“Councilmember Silverman’s Vacant Property Reform Bill Unanimously Passes First Council Vote”

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From CM Silverman’s office yesterday:

“Today, the D.C. Council took the first of two votes to strengthen the District’s approach to vacant and blighted properties, unanimously approving the Vacant Property Enforcement Amendment Act of 2016 at its regularly scheduled legislative meeting.

The legislation, which was introduced by Councilmember Elissa Silverman (At-Large, Independent) and co-introduced by nine colleagues, reforms the way the District government deals with vacant properties across the city. Specifically, it would reduce the maximum amount of time a vacant property can qualify for an exemption from higher vacancy tax rates and closes a loophole that allows continuous renewal of construction permits to qualify for tax exemptions. It would also require owners of vacant properties to prove they are no longer subject to the higher tax rates, rather than placing the responsibility on inspectors from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to re-inspect them every six months. The most recent report from DCRA indicates that there are nearly 1,300 properties designated as vacant or blighted in the District.

“We need to get these properties back into use so that more residents can be housed and our neighborhoods can flourish. Vacant and blighted lots are frequently unsafe and unsanitary, causing further problems for our residents, our firefighters, our police officers, and the DCRA employees who have to inspect and clean them,” said Silverman. “I am pleased to see the Council take this important step forward to remedy these blights on our communities. I look forward to continuing to work with DCRA Director Melinda Bolling to restore these residential properties to a usable condition—an effort that will help find all of our residents a safe place to sleep at night.”

Silverman thanked Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who chairs the Council’s Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, for moving expeditiously on the legislation. She also thanked her at-large colleague Robert White, who joined the Council after the bill was introduced and discussed at a hearing, for working on an improvement to the bill to ensure that the District judiciously enforces regulations against bad actors without inadvertently targeting homeowners who have encountered delays through no fault of their own.

The final vote on the legislation is expected to occur at an additional legislative meeting on November 15.”

24 Comment

  • that’s all well and good, but the fact that owners of empty lots (or the classic DC move of making them “parking lots”) can still sit on them and land-bank while paying absolutely paltry yearly taxes is garbage.

  • Excellent news! Thank you, Councilmember Silverman.

  • I am in favor of this, but only because I am also in favor of the Height Limit, pop-up restrictions, and HPRB review procedures. All of these impose limits on what owners can do with their property and establish a right of the larger community to have a say in the use of the property. If you argue that a property owner or developer should have an absolute right to do with their property what they want, then that right includes not only pop-ups and highrises, but also keeping the property vacant.

    • I read it a bit differently I think…the property owner can keep their property vacant if they so choose but they will be taxed appropriately if this goes through…whereas before they could dodge the tax rate by being “under construction”. The tax encourages people to fix or sell it to someone who will. If you want to keep your property vacant…fine – but your going to pay for it. I don’t think anyone is infringing on any other persons rights for their property, unless I misunderstood the legislation.

    • My argument in favor of eliminating the height limit is not “owners should be able to do whatever they want with their property” but is “more density is good policy.” Good work setting up a strawman that you so ably took down, though.

      • Actually, your kind of argument is the one that I like. Take the discussion about the SunTrust Plaza at Adams Morgan. If you believe that should go forward because it is a net benefit to the neighborhood or the community, and you can convince the neighborhood and the community of that through the democratic procedures that exist for determining what the general welfare is, more power to you! But there were people arguing that the ANC and the HPRB shouldn’t even be able to weigh in because Property Rights – developer should be able to do whatever they damn well please. All I’m saying is that, IF you think the SunTrust Plaza developer should be able to do whatever they want, THEN you should also think that the owner of that long-vacant funeral home up on Columbia Pike should be able to do whatever they want without being harassed by the city about it. I for one believe we should have general welfare provisions trump property rights – but that goes for SunTrust Plaza just as much as for vacant properties.

  • Glad to see this happen…and hopefully, it’ll be effective in motivating owners of such properties . Somewhat related and property specific: anyone know if anything is happening to that beautiful, large building on the corner of 16th and Fuller (nw corner) ? It’s just slowly rotting away which is very sad.

  • Another attack on property rights from the so-called “liberal” Council.

    • Seriously? I live in a row house next to a vacant property. I have spent countless hours dealing with the squatters that live in the house. There are also vermin and nasty water from their basement that leak into my house. Not to mention the fact that I worry about the back addition on the house that is slowly moving away from the old brick house that will then fall on my fence and my property. You live in a city and share space with others then you don’t get absolute say. If you want to have a house fall down around you then move to the country.

    • I bet Brett loves him some Donald.

    • When people live in close proximity to one another, what one person does with his/her property directly affects the quality of life of his/her neighbors. When a person leaves a property vacant and blighted, it often becomes a refuge for squatters and attracts all sorts of criminal behavior. Especially in cases where the property is owned by a faceless LLC that is perfectly content to sit on a decaying property for years while the neighbors bear the costs, it is perfectly appropriate for the city to “incentivize” that the owner not behave that way.

    • This has nothing to do with property rights. You can do what you want with your property, but you have to pay your taxes. This act just closes a loophole allowing owners to pretend that their properties are continually “under construction” rather than vacant.

  • I am glad that they are addressing the issue but am disappointed in the level of “encouragement.” I live two doors down from a property that has been vacant for well over a decade (I am told). During the 4 years that I have lived as neighbors, the house falls deeper into disrepair and the backyard has become a second (unofficial) transfer station in NE. For a good portion of 2015 the roof access was uncovered and the windows were open to allow all elements inside. I feel bad for the neighbors who have a common wall and could be directly impacted by structural issues.

    The summary of the bill does not appear that it will incentivize the owner further to become a “good” neighbor, because they are already being fined and taxed at vacancy tax rates. Their loophole is that they merely do not pay their fines or taxes and currently owe over $50,000.

    • I think the city recently resumed property tax foreclosures so it is worth inquiring why the city has not foreclosed upon this property.

  • If they’re going to do this they need to stop being so incompetent.
    .
    Twice on two different properties I’ve been erroneously declared vacant and taxed accordingly. My experiences fixing those errors were polar opposites.
    .
    So on the one hand you’ve got horror stories from people who live next to blighted properties that haven’t been declared and on the other you have people like me who have been erroneously taxed at the vacant rate and DCRA is very inconsistent in acknowledging and correcting their errors.
    .
    Maybe I’m not all for this. Maybe they should just try having a competent vacancy enforcement division and see how that goes.

    • Were they vacant or were you living there? You could very well be the type of person this proposal is targeting.

  • I lived next to a rowhome that was abandoned for about 2 years. Squatters took over and turned it into a a hangout for sex and drugs. The entire basement was the toilet and they and started fires to keep warm. They’d also fight and beat each other quite often. Police were regular visitors but couldn’t do anything because the city wouldn’t move fast enough to take care of it. TWO years. I’m all for curing these problems faster!

  • A lot of people commenting don’t appear to have read the article, specifically the portion in bold. No one is telling you what you can and can’t do with your property. If you want to sit on your property without improving it, fine. Just pay the full tax. Construction exemptions were meant to be temporary. If the property is not really under construction, then it should be fully assessed.

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