From the Forum – DC Water Holding Reno Permit Hostage

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DC Water Holding Reno Permit Hostage

“I am in the process of gearing up to renovate my residence (and by “process” I mean I have been awaiting a permit from DCRA for 6 months and counting). True to the experiences of many my permit has encountered the tradional ‘flags’ that others have run into; I have confirmed that my architect has been diligently responding to the numerous, sundry reviewer comments. That said, we’ve run into one stumbling block that my architect has never experienced while getting approval to renovate a residential row house. My project includes the addition of a bathroom. DC Water has flagged the permit citing that the copper water service lines servicing the house – at 5/8″ – are too small. This is a code revision that is less than 10 years old.

The water meter pit for my house sits in my front yard and about 5 feet from the front of my house. It is reasonable(ish) to me that I (as the resident) might appropriately held responsible for upgrading the water service line that leads from the meter and connects directly into the house. ***My frustration is that DC Water is insisting that I (the homeowner) am also responsible for upgrading the line from the water main (in the middle of the street) all the way to the water meter pit.*** The fact that all of water lines OUTSIDE of the house reside on public property made me raise an eyebrow about any of this requirement.

But, making the homeowner financially responsible for tearing up the street, sidewalk and the front yard up to the water meter pit seems criminal. I am left with either removing the bathroom/scaling back the project or paying and ASTRONOMICAL and unexpected price to tear up the street/sidewalk/yard. In the meantime DC Water is holding my permit hostage; refusing to sign-off on their portion of the permit approvals. Anyone had any experience with this type of requirement from DC Water for a residential row house in DC? ”

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25 Comment

  • As a business owner, not a home owner, we were told we now require a sprinkler system and our pipes need to be wider blah blah blah and yes, after 3 months of was a sitting in plans and tens of thousands of dollars later we now have to wait for( it has been over a year)/pay for wasa and ddot permits to dig up a major street in front of our business. They explained that when they dug up the street a few years back they only upgraded the lines for those people who thought to ask while the street was already dug up but not for all the buildings on the street. Such BS. I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. DCRA is a mess!!

  • You’re responsible for everything from their main line to the house. In other words, they’re right.

  • …aaaand this is why people renovate without permits

  • I thought that when you replace lead pipes, you are responsible from the meter not the main.

    • No, you are responsible for anything on your side of the property line, not to the meter (many meters are in the public space). There is usually a cut off valve actually located at this exact spot if it’s not the meter. When the city was removing lead service lines over the past decade they were responsible for replacing everything up to the property line at that cut off/meter. There was a program that allowed for reduced cost replacement of the rest of the service line while they had it all dug up. If you didn’t have that done it’s on the owner to foot the cost. If the city has not updated the service line AND you do not have lead then I think it’s up to you to pay for the larger capacity line. If you still have a lead service line they will coordinate replacement of the public portion, but I think that you still have to foot the bill. I believe that when doing the lead replacements they gave everybody 1″ copper lines. If they replaced your line with a lower capacity pipe you may have an argument that they should do it right this time …

  • I’ve actually found DC Water more responsive/less pig-headed than any other utility in our area.
    My advice – get in contact with your ANC rep, ask for his/her help to get the ear of someone with authority in DC Water, and follow-up relentlessly. I’d temper that with the expectation that DC Water is going to cover from the main to the meter, but that you’re going to be responsible for improvements from the meter into your house.

  • If you have a lead service pipe, DC water may replace the portion that is on public property, which could save you a bit: It sounds like you may not, though.

  • If some company was building a neighborhood grocery store on your street, and in order for them to build the store, the company needed to upgrade the upgrade the water, sewer, electrical, make the sidewalk wider, tear up streets, and sidewalks, etc, for the future store, would you, as a DC taxpayer, want to pay for those upgrades, or would you want the company to pay for it?

    • As you can tell, I agree with DCRA and DC water. Your upgrade only affects you, so asking the city to do it for free or asking other DC taxpayers to pay for something for which you have the sole benefit isn’t right.

      • Nonsense. It is the responsibility of a city to maintain basic infrastructure. That is what we, and business owners pay taxes for.

        • +1
          Saying that individuals should be responsible for basic municipal infrastructure is asinine. What, only the rich should have water now? How about roads? Should we pass a coffee can around to get the potholes on our block filled?

        • The city HAS maintained the basic infrastructure. The house currently has water at a capacity sufficient for the current usage. If the owner wants to increase that capacity why should the utility pay for that? That is like saying the power company should provide you with an upgraded service panel and install it free of charge because you want to add more circuits or finish off additional space and are out of breaker slots. The only recourse here is if you can argue that DCWater has the calculations wrong and you don’t need a 1″ service main, but I suspect you’re in this situation because a plumber DID do the calculations and came up with a peak demand capacity that the current service line could not support with sufficient pressure. You should have the water riser diagram that this is based off of, maybe you can see if there are alterations you could make that would bring that number down below whatever threshold they have set for a 1″ service line. Could you live with a half bath in this location, or is it a separate living space? Tubs/showers are high flow fixtures.

          • You obviously didn’t read/understand the problem. The city approved/installed the service line, then at a later date changed their mind about the size it should be (regardless of the number of bathrooms) making the old line out of compliance. The owner may continue to use the old line, but they are requiring the line be fixed prior to issuing any permits.
            It’s not that the new bathroom necessitates an upgrade, it’s that they will not issue any permits until the system is compliant with current regulations, even though it was compliant when built.
            The point is that it’s completely unfair for the city to change it’s mind about the required size for a service line, then impose the cost on homeowners.

          • @wrong, I don’t read it that way at all. The OP wrote:
            “My project includes the addition of a bathroom. DC Water has flagged the permit citing that the copper water service lines servicing the house – at 5/8″ – are too small. This is a code revision that is less than 10 years old.”

            The OP is silent as to whether the addition of the bathroom triggered the requirement or whether any permit would have. The OP is silent about when the line was installed.

          • HaileUnlikely

            You are conflating two different points of contention here: 1.) whether the homeowner is responsible for stuff on public property vs private property, and 2.) whether it is “fair” for the city to require old work that was code compliant at the time of installation but not with the current code to upgrade when renovating in order to comply with the current code.


            Whether it is fair or unfair is in the eye of the beholder, but I am about 99% sure that Anonv2 is correct on the facts of who is actually legally responsible for what. It is a rarer situation, though. Bringing electric up to code, while not also fraught with the issues associated with public vs private property, is more common, and everybody who has ever pulled permits for renovations that involve electrical know how that works. My electric panel complied with the version of the National Electric Code that was in effect when it was intalled in 1978. Since then, the NEC has been revised many times, and is no longer compliant. DC won’t come after me over any sort of violation, because it it considered to have been “grandfathered.” However, if in the future I am ever doing any renovations that require an electrical permit, I will be required to bring my panel up to code. Fair or unfair? You be the judge. But it is widely understood that that’s how that works.

          • Actually, pepco does cover the cost of expanding one’s power service. They ripped up the street, ran conduit, and patched to complete the heavy up which gives separate power to the basement. This was done at no cost to me, other than what DCRA charged me for the building permit (which was way less than the cost to do this work). I don’t know why DC water charges and pepco doesn’t.

        • Basic infrastructure affects the city or a neighborhood or a block. This is for one house.

        • If you don’t agree with the policy, move to an area that agrees with you. You won’t find one. And there’s a logical reason for that.

  • Well, this explains a couple places on Irving/Kenyon around my building, why they ripped up the street and sidewalk in a straight line from the middle of the road to a in-process home renovation.

  • I relocated my gas lines and am in the process of relocating the electrical service. You pay the utility, they pay a contractor, and you get upgraded service. It’s pretty simple. I agree that the delays and circular process of getting anything done in DC are frustrating as hell, but the owner should pay the cost. Also consider: the codes aren’t just there to annoy remodelers, and 5/8″ sounds too small to me. A 1″ line will probably have 4x the water pressure.

  • The OP is going to increase the value of their home by installing a better bathroom (or just renovating in general). So why should the city (and taxpayers) foot the bill so the OP can eventually profit from the upgrade? Homes in D.C. should be treated as businesses. The city is not here to increase the profit for you. You will gain in the end so pay up.

  • We went through entire rowhouse renovation circa 2003. Entire cost of new 1″ copper supply line to main in middle of the street. My responsibility and at my cost. Plumber covered permits, DDOT permits, inspections, etc for about 25K. When DC Water came through to replace nearby neighbors’ lead service pipes for 2.5K with all new copper, an excellent deal was offered to them. Replacement responsibility and associated costs shifted to property owner via 1990s legislation during the 1990s when DC Government was financially broke, Congress called the shots, so to speak. No way to go back and unravel that legislation, Sorry.

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