What the Hell is a Blighted Property?

Photo by PoPville flickr user rockcreek

I was trying to get to the bottom of the whole blighted vs vacant property tax issue. I think it is great news that CM Bowser has re-instituted the tax penalties (it will go into law when the budget is signed):

Example: If a vacant house is assessed at $500,000 for tax purposes, the owner will be charged $25K per year in vacant property taxes, or $5 per $100 of assessed value.

Example: If a blighted house is assessed at $500,000 for tax purposes, the owner will be charged $50K per year in blighted property taxes, or $10 per $100 of assessed value.

Following is the official description of a blighted property:

A blighted home is one that is “a vacant building that is determined by the Mayor to be unsafe, insanitary, or which is otherwise determined to threaten the health, safety, or general welfare of the community;

“(B) In making a determination of the blighted vacant building, the Mayor shall consider the following:

“(i) Whether the vacant building is the subject of a condemnation proceeding before the Board of Condemnation and Insanitary Buildings;

“(ii) Whether the vacant building is boarded up; and

“(iii) Failure to comply with the following vacant building maintenance standards:

“(I) Doors, windows, areaways, and other openings are weather-tight and secured against entry by birds, vermin, and trespassers, and missing or broken doors, windows, and other openings are covered.

“(II) The exterior walls are free of holes, breaks, graffiti, and loose or rotting materials, and exposed metal and wood surfaces are protected from the elements and against decay or rust by periodic application of weather-coating materials, such as paint; or

“(III) All balconies, porches, canopies, marquees, signs, metal awnings, stairways, accessory and appurtenant structures, and similar features are safe and sound, and exposed metal and wood surfaces are protected from the elements by application of weather-coating materials, such as paint.”

Now that looks like a whole lot of gibberish to me. I know that legal language is obviously necessary. But I’m wondering if someone can explain to me in plain English and bluntly when a property gets declared blighted. Is it basically at the discretion of an assessor? I may not speak, or understand for that matter, legalese but I sure see a boatload of “blighted” properties around town…

24 Comment

  • ah

    There’s discretion, but they list a lot of considerations in those last three sections.

    Of course, I’m not sure (based on actual neighborhood experience) that DCRA will actually *apply* the blighted property designation and get the higher tax rate imposed.

  • Here’s some other items that are considered when marking a property blighted

    (iv) Property is owned by Shiloh or any other religious group

    (v) Property is owned by a friend of Fenty, or other large developer

    (vi) Note on file stating owner intends to fix the property but just needs more time

    (vii) Recorded campaign donations of $500 through each of your LLC’s to Wards council member.

    Now, for anyone that has a vacant, here’s how to now get out of the classification:

    1. Apply for a permit
    2. Get an extension for the permit, paint a wall if you want.
    3. Place the property for sale/lease for at 2x market value.
    4. Realize you don’t have to do any of the above and request an arbitrary exemption (See vi)
    5. Sit on property until neighbors complain. Ignore them.
    6. DCRA will question you after a year, repeat step 4.

    • you’re killing me, smalls!

    • ah

      It’s funny because it’s true!

    • You forgot (viii) Spray paint FOR SALE on the boarded-up front door, along with a phone number, and claim that it’s held up in an estate and you can’t get the family members to agree on a sale price.

      I’m talking about you, 3601 13th, which is been “for sale” for more than 4 years now and STILL is not taxed at the vacant rate.

      • saf

        20+ years, if it’s the one I’m thinking of. Red brick? That one has been like that since before I moved here.

        • Yep – corner of 13th and Otis. Everything else on the block has been sold and fixed up (or vice versa); one or two has fallen into disrepair in the meantime and the contractors/currently working on the block are eying those, too. But nothing ever happens at 3601.

          • Ok, I agree, 3601 should be reported to DCRA. So I just did. Was told an inspector will be going out there to visit it within the next 3 weeks. We shall see.

          • ah

            Oh, they’re happy to send inspectors out repeatedly. Just not take action.

            I’ve been calling about a nearby house. they always offer to send an inspector. I have to tell them that they’ve inspected it 5 zillion times in the last 7 years, but never take the next step of imposing the higher tax rate.

          • saf

            Yep. We moved here in February 1990. It was like that then.

  • i’ve been looking for a space to put my business in for almost a year now. i haven’t found an affordable place in the city(proper). yet every time i’m riding through town i see tons of properties simply sitting there. some boarded up. some obviously vacant. both commercial and residential. it’s a shame because small businesses could use space without having to pay $28/square foot, which is cheap compared to some of the “good location” high end spaces in downtown.

    seems like there’s a lot of fine print. i just wish SOMETHING would happen. i highly doubt it though….

  • Wonderbread factory is exactly right. The big loophole is that if you have a permit to fix blighted conditions you’re off the hook. And the length of time on the permit is incredibly generous: you have a year to START the work. For instance, if you apply and get a permit issued on July 1, 2010, it will have an “expiration” date of July 1, 2011. But that means you only have to start the work by July 1, 2011. Then, as long as you do a little bit of work every now and then, or can show receipts for delivery of materials, that permit is valid almost indefinitely.

    DCRA officials currently say they cannot put “complete work by” dates on permits as a condition of the permit, although that would be a simple way to slam shut the loophole and has been done in the past.

    An innovative way to offset the political games that go on with blighted properties is to make all permits for properties designated blighted go through the local ANC. That way politicians can compare directly the value of a $500 donation from a slumlord vs. the 100 votes within a neighborhood that might be furious about blighted conditions.

  • There are a couple of grammatical problems with the description, but I think it’s pretty easy to understand. Basically, the difference between a vacant and a blighted property is that in the case of the latter, the property presents a danger to the public because it is not properly sealed or because the structure is falling apart, or it is fugly because it is covered in graffiti or being worn away by the elements.

  • PoP, great choice for the picture – I am always baffled by the definitely blighted property next to the Floridian. Who owns it? I hope they are getting taxed up the yin-yang for that eyesore.

  • Concur with Ace. That little abandoned church is a fascinating eyesore. Like I kind of want to break in (not that any breaking would be required) and poke around and take pictures, but I am pretty sure the ceiling might fall on my head. I would love to know what is going on with that property.

  • Vacant property tax does work. The house next door to me was foreclose upon two years ago and has been vacant since. DC land records indicated that it is held by the IndyMac land trust, for which there was not contact information. I filed a vacant property form with DCRA and followed it up with a phone call. They immediately changed the tax designation ot vacant. Within two months the property was put on the market and at a fair price for an investment.

    • Obviously not a professional squatter. They should look at how Sender in Shaw manages his blighted hole, or how Douglas manages to get every one of his vacant properties exempted

    • exact opposite of me. property next door was abandoned. I filled out the form at least three times, and got a call back once. The inspector basically said “is it leaking into your house? no, well, we’ll put it on our list to reevaluate in the future”. Never did make it on the list, and has now been vacant for > 6 years.

  • You quoted the law incorrectly. the key word is “may”, not “shall”. “MAY”

    “The mayor MAY consider…’

    that’s a big difference

  • Aww… dont’ be like that–it’s sort of hauntingly beautiful!

    Or is that haunt[ed]?

  • A “blighted property” is one that is run-down and not owned by a church or developer friend of Adrian Fenty.

  • Now that the mayor MAY take into consideration whether “openings are weather-tight and secured against entry by birds,” I hope he takes action on 1724 Park Road (a horses’ ass awardee if I’m not mistaken), which has been blighted since a fire there almost three years ago.

  • DT – I did have to call DCRA a couple of times to get that done. Bug them. One thing to do is to go on to DC land records and find out who owns it and what actions have occured. To do that you will nee the lot and square number for the property. You can get that from the planning office website.

    Nag nag nag. Its the only way you can get shit done with this city

  • The law works. I reported a house on my block, and to my surprise, it was on the market for sale 3 weeks later. Could have been a coincidence, but I doubt it.

Comments are closed.