Public Meeting on 2 DC Bills Regarding Neighborhood Preservation and Blighted Properties


This meeting will take place Wed. Jan. 27th at 2pm in room 412 of 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. The two bills to be discussed are B18-448 which was introduced by Evans and would eliminate the vacant property registration system and focus only on blighted properties.


B18-546 which was introduced by Bowser and would keep the vacant property registration system, eliminate the exemptions, allow for an upward sliding scale for registration fee depending on amount of time property is vacant, simplify the citation issuance process, and require property insurance for vacant properties.

You can find links to the full text of the bills here.

Do you think it is a good idea that the $5 – $10 tax penalties be removed for all vacant properties except for those determined to be “blighted.” Which properties do you think should be defined as “blighted”? Do you think the Council should support penalties for vacant properties or only ones deemed blighted?

18 Comment

  • the only general principle seems to be a focus on threats to health and neighbors, with a bunch of other factors to take into consideration. the list of factors in the bill is pretty broad and vague.

    i think somebody would have to explain what properties will no longer receive focus in order to understand the changes clearly.

    if i was to pick things to focus on i might suggest (1) multiple empty residential units together and (2) neighbor- or police-identified problem houses that are misused by vagrants, drug users, etc.

  • I would be interested to know how blighted is defined. I kindof feel that if a property is vacant for a year or more — not inhabited by the owner and not rented out — it’s by definition a blight on the community. I like the idea of a tax to incentivize the owner to sell, and I think it’s a good idea for it to escalate over time.

    Take this house, for example:

    It’s been on the market for 725 days. The owners are clearly not willing to accept a fair market price for the property, and having it just sit there unoccupied is bad for the community. I realize that sometimes it can take time to sell a house, but it’s not supposed to take years.

  • I don’t like the idea of drawing a relevant line as to whether a property is “blighted” or not. It just invites corruption in making that determination and, I would imagine, adds a new and significant bureaucratic delay in getting there.

    Without much background on the issue, it makes sense to me to keep the vacant property system, allow a reasonable amount of time that a property could be unoccupied without the owner incurring penalty (something like a year or two, with extensions allowed if there’s evidence of probate delay or an inspector verified improvements being done), and just begin enforcing what already is in place. As with a lot in the District, the problem seems to be inconsistent or half-hearted enforcement. Having lived on a block with a monstrosity of a vacant property that has been there for the entire 6 years I’ve owned my place (and from the looks of it, much longer than that), the city needs to do everything in its power and within the bounds of constitutionality to encourage the productive use of properties and get them out of the hands of deadbeat owners.

  • I just love that a member of Sha-Na-Na sponsored a bill.

    • The whole Sha Na Na gang grew up on that block way back in the day, and they’re pretty sad about what’s become of it.

  • The law needs to be very clear with few exceptions, the burden of proof on the landlord and graduated penalties with large increases by year 2+ if we want vacancy penalties that will incent sales.

    Long term investors who sit on properties for 5+ years have good lawyers with the know-how to avoid paying vacancy fees. It is easy to list and de-list a property for sale, list it for too high a price so it never sells, complete a $50 repair to be considered “under renovation” status, etc.

  • With the change in emphasis from vacant to blighted properties, I think it is interesting that any residential improved property that is vacant is now taxed at the Class 2 rate by default ($1.65 or $1.85 per $100, depending on value) and can’t qualify for an exemption allowing it to continue to be taxed at the Class 1 rate ($.85 per $100). It used to be that a vacant home that was being marketed for sale received an exemption from the vacant property tax rate for one year. As the law is written now, as soon as your home is unoccupied (because you have been unable to find a tenant for the space or you don’t want to because it is easier to sell vacant), your property tax rate will double and there are no exemptions.

  • This is *important* legislation for those living in neighborhoods with large numbers of vacant lots, like Shaw. I’m quite curious as to whether there are any ongoing lobbying efforts of neighbors who want to see a vacant property tax restored.

  • Great idea. As the market starts to improve, I think it should be in the city’s interest to spurn developmetn and remove blight caused by neglectful owners.
    I run by this house often (,-77.062644&spn=0,359.990376&z=17&layer=c&cbll=38.925259,-77.062697&panoid=o1xrxvxgKJqcGn7M38yhSA&cbp=12,250.79,,0,1.39 ) So its not just a problem in “transitioning” neighborhoods.

  • The previous legislation helped us take action on numerous vacant homes in our neighborhood, and I am glad for it. I hope the new legislation proves as effective.

  • It is NUTS that they are taling about weakening the vacant tax. The definitition for blighted is way too narrow. Do we really want fewer properties hit with the vacant tax rate? I know its hard to administer, but the rate is a good tool for progress and vacants are a problem in transitional and not-so-transitional (Capitol Hill) neighborhoods. Just because a house has its windows propertly boarded up doesn’t mean it doesn’t pose a problem for its neighbors. These places attract trash, rats, sometimes become crime sights, etc. They have to go and Councilmembers who make it easier for them to stay in unproductive use are making a huge mistake.

  • Definately put the responsibility on the owner to require registration of vacant property, and fine owners who do not register their properties. (cough *Douglas, Shiloh, etc* cough) Higher taxes however, should only apply for the blight category, and extensions to exception should require proof

    In addition, they need to have a much, much more transparent system for ensuring the information stays current. (ie, automatic review upon sale, permit pulls, etc)

  • ah

    I am happy to see a focus on “blighted” properties, but it is a mistake to let all other vacant properties pay a “normal” tax rate. The term “blighted” is going to lead to tons of fights over what constitutes blight.

    The problem with the previous vacant property law is that DCRA was too willing to give exceptions when they weren’t due, and unable to give exceptions when they were. To wit, they gave plenty of people exceptions for sham efforts to sell and failed to enforce the 3-year cumulative limit on exceptions (they told me that their records didn’t record exceptions).

    Meanwhile, the stories of people buying formerly vacant properties and still getting hit with the tax were simply not an acceptable result. So, a few reforms:

    1) Go after blighted properties at a 10% rate
    2) Implement a 3% vacant property rate that escalates 1 percentage point each year of vacancy, capping at 10%.
    3) Limit exemptions to 3 years, for real, unless ongoing construction is taking place and the owner can substantiate the need for continued time. Provide a 1 year exemption for selling a property, which can be extended for a second year but only by a showing that the price has been reduced by at least 25% from the original listing price, and the original listing price was reasonably comparable to similar properties in the neighborhood.
    4) Building permits with ongoing construction merit an exemption.
    5) Also an exemption during the pendency of any permitting proceedings (waiting for building permit, historical review, etc.).
    6) Create an escrow (refundable) payment for anyone who attests to working with an architect/builder/etc. to generate plans and apply for permits that is refunded (or not charged in the first instance) once building permits are obtained.
    7) Automatic exemption for the first 6-month tax period after transfer of the property to an unrelated person (to allow new owners to prepare for rehab).
    8) Make public all properties receiving exemptions *and the basis for their exemption* on the DCRA website

  • ah

    What do you have against the government of Iraq? That’s the ultimate transitioning neighborhood.

    I live near this one, which is owned by a person, not a foreign government, so DC could have done something in the last 10 years (how long it’s been vacant).,-77.085362&sspn=0.014121,0.020535&ie=UTF8&hq=4334+klingle&hnear=&ll=38.931355,-77.085936&spn=0,359.979465&t=h&z=16&iwloc=B&layer=c&cbll=38.931363,-77.085829&panoid=MecTSEqPI-IbQvmtSLlKIQ&cbp=12,178.66,,1,0.87

  • The sooner the DC government can make a vacant house into a tax delinquent property that is sold to tax-lien investors who have no interest in our neighborhoods, and who dump the properties into the hands of slumlording speculators who can’t get any bonafide banks to invest due to the high vacant property tax rate and screwed up title issues and overall sleaziness, the better.

  • I think the exemption for listing the property or for repairs should be removed completely. DCRA doesn’t have the staff to inspect. It costs more money to repair the property quickly, but it can be done. That’s a cost of doing business.

    If it’s been habitable up to now, then the repairs shouldn’t take more than 3-4 months for any flipper. Of course there are exceptions, but that’s the breaks. If it was uninhabitable before, then you’ve been sitting on it for years and you are going to pay the price. As for new buyers getting nailed with the tax costs, don’t be silly. Anyone buying a house for major repair would discount the cost of the tax hit in the purchase price. The city doesn’t need to get involved with this.

    • ah

      But what if it’s an individual buying some run-down house from a grandlady and they want to fix it up right? 3-4 months isn’t even enough time to get the permits out of DCRA?

  • So Jack helped real estate speculators and developers get rid of the $10 vacant property rate and now he wants to get rid of them even having to register their vacant properties? At what point does someone ask him to do what’s best for his constituents rather than for his campaign contributors?

    What the hell’s the point of communities working together to identify vacant properties and try to get them fixed up, if all that work can be tossed aside by Jack Evans doing the bidding of real estate speculators?

    And what happens when some of those speculators are hit with the blighted property tax rate? How long will it then take Evans to decide blighted property rates are too high for his contributors and try to do away with that as well?

    Where do other Councilmembers stand on this? Where are Evans’ constituents from Shaw who have to deal with tons of vacant properties? Where’s Jim Graham and Harry Thomas?

    This hearing is a chance to see which of our council members represent us the constituents rather than just doing the bidding of the deep-pocketed real estate speculators.

    Why does a developer like Douglas Jemal or Shiloh Baptist Church get to sit on vacant properties for decades, while the residents have to deal with all the mess those properties create for the community?

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