New Bill “would increase fines for shoddy home repairs, poor construction, condemnation, and vacant properties”

Photo by PoPville flickr user Eric P.

From a press release:

“A bill introduced today [Tuesday] in the DC Council would increase fines for shoddy home repairs, poor construction, condemnation, and vacant properties. The bill from Ward 1 DC Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau doubles these fines from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and then ties them to inflation. The bill also clarifies that DCRA can use its authority to issue multiple fines for repeat violators.

“This bill is a response to what we’re hearing from constituents and news reports about outdated fines that are too low to deter bad behavior by unscrupulous contractors and developers,” said Nadeau. “Homebuyers don’t want to feel like they’re playing roulette when they’re buying a house. We need to give DCRA the tools it needs to enforce our laws and support safe housing.”

Some fines haven’t been updated in over 20 years. Under the bill, a violation such as failure to obtain a permit for building operations would change from $2,000 for the first offense to $4,000 for the first offense.

Nadeau is joined by co-introducers Councilmembers Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) and Brandon Todd (D-Ward 4), all fellow members of the Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which has oversight of DCRA. Cosponsors are Councilmembers Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5) and Anita Bonds (D-At Large).

This bill complements Councilmember Nadeau’s successful amendment to increase the number of housing inspectors at DCRA. Taken together, they create more powerful enforcement and ultimately safer housing conditions across the District. In February, Councilmembers Nadeau and Orange hosted a Ward 1 Town Hall on BCRA issues at which residents shared problems with holding bad contractors accountable.

A copy of the bill is available here.

21 Comment

  • Interesting. Not sure if doubling fines in a market where values have quintupled (or more) is going to be much of a deterrent to shady developers, but I’m glad something’s being done.
    Now if only there were a way around the one-project LLC dodge.

    • You’re exactly right. The problem isn’t that the fines aren’t large enough. The problem is that these shady developers make shell companies to build one condo. They don’t finish it or do shoddy work and the buyers are left to pick up the pieces because the LLC is asset-less and the principal developer has moved on to a new LLC to repeat the process. I’m glad Brianne is trying but she’s missing the problem totally– we need a way to hold the individual principals accountable easier. DC government is so corrupt that it’s really disheartening.

  • Does this effect fines for non-registered rentals?

  • Does that mean that the Bacon Funeral Home would FINALLY have to either be finished and repaired, or sold to someone else? It’s been a large cement wall for 4+ years.

    • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. What on earth were the Bacon folks thinking? What sense is a funeral home larger than the city morgue? How long with these shenanigans be allowed to continue? How… on… Earth… can this still be a thing? it is 2015. We put a man on the moon for goodness sakes.

      Ms. Bowser… Tear. Down. That. Wall.

  • Calling Stop the Pop DC: please voice your full-throated support of this bill IMMEDIATELY, as it will do far more to address your stated concerns about pop-up construction endangering neighboring properties than that bill that limited pop-up height to 35 feet. Also, Brianne is a rock start for proposing this. Now if only the rest of the City Council would get on board and actually fund DCRA so they could do their jobs, that would be great.

  • Tsar of Truxton

    What they need to do is open these developers up to personal liability for shoddy construction. By the time you find out your house has issues, the shell company that built your home has no assets or has been dissolved and the developer has a new company doing the same thing.

    • There’s always a way to pierce the corporate veil. Now only if we lived in a town full of cut-throat lawyers…

  • Not a terrible idea. Although I worry that most of the time this would impact DIY homeowners who are poorly informed about when they need permits versus developers who actually have bad intentions. I also don’t see how they can fine for ill-defined “shoddy” work. Either it passes inspection or doesn’t. And either you have a permit or don’t. You can’t fine for an ugly backsplash unfortunately.
    Really DCRA should just focus on getting its house in order.

    • Tsar of Truxton

      I think the D.C. Code provides a 2 year home warranty on new construction for structural defects, but typically that stuff does not arise fast enough to benefit from the warranty, so maybe expanding (to cover more issues) and extending it would be helpful, but as I mentioned above, the hard part is finding someone who you can sue/collect from.

      • Are you referring to DC Code 42-1903.16? This applies only to condos. And only to new construction (as you correctly state), so it would really only apply to a very small percentage of cases.

      • I’m assuming the “new construction” clause does not apply to a renovation/flip of an old row house?

        • I thought it did, but maybe my developer is just nice. Ours is a flip of a rowhouse and we have a 2 year warranty. They’ve been very good to take care of issues quickly too.

          • That’s more on your developer being a good actor and caring about their reputation. Though, apparently it’s common for developers in DC to throw in a two year warranty (provided by a 3rd party company) on flipped homes.
            However, you’re paying for that warranty in your inflated sales prices… yeah. It’s not “free.”

    • west_egg

      “Really DCRA should just focus on getting its house in order.”
      Agreed. How are we going to fine builders for shoddy construction when we don’t have enough inspectors to keep an eye on them in the first place, and/or said inspectors are too lazy to walk up a flight of stairs? Or if the shoddy work is hidden behind drywall and it’s discovered by the guy who bought it from the gal who bought it from the flipper? Without the proper oversight I’m not confident that this is actually going to result in an improvement in construction quality.

  • binpetworth

    So, would these fines also apply to vacant buildings owned by the DC government?

  • Too bad it can’t be retroactive to our building and really shoddy work contracted by JBG. Theyudt stockpile antiques like thermostats with mercury and outdated appliances and lighting fixtures that they then have badly installed.

  • I’m surprised about the call to increase the number of inspectors. As a property owner who has done (and is doing) a few projects and has a C of O, I’ve never had too much trouble with getting an inspector over to the house. My bigger problem is them not having enough reviewers to process a file job in anything resembling a timely manner.

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