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From the Desk of

Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner 4D-04 David Sheon

Government of the District of Columbia
1) Require No-Nonsense Building Owner Identification. Currently DCRA
frequently issues fines for vacant property violations to previous owners who
have been dead for several years. The violation is mailed to the vacant home,
resulting in no response, payment, or improvement. Often as well, the owner
is an LLC that may not identify individuals. By requiring the name of all
owners, their social security number, and the name of at least one relative or
alternate contact, we could more expeditiously find owners. We could also
track serial violators of the law with multiple vacant properties and perhaps
have stiffer penalties for them.
2) Require Building Owners to Prove their Property is No Longer
Vacant. Shift the burden of proof and require that building owners show a
signed lease agreement or bill of sale to someone not related to them to
prove the property is no longer theirs. Currently, DCRA has to prove twice
yearly that a property is vacant in order to levy the vacant property tax
thats at least 6,000 inspections per year! Shifting the burden of proof from
the City to the owner would dramatically reduce the number of inspections
needed and raise more revenue for D.C.
3) Eliminate the Building Permit Loopholes. Vacant property owners are
allowed to avoid the vacant building tax by taking out a building permit, even
if they dont hammer a single nail in the property. And a single building
permit can be extended for up to three years. Building permits can cost less
than $100, resulting in avoiding 5% vacant property tax that could cost the
property owner tens of thousands of dollars. Eliminate this loophole entirely.
In the event an owner is found with a vacant property despite that he/she is
working on the property, simply credit them back the vacant building tax in
the half year after they submit a signed lease or bill of sale.
4) Double the Vacant/Blighted Building Tax Rate Each Year the Property
Remains Vacant. Our neighborhoods should not be the victim of lax vacant
building laws. The developers should pay the price if they choose to sit on a
property. This would send a clear message that the City and our communities
want these properties turned around and sold or rented.
5) Create an Exemption for Aunt Millie. Exempt properties that are in
probate for one year, passing from one family member to another, if the
owner provides a Death Certificate confirming that the owner of the property
recently died. This allows generations to own and maintain the family

property without penalty. In the event the property is vacant for two years,
however, the vacant property tax should be instituted unless documents
prove that court dates remain in place to settle ownership disputes.
6) Implement a Fix-It Now Law. In the event that vacant buildings are in
disrepair, as is currently the case, DCRA should board up doors and windows
that are not secure. However, fines for this work are not steep enough to
incentivize owners to do this work themselves. All fines should be doubled
from their current rates.
7) Consider a Lender Penalty. Banks who issue loans to vacant property
owners could be fined by DC for increasing the risk for police, fire, and rescue
because these properties are sitting vacant. Nothing tells a vacant building
owner to get moving on a property like a lender who says were going to
cancel your loan.
8) Reinstate the Class 5 Tax Rate for Vacant Lots. Currently, no tax
increases are allowed on cleared, vacant lots. Vacant building owners, such
as the one at 809-813 Kennedy Street NW, can clear the building and leave
the lot vacant for years without penalty.
9) Reinstate the Junk Sale for Properties with Taxes Owed in Excess of
Property Values. The Junk Sale was scrapped because a small number of
property owners who couldnt keep up with tax payments had properties
confiscated. No one wants to see lower income individuals who struggle have
property confiscated, but when this law was scrapped, it had the unintended
consequence of creating no answers for the commercial owner or developer
who repeatedly failed to pay their tax bill. If a new threshold were set that
property tax exceeds property
value, I believe this would fix the problem and allow for transfer of properties
like that at 929-931 Kennedy Street without impacting lower income
Require Complete Transparency at DCRA. Neighbors should not
be left to wonder whether DCRA has inspected and fined a vacant or blighted
property, but right now thats exactly the case. Responses to questions
posed to DCRA to see if fines have been may take weeks to get answered.
Lets make DCRAs inspection system on the Web so that neighbors, ANC
commissioners, and even the owners can track fines and investigator status
online. If a developer sees that an inspection is pending and he or she
cleans up the property thats great! And if DCRA issues a fine to a
deceased or former property owner, neighbors can contact DCRA and ask
them to further investigate. The amount of time saved because the burden
of proof was shifted from DCRA to the property owner is going to free up
significant amounts of time and better communications with the public should
be encouraged, if not legislated.
I wish to thank the Kennedy Street Development Association for its ideas, which
have been incorporated into this list.