Dear PoP – Help, The City Sold My House!

“Dear PoP,

The DC Government stole our Petworth home, 929 Farragut St, just east of Georgia Ave, through a classic screwup. It was an improper sale of the deed through an improper tax sale based on completely incorrect property taxes. Now the house is boarded up and no one is living there. If it happened to us it could happen to anybody! We’d like to get the story out to other DC residents and taxpayers. Our FULLY PAID FOR $450,000. house was sold for $40,000!! I’d like to tell you the whole story.

The short version is that I got a ten times higher than normal property tax bill. When I went in person to DCRA I was told that someone had put it into the vacant tax classification. The house had been under renovation when it was misclassified. By the time I got the bill and went down there it was already rented and occupied. They didn’t know how to get it out of this classification. I went many times and called many times and was never able to get the tax classification changed even though it stayed occupied. Eventually the DC city council shortened the period of time during which you could dispute a tax bill from three years down to six months. Without notice they sold the hose for taxes!! We have been trying for the last FIVE years to get this rectified!”

I’ll be honest I normally very skeptical of claims like this but I decided to sit down with the owners because the case seemed so wild. The owners Dennis Dyer and his partner Amy Marx sat down with me last week to discuss the case. I’ll be honest again, the case is a bit complicated and while Mr. Dyer and Ms. Marx had folder after folder of affidavits and leases and other communications it still wasn’t completely clear to me. As best I can understand it seemed like the house was accidentally placed into vacant status and was sold due to unpaid tax bills.

This is likely a case for a proper investigative reporter but I’d like to throw it out to you guys – do you think it’s possible (in this specific case) that the city could have accidentally placed a home into an incorrect tax status and sold it before the owners were able to correct the problem? For those who have a lot of free time, after the jump you can find more details.

If you do think the city made a mistake – since the house has already been sold – do you think the owners will be able to recoup their losses? Has anyone else heard of a similar situation?

Ed. Note: The WBJ’s Michael Neibauer recently wrote about D.C.’s tax lien market here.

Update: DCRA also encourages people to look at the Complete Guide to Vacant Property Compliance FY 2011

After the jump you can see a detailed letter sent to the mayor and a full timeline of the incident submitted by Ms. Marx.

I am asking for your help because I am desperate and have exhausted all other avenues of recourse and am in danger of losing the single family house that I rent out. It was mistakenly put in class 3 and I am asking the city to correct it’s tax status. I have owned 929 Farragut St NW, Washington, DC since 2001 and have rented it out continuously except when I was having maintenance and improvements done to it. In 2005 during a hiatus between tenants when painting and general repairs were being done to clean up the house for new tenants, the property was deemed vacant under a vacant tax rule which the council has since repealed. While I was diligently working to rectify the erroneous classification, the city’s Office of Tax and Revenue sold the property out from under me. My property was worth $300,000 and was completely free and clear of any mortgage debt when OTR sold it to Lab Liens, a company based in Chicago for a mere $40,000. Because of unfortunate timing, I was caught in the unfair complications of this rule. The property was moved from class 1 to class 3 without any cause, which increased the tax bill by a factor of ten.

Let me briefly introduce myself. Over the past four decades I have improved the city’s housing stock, my company buys derelict properties, upgrades them, rents them and eventually sells them as improved and viable residences. I have always paid my property taxes in full and in a timely manner.

When the mistake was made with the property in question I immediately went to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs where the staff was completely uncooperative and evasive. After many months spent trying to find out what to do I eventually found my way to James Aldridge who told me he would work on it and that I should not pay the tax in the meantime because a CORRECTED TAX BILL needed to be issued first. During that time a federal investigation of OTR was taking place which resulted in many terminations and a high profile conviction, with Harriette Walters going to prison. At this time Mr. Aldridge was forcibly terminated. He had been in possession of my file; after he left I could not find out who had taken over his position, no one else in the department would communicate with me or take up my case.

So, in the five years since the property was incorrectly put into the class 3 tax classification by an employee at OTR, I have been working diligently to get the classification corrected Despite extensive efforts including calls, emails and visits to a variety of offices and officials, I have not been able to get OTR to correct their original mistake. The DCRA, which should have provided me with a CORRECTED TAX BILL, has failed to do so. Instead I have been passed back and forth between OTR and DCRA, getting the runaround for years now. I have also appealed to Muriel Bowser’s office in whose ward the property is, whose legal adviser, legislative counselor Rob Hawkins told me to sue the city, but that is an impossibility because of sovereign immunity.

Meanwhile believing the situation would be remedied because the property WAS RENOVATED AND OCCUPIED, I did not pay the tax attached to the erroneous classification. That tax was ten times higher and a hardship. I was following Mr. Aldridge’s advice and waiting for justice to be done. Last summer I did manage to get my property reclassified as not ever having been vacant; however the ruling only went back to 2007. Ironically, my work benefitted Lab Liens, by providing a property tax credit! I, however, have received no benefit. To prove that in fact that my property was not vacant in 2005 I have provided leases, water bills, affidavits from workmen, and cancelled checks to city officials. One of them, the acting manager for the vacant property unit at DCRA told me and my associate that he understood that my property was never vacant and that a mistake had been made, and then cited rule 47-825.01(h-1) to the effect that city employees cannot do anything about mistakes made more than three years ago “except in matters of substantial harm.” It is more than clear, from what I have explained, that I have suffered substantial harm. The city council must recognize this.

Meanwhile the unworkable nature of the class 3 classification was proven in 2009 when the city council dealt with it and decided it would no longer apply to any properties in the city. But I am still suffering the consequences of a mistake made within the context of this unworkable law. Additionally, both I and my property manager are being sued by Lab Liens. This is a real life problem resulting from the city’s mistake, the consequences continue to this day drawing in and causing problems and expense to myself and other members of the real estate industry. This mistake needs to be corrected. I am asking you to pursue DCRA and OTR so that this incorrect class 3 classification of my property is corrected. I am a voter, an employer and pay substantial property taxes. I am, of course, happy to furnish you with documents, answer questions or help you in any way. Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Dennis Dyer
Amy Marx

August 2001 House purchased at auction, paid in full
house refurbished
offered for rent
rented to Section 8 tenants, the Bond family
2002 rented to the Bond family
2003 rented to the Bond family
2004 rented to the Bond family
February 2005 The Bond family moves out
March 2005 Squatter on the premises claiming to be a relative of
the Bond family
Police refuse to order him to leave, saying it’s a civil
Squatter persuaded to leave by the owner
Property left trashed out
House cleaned , locks changed
Repairs and renovation commence
July 2005 New management company hired, Habitat Real Estate
August 2005 Property offered for rent
September 2005 Property shown

October 2005 New tenants approved

November 2005 Contract signed with Habitat Real Estate

December 2005 Lease signed, new tenants move in
Out of state, tax lien investors, funded by unknown
$400,000 house, owned free and clear sold for $40,000
No notification given to owner
Tenants still renting house
Owner tries to get his house back
Tenants still renting house
Tenants still renting house
DCRA will only reclassify back to 2006
using Loewinger and Assoc.
House boarded up
2010 Original owner continues to fight to get his house back
on the basis of tax sale being based on wrong taxes
2011 Original owner continues to fight to get his house back

92 Comment

  • I dont know a lot about this stuff, but I was always under the impression that if you buy the house at tax auction you dont own it free and clear and that there are significant issues with getting a clear title. I would imagine dealing with the previous owners would be one of them. I think this can still be resolved in the courts.

  • The correct thing to do was to appeal the determination that it was vacant as soon as owner had notice of the determination. Did they? Trying to argue with DC government employees in hopes of persuading with facts and reason is a fool’s errand. All you’re doing is letting them run out your deadline to file an appeal.

    • Around 2004 or 2005 I received a higher tax bill for a vacant property. I had NOT been notified. Other years I was notified and filed for and received exemptions.

  • This happened to me as well. Getting DCRA to change the status back was impossible and took number of visits.
    I think, I spent a little over 6 months in getting this corrected and finally had them change it but again, it was a nightmare dealing with the DC tax office and the council members in getting their assistance.

  • Is anyone surprised that the DC Gov could fuck this up so badly?

  • A very similar thing happened to me, it’s a long complicated story that finaly took a call to a friend of mine at one of our local new stations who called somebody at the tax office and within a short period of time after that it was resolved.

  • I’m not normally one to jump to such a decision, but I think I would have enlisted the services of a lawyer long ago by now.

    • WHAT!?!?! I would have hosted a seance to bring Johnnie Cochran back to rectify this mess.

    • + a zillion!

      I am flabbergasted that they didn’t involve a lawyer at the beginning of this disaster. There are plenty of free legal clinics around the city that specialize in housing issues. Especially since this is an income property, I cannot imagine not seeking out legal help.

    • When one starts out with one of these problems, one is led to believe that if you just do what they ask that eventually it will all be resolved correctly. Several times I have had helpful, knowledgeable DC employees who have given me correct information or instructions. On the other hand there was one who was extremely unhelpful. I have suffered through a lot of that process, and eventually fixed my situation without a lawyer, but with many sleepless nights and gray hairs.

  • One of the lessons is to get everything date-stamped by OTR and retain a copy for yourself (just ask them to make a copy of anything they receive). I got that tip from an OTR staffer one day. Lo and behold, months later, when they had lost my stuff, I came back in with my stamped copy, and everything was made right. I had to insist on not letting them turn me away first, however: “This is a DCRA problem, not OTR.”

    Me: “They told me it’s a OTR problem. [You know] I can’t walk into their office and talk to someone. I haven’t heard from them and I called them twice earlier this week. It’s costing me X extra per month.” I can tell she really doesn’t want to deal with me, but I think she realizes I have no other choice.

    She disappears to make some calls. After 20 minutes, someone from DCRA comes down to talk with me. About 2 weeks later, I got a letter saying the issue was fixed.

    • Yes, it is important to be insistant on getting the right help. Also getting things date stamped is a life saver, not only with OTR, but even more critical DCRA, for that matter any DC agency. There have been 3 occasions when I was very glad I had a date stamp.

  • If I’m losing a property like that, why not hire a lawyer? Also, you were aware of the original lein sale, doesn’t that imply the property in in peril? That says lawyer time.

    I feel bad for this shit that dcra put you through and hope you manage to get your property back, but really get a lawyer if you haven’t already.

  • if this is true, which sounds likely, it’s sad that it happens in this case while many much more blatantly vacant properties (like the “slum historique” property in shaw) sit idle without any apparent action by the DC government.

  • This is crazy. I bought a vacant house in 2005 and for about 2 years I went back and forth with OTR/DCRA about whether my property was vacant or not. You just get a letter from OTR that tells you your lot has been reclassified. I’ve been through this dog and pony show several times. The last time it happened (you can check your status on DCRA’s vacant lot web site), they claimed my house was vacant because the meter wasn’t really running. I told them it was March (no AC or heat) and they came on a Thurs in the middle of the day. I tried to reason that as a single person who has a job, I really wouldn’t be home at that time, and not running appliances. They took pictures of the house, which they later sent to me. There was mail in the mailbox, a nice doormat, a clean facade – yet still they thought it was vacant because my meter wasn’t running fast enough.

    Bottom line, it doesn’t surprise me that this couple is having this nightmare on their hands.

    • Based on your response, I’m assuming you actually weren’t living there but trying to make it look like it wasn’t vacant.

    • What is the cost of the DC government classifying your house as vacant if you are paying taxes?

    • Last summer I looked at two dozen properties that were on DCRA’s Vacant Property with no Exemptions list. Half were occupied or incorrectly listed. I spoke to 8 owners who were mad as heck. Three had had serious problems trying to get their mess fixed with the city. All the occupied properties were very nice. ELIMINATING THE UNBLIGHTED VACANT PROPERTY CATEGORY would solve these problems and save us a lot of tax money spent of unnecessary and ineffective DCRA employees. Complain to your council member. In 2009 the unblighted category was eliminated. Mayor Fenty and Muriel Bowser (council Ward 4) put it back in the 2011 budget.

  • This is happening a thousands times a day across the country. Here’s the answer you might have heard coming from our poliical and financial leaders: tough shit, suck it up. That’s not me saying that, it’s them.

    Banks and mortgage servicers, who don’t have clear claim on a loan note, forge some documents claiming they do, and foreclose on properties in good standing or that are going through mortgage modifications with the real note holder. It’s called Fraudclosure. DCRA and OTR make mistakes. Wall Street does it on purpose.

    It’s why judges need to be involved in these events. DC is a state without judges in the process. Virginia doesn’t include judges in the foreclosure/tax lien process either. Maryland does. In Massachusetts, the courts have ruled in homeowners’ favor and put a stop to fraudclosure practice.

    This is an unbelievable systemic, natiaonl problem of disastrous proportions thanks to MERS and the folks who invented the Mortgage Backed Security and brought you the Housing Bubble, Tax lien foreclosures like this are a blip compared to what the Banks are doing. So I’ll give everyone the answer d’jour: “Austerity,” aka suck it up. And I say that with complete pessimistic sarcasm. Our entire political discourse and culture is telling people to get used to it. Our leadership doesn’t want to solve this because they’re doing just fine, thanks. Justice is hard. Austerity is easy. It’s a race to bottom.

    Rant over. Back to fighting and stockpiling.

    • DC Vacant Property issues have nothing to do with the mortgage crisis. This problem has been manufactured by the city. There is no other major city that has increased taxes for unblighted vacant property or even blighted vacant property. Also DC is in violation of the DC Code which states that “it is the intent of Congress” that our property taxes be comparable to surrounding jurisdictions. There are NO elevated vacant property taxes in our region. For that matter the Class 2 tax on commercial property is much higher than our neighbors. Anyone snagged with these taxes may have a legal case that the city is in violation of the intent of Congress.

  • ah

    I’m pretty skeptical that there isn’t more to the story.

    Is it possible it was misclassified as vacant? Sure–that’s been happening a lot. But it’s relatively easy to correct if it’s not vacant (or has an exemption, for example, for renovations). So why didn’t they do that?

    Second, who is renting it out? Just because it’s vacant doesn’t mean someone else can rent it out. What’s up with allowing that to happen.

    Third, the tax sale process is ridiculously long. The taxes have to be unpaid for at least a couple of years. So that means say they were deemed vacant in 2005, and didn’t pay the 2005-2006 taxes. It wouldn’t go to tax sale until at the earliest some time in 2006 and more likely in 2007. Then the tax sale process takes at least 18 months. 6 months before the tax sale purchaser can do anything (i.e. initiate an action in court to obtain ownership). Then it’s another year before the tax sale can be converted into a deed for the purchaser. So say the tax auction happened in 2006–the earliest it could have turned into a deed for the tax purchaser is 2008, and more likely 2009.

    Anyway, that’s 3-4 years before this can happen. So what was the owner doing during that time? Did they talk to DCRA or OTR? Did they go to the court during the process of tax foreclosure? What were they doing for those 3-4 years? The process is not designed to “steal” homes.

    • ah

      BTW, if you look at the tax records and the property deed records, it’s a bit tough to tell but it appears to have been subject to a mortgage foreclosure back in 2001 or so. Then perhaps after the foreclosure there was also a tax sale, but that tax sale in 2008 was for unpaid taxes from 2005.

    • Yeah,

      This isn’t the full story at all.

      I feel for them that there house was reclassified. I had the same experience when I gutted my home and had moved out for 5 months during the construction and 2 months in I got notice the city had reclassified me as “abandoned”.

      Then again, it took 2 phone calls and me showing up unnanounced and waiting for 30 minutes in their waiting room to get it rectified over a period of 2 weeks.

      As ah said, the timeline for a tax sale takes YEARS so there is definitely more to this story.

    • +1
      Timeline is off. But the person probably didn’t get notice of the sale because he wasn’t in the house. He had to be served for the lawsuit and should probably just pay the taxes and get reimbursed later. He won’t lose the house if he goes to court and sees the Magistrate Judge.

      Also, did he have a BBL and C of O to rent out? There goes that argument.

    • +100
      These people are total screw-ups there is no way this would happen to someone with half a brain that was paying attention to the situation at hand. It is just not possible that this is only DC’s fault. Readers cannot skip over the fact that the “owner” did not pay property taxes for several years.

  • Why didn’t they just buy the house at the tax sale for $40,000?

    They should have just paid the taxes, got it corrected, and then sued the city for the incorrect tax assessment.

    Failure to pay the taxes…well we saw what happened. You are not very smart if you let your $450,000.00 house go for $40,000.

    Sounds like they felt they could just be stubborn and ignore the problem.

    All is not lost. D.C. has a tax forgiveness program. Even if your house is sold at tax auction you can get the house back (during a period of time) by just paying the back taxes.

    If I were the other person I would just pay the $40,000 and get my house back rather than have a $450,000 debt that the bank can still go after them for.

  • After I bought my house I received a tax bill that incorrectly classified it as vacant. It did take about 4 months, but I found OTR and DCRA to be mostly helpful. I just had to be diligent, asked for names and numbers of specific contacts, took detailed notes, and called at least once a week. It was a bit of a hassle, but not the end of the world. It sounds to me that, as a previous comment stated, that the OP either wanted to ignore the issue, or there is more to the story.

  • This sounds extreme! But I just received a Vacant Property notice and I have been living in my place for a year and a half now and have been paying taxes and it is well maintained. The city provided a two week window in which to contact them if this was an error. BTW it was pretty difficult to get through. I am frightened after reading this.

    Yes, I totally believe that the city could screw up this badly!

    • We received the same letter last week and were able to get through to a couple of people via phone and email to submit the paperwork. However, that just solves the problem of getting our owner-occupied house from being re-classified as vacant, it doesn’t solve the mystery as to how the house would ever have come up for re-classification in the first place!

      • Every neighborhood has an assessor. I thought it was the assessor that decides if the house is vacant or not. The person is listed on your house’s assessment page (admittedly harder to find since the DC webpage was changed). If you get in touch with him or her, you can start the process of appealing your case. We moved into our house which had been vacant and a couple of emails with our assessor was all it took to get us off the vacant property list. He even adjusted us from multifamily to single family over the email when I told him we were using the property as single family now.

        Also: Contact your ANC rep. That’s who’s supposed to navigate the bureaucracy for you.

        • ah

          No. DCRA determines vacancy. They compile a list and send it to OTR to apply the Class 3 or Class 4 tax rate for vacant or blighted property.

  • Your house was sold 4+ years ago at a tax sale and you are posting on PoP about this? Seriously, why the hell haven’t you called a lawyer? Or if you have a lawyer, why haven’t you fired their incompetent ass and hired a new one?

    You should have started suing people a long time ago.

    Seriously, the way to deal with DCRA or any other agency when a property is at stake isn’t to “call” and then listen to their BS. You have to be there in person and demand to see people who can actually help you. And if that doesn’t get you anywhere immediately, then you need to hire a lawyer to do the demanding for you.

    • In addition to calling and meeting with the bureaucrats, one needs to send letters and save the dated copies.

  • I dunno… I kinda believe it.

    However I am pretty sure you can sue. You really should sue (you should have already).

    What is sovereign immunity?

    • Sovereign immunity means that you can’t sue the government unless they give you permission to, which they ordinarily give by statute (to the extent that they give permission). There are usually conditions placed on the ability to sue, such as within a certain number of days or for specific reasons.

  • Not passing the smell test, something is not right. I know dealing with DCRA is painful and they can mess up in a big way, not this big. If these people had legal standing lawyers would be fighting for the opportunity to take the case and squeeze the city for some serious dollars.

  • DCRA has done this very same thing to about 3,000 property owners. Yes they are incapable of fixing their mistakes, once they direct the DC Office of Tax & Revenue to inflict the 10% tax (a fiscal death sentance) on a property the situation becomes hopeless. I wish that the courts would undo all the stolen properties and stolen tax money to make these property owners whole.

    • ah

      Based on the vacant house next to me, it is all too easy to get out of the vacant property rate even when it should be applied. Granted, the owner seems to spend his time fighting the city rather than fixing the place up, but it definitely can be avoided with some diligence.

    • Again, not always true. See my earlier post. I got off the list with an email to my assessor.

  • DCRA needs to be completed abolished and started again from stratch. Would anyone vote for me on the Council with this platform alone? They are incompetent, corrupt, and anti-progress.

  • As someone who discovered late in the buying process of my home that it was once sold at a tax sale (undisclosed by the seller), I’m with the sentiment of the others in this that this type of thing does not happen overnight…and that there are significant hurdles to get over to own something you bought at a tax sale outright. This sounds like it was years in the making – and PoP, while a diligent neighborhood blogger, is not an investigative journalist, real estate attorney, tax attorney, or anything else. Hire a lawyer.

  • can someone tell me how exactly a property gets classified as vacant?

    if you have a perfectly wonderful house and move away for a year and don’t rent it out is it taxed at 10%. that seems really wrong to me.

    or does it have to look like crap?


    • The law says you have to live there. There’s not supposed to be a grace period for moving abroad or taking a summer vacation. It doesn’t matter one bit that you “keep up the grounds”. It’s not a policy for derelict housing, it’s a policy so that property owners don’t sit on vacant property for 15 years and then flip a house when the neighborhood turns.

      Right or wrong, that’s the law as it stands.

      Now in practice, there are all sorts of ways around it.

      • What if someone is no longer linving in a house because they bought and moved into a new one, and are trying to sell the old house but having no luck getting a buyer at the price they want? I’ve seen a lot of these.

        • If it’s for sale, it can’t be classified as vacant. Another way for deadbeats to dodge the tax — by putting it “For Sale” at some unreasonable price.

      • So going on vacation for 3 months DOES open a house up to this kind of assessment, or DOES NOT?

      • The law is that you have to register it as vacant if it is empty for one month, and you have no “intention to return”. How do you prove that?? DCRA is primarily using water bills as proof. I left a house vacant to care for a dying relative and got into all kinds of trouble. A 95 year old woman was hospitalized/nursing homed for 5 months and got into lots of trouble. Unblighted vacant property tax is a TERRIBLE law. We need to urge Mayor Gray to eliminate it.

    • Sometimes someone from DCRA checks on it during the day when people are off at work, and if meters are not moving because no utilities are being used because no one is home they are likely to list it. It can be in beautiful condition but if it is listed as vacant the property tax is 6 times the normal rate. In other words if you should owe $5,000, you will be assessed $30,000!!

  • Get a lawyer. How are these people going to PoP before calling a lawyer to help them. If they owned a $450,000 house free and clear then they can afford a lawyer to protect that house.

  • I don’t really understand what’s going on. First if all is on the up and up like others have said, an attorney wold have handled your case. Second, I got one of those vacant property letters 5 years after I bought my property, and I just had to show them my water and power bills and it was settled via mail w/o fuss. Of course, I followed up and called the DCRA to make sure it was ok and it was. I don’t understand the DCRA hate. They are not attorneys and don’t seems to understand the law that well (that should really be fixed since it’s up to them to apply the law) and there’s loud laughing and screaming in the background when I call, but they try to be helpful and the red tape is no worse than any other city. Trust.

    • ah

      They don’t know the law, but part of the problem is the law has changed about 4 times in the last 5 years.

      Anyway, I’m not terribly sympathetic to the vacant property people, but on the other hand about 25% of the people they deal with are lying cheats with vacant property trying to game the system and avoid fixing up their property and putting it to productive use, leaving it as a neighborhood eyesore, and the other 75% of people are honest homeowners (or landlords) who somehow got their house designated as vacant because no one was living there at the time the inspectors came by (or they hadn’t mowed the lawn or something). And it’s pretty hard to tell the two apart based on a a short phone conversation.

  • I call BS on this story. The two partners seem to be flippers and/or slumlords. I see this frequently. There is no way that DCRA can or would go and board-up an occupied house. If it isn’t occupied, then by definition it is vacant. There are a couple of exemptions you can claim to keep your property from being reclassified as vacant, such as it is under active construction and building permits have been issued, it is actively being marketed for sale or rent, etc. It is not hard to meet the standard to claim an exemption. The big issue is that by statute DCRA sends the notice of reclassification to the last record address of the owner and many owners have the address of the vacant property listed as their record address for receiving notices. Smart. Ever thus to deadbeats.

    • +1 I call shenanigans. If this were my house I would have had a lawyer a loooong time ago. Who in their right mind would let this process languish for 5+ years!

  • Count me among the skeptics. And not to pile on, but who gets told by a city employee to sue the city, then — apparently without aid of legal counsel — draws their own conclusion that to do so would be impossible under the doctrine of sovereign immunity??

    I don’t at all question the incompetence and recalcitrance to correct errors on the part of any DC agency, and this should serve as a cautionary tale for others to be vigilant about DC’s regulations/classifications, but this fails the sniff-test. You don’t just dig in your heels, take cold comfort in complaining about bureaucrats, and lose a 450k asset slowly over 5 years without putting up more of a fight.

  • Just to let you know. There is a lawyer involved. It is only a six month window before tax sale now. The house was occupied with tenants continuously.

  • The city sold my house WHILE MY FAMILY AND I LIVED IN IT! I did owe property tax, but they never informed me, sending the bill to another address and never to the property in question. Easier to sell the house, apparently. In such cases, the buyer is automatically owed $9,000 by the derelict taxpayer, so I settled by paying the buyer some $3,300. An $800,000 house had been bought for $850, the amount I owed. A year after the sale, the buyer sued to remove us from “their” property. The court, of course, had no trouble finding us – we lived at the property!

    There is no doubt in my mind that some at OTR are hooked up with companies that buy derelict properties. There is no other way to explain the depth of their incompetence.

    • None of which is to comment on the case in question.

    • Not to be rude, but pay your damn taxes. If you can’t handle updating your mailing address and mailing a check every six months, have your mortgage company impound your taxes.

      Responsibility, what’s your policy?

    • ah

      You do realize property taxes are due twice a year, right? The fact that you didn’t receive the bill doesn’t mean you don’t owe them. If I didn’t get a property tax bill I would start calling. I might use non-receipt to justify a small delay in payment, but non-payment?

      • I can’t speak for Brian, but the $850 discrepancy seems to point to an increased assessment, of which he didn’t receive notification. DC has an obligation to notify residents of increases. If Brian was living there, he’d be on record receiving the homestead deduction, and DCRA should know that his address would be the only reasonable place to send notice of an increase.

        The real crime is that the city sold a house over a $850 discrepancy. They couldn’t call or visit once? At minimum, notice prior to sale should have to be “served” by one of those legal document guys. If someone was short $850 on the bill for a $800k house, it should be obvious to the OTR that there was a slip up rather than a willful refusal to pay taxes, and that the owner could easily rectify the situation.

    • Someone I know was incorrectly listed on the tax sale list. The Aeon (sp?) company bought the note. After the owner proved that the property should NOT have been on the list, the company sued them for not turning over the property. I have also heard, I don’t know if it is true, that a high powered real estate lawyer who is supposed to guard the interests of elderly and handicapped has gotten water bills made the standard of occupancy. If someone is in a nursing home, then it is very easy to prove the house is vacant, and somehow get the property. As I said, I don’t know if this is true, but the person who told me seemed sure of it and said they had been doing research on the situation.

  • There are a lot of things left out of this story. The city is actually doing its job in this case. There are several homes in my neighborhood sitting empty, taxes unpaid, and lots of little attempts to make the home look like it’s lived in. The empty houses are a gathering place for drug dealers, prostitutes, graffiti, loitering, homeless people using the yard as a bathroom, and tons of trash being left. I think the city is doing the right thing by selling these homes to people who want to preserve them and live in them and pay their taxes. This posting makes me feel good about the DCRA. Good for them. Get the bums out and let’s get our city back on its feet.

  • The article asked does anyone know of other cases like this, I do. I am a DC real estate attorney and i can tell you that there are many many cases like this. They often involve senior citizens and others who have paid their dues to our city only to be screwed by their government. This “vacant and abandon” tax became such a nightmare for the DC Government that last summer the City Counsel changed it to “blighted” properties. If anyone is interested i can tell you more. You can reach me at [email protected]

    • A legal counselor should know how to spell City Council when he’s giving counsel.

      And he should also be familiar with the current vacant property laws that tax BOTH vacant AND blighted properties.

      Perhaps anyone that’s interested should instead look at a more accurate source of information:

  • Aside from the nebulous rules that govern the historic commission, I’ve never had any trouble working with DCRA or OTR. Every permit I’ve asked for, I’ve gotten in less than 2 hours.

  • I repeat. The house was occupied, in good condition. It was not vacant. The taxes were paid in full when this happened. DCRA would not correct their mistake.

  • what is going on with the squatter who claims to be a relative of the family? clearly there’s more to that part of the story. could a squatter’s claim accelerate the vacant property classification?

  • This story rings familiar to me. I bought a house that was classified as vacant while it was under renovation. I bought the house and moved in. I received a letter in October to pay the vacant registration fee or prove the property is occupied. I provided the deed and water bill. I received a letter from DCRA that the house was classified as occupied. This week I received a letter from OTR that my tax bill would increase because DCRA said the house was vacant and I had to fix the error in one week. My property tax was to increase to 20k per year if I did not notify them by Feb 5, 2011. I called faxed and emailed until I finally got a call back from DCRA that the OTR letter was a mistake.

    DCRA’s record keeping and analysis is putting people in a situation where we have to fix DCRA screw ups. I also had a problem with the MVA suspending my registration without notifying me prior because they could not (did not try to) verify my insurance, That took a 1/2 day to clear up.

    Keep records and respond timely to anything DC govt sends you.

    • ah

      You should ask for a confirmation letter, not just what someone tells you on the phone.

    • I got an exemption from DCRA in Sept of 2009. In February of 2010 I got a huge tax bill from OTR because they had not registered the correction. Nearly gave me a heart attack. I paid the Class 1 rate, and spent weeks getting the whole thing corrected and getting a corrected tax bill for my records showing my correct payment. If you should get a Class 3 or Class 4 tax bill that you feel is in error, pay the Class 1 or 2 rate before the deadline so you don’t end up with penalty and interest even if you do eventually get it corrected.

  • I love the knee-jerk “Its those [usually black] retards in City Govt.” Yep there are some prize, unrelenting, irredeemable fools in places high and low in DC govt (including judges and elected officials who listen only to developers, parking magnates and loudmouth preachers). Fenty apparently didn’t root all of them out…nor is Gray going to be guilty of retaining a lot of them. But there is clearly some personal and private sector skullduggery percolating between the between the lines of this story.

    My personal experience–if you or those you are depending on don’t have their shit together, then the vagaries of City Govt will ensnare you, and rightly so. Mea Culpa. if you do, then the system will work. It’s not autopilot, it takes diligence–bbut name me one public or private instrumentality where it does run just for you, by you? Unless you’re a billionaire, of course.

  • The mistake the owner made was listening to the advice of someone to not pay property taxes before the rate was fixed. If you really don’t owe the adjusted tax rate then sure you don’t have to recover from the city if a mistake has been made, but is that a risk you really want to take when unpaid taxes can lead to an auction? For these types of disputes I would never stop paying unless it was on sound advice of a competent lawyer.

    Does DC have an escrow for this type of situation? If not that could be a useful process. People who dispute their tax rate could pay into an escrow while the situation is sorted out.

    • ah

      In fairness, it’s not like OTR is without corruption. I would be extremely wary of paying $40K to OTR if I thought they were wrong. I would pay the amount I believed I owed though.

    • It is a bad idea not to pay the property tax. But pay the correct Class 1 or 2 rate on time, then fight like heck to get the Class 3 or 4 rate adjusted down if you can’t afford for the city to hold your overpayment for several years.

  • The taxes went from $2,000 per six month period to $20,000. that’s $40,000 per year.

  • The city doesn’t return excess taxes, they will only apply them going forward to the same property if they are found to be above the amount owed when a tax bill is corrected.

  • Why would anyone risk losing their house by not paying the tax bill (eve if it is wrong)? That just sounds like maybe they really should switch to renting instead of owning.

    If they can afford to have a 400K house free and clear, they can pay 40K in taxes to prevent it from being taken.

    Then again maybe they were trying to scam the system. 🙁

  • Folks should check the DCRA website for an explanation of why they’re getting the OTR vacant property notice:

    Basically, it’s in your interest to correct any errors now before the property tax bills are sent out and then you’re in a nightmare situation.

  • This is not even close to the full story. The city didn’t sell the house. A tax sale only sells a lien for unpaid taxes that can later be foreclosed if the taxes aren’t paid up. This guy still owns the house. Additionally, I work in the field and Mr. Dyer always dodges process servers and then never responds or shows up to court hearings. If he would appear in the courthouse, there are representatives from the D.C. Attorney General’s office who could try to help him get the issue resolved.

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