forms When Recording a Deed?
The DC recorder of deeds requires two forms when recording deeds:
- Real Property Recordation and Tax Form FP-7/C. Form FP-7/C is a return form listing details about the transfer—including the amount of consideration. The current owner and new owner must both sign the form.37 Form FP-7/C must be filed with a deed and becomes a part of the deed.38
- Document Intake Sheet (ROD 31). Form ROD 31 is a cover sheet the recorder of deeds requires with all documents submitted for recording. It describes the nature of the filed document and any enclosed payment.
A third form is not required but can be very helpful when claiming an exemption. Form ROD 4 is an informational document published by the Office of Tax and Revenue that lists the documentation needed to claim most common transfer tax exemptions.
- D.C. Code § 42-604.
- D.C. Code § 42-605.
- D.C. Code §§ 42-604; 42-605.
- D.C. Code §§ 42-606; 42-607; 42-608.
- D.C. Code § 19-604.05.
- D.C. Code §§ 19-604.12; 19-604.06.
- D.C. Code § 42-601 (DC statutory life estate deed form).
- D.C. Code § 42-514.
- D.C. Code § 42-516(a).
- D.C. Code § 42-516(a).
- D.C. Code § 42-516(c).
- D.C. Code § 19-134.02(a)(5).
- D.C. Code § 19-1304.18.
- D.C. Code § 15-502(a).
- D.C. Code § 19-101.02.
- See D.C. Code § 19-102.
- D.C. Code § 19-114.
- D.C. Code § 19-113(e).
- D.C. Code § 19-113(f).
- D.C. Code §§ 19-302(1)-(5).
- D.C. Code § 42-401.
- D.C. Code § 47-1431.
- D.C. Code §§ 42-1231, et seq.
- D.C. Code § 42-1232.
- D.C. Code §§ 42-1210; 42-1211.
- D.C. Code § 42-1218.
- D.C. Code §§ 47-901(9); 42-1101(3)(a).
- D.C. Code §§ 47-903; 42-1103.
- D.C. Code §§ 47-901(5); 42-1101(5).
- D.C. Code §§ 47-903(a)(1)(B); 42-1103(a)(1)(A).
- D.C. Mun. Regs., § 9-502.6.
- D.C. Code §§ 47-903(a)(1); 42-1103(a)(1).
- D.C. Code §§ 47-903(a-4); 42-1103(a-4).
- D.C. Code § 47-813
- D.C. Code §§ 47-903(a-6); 42-1103(a-5).
- D.C. Code §§ 47-902(1)-(28); 42-1102(1)-(36).
- D.C. Code § 47-903(b)(1).
- D.C. Code § 47-903(b)(2).