Sunday, July 29, 2007

Vacant Properties, con'd.

I noticed yesterday that there's a Fire Department condemnation notice on the property at 1417 5th Street NW (pictured above). Apparently that doesn't mean too much except for requiring the owner to secure the property against unauthorized entry and vermin infestation. But at least it suggests that someone may be paying attention. This property is actually on the vacant properties list, but it's still listed as Class 1 residential rather than the Class 3 rate that's supposed to be applied to vacant properties. Best of all, according to the on-line data, it's getting the homestead deduction!

There's a new (at least to me) blog called DC Vacant Properties, which I just learned about this week. Check it out.

I wasn't able to go to the July 3 hearing on vacant and nuisance properties scheduled by council member Mary Cheh, but submitted a written statement. Here's an excerpt of what I sent:

What Needs to be Done?

  • Apply tax sanctions quicker and put the burden on the owner to show why the property should be Class 1, not the other way around. A new owner could be given a reasonable period of time—say one year—after acquiring a vacant property to make it habitable, but after that grace period the Class 3 tax should apply even if work is underway to improve it. This would avoid endless waivers for permits on work that is never done.
  • Set the tax assessment at the actual market value on all Class 3 properties. This would avoid a situation where the taxable assessment is ridiculously low because it is based on some grandfathered appraisal that has not kept up with the market value because of caps on tax increases.
  • Both DCRA and OTR need to be proactive in eliminating abuse. As it stands, they may respond to persistent prodding from citizens, but do not appear to have any systematic process for verifying tax status.
  • Send out field assessors to ground truth property status. It is not hard to pick out vacant properties by simply walking up and down a block. Set up a schedule to cover the entire city on a two or three year rotation. The cost of hiring field assessors could easily be covered by the increased tax revenue brought in. Also, work with neighborhood associations who are doing their own inventories of vacant properties.
  • Restrict exceptions to Class 3 status. Put a reasonable time limit—say six months—for exceptions based on putting the property up for sale. Require the asking price to be within a 5 percent margin of the taxable appraisal in order to get an exception.
  • Eliminate the gap between DCRA and OTR. Once a property is put on the vacant property list, imposition of Class 3 status should be automatic, not require a separate action by OTR. The short circuits in the current system need to be investigated and eliminated.
  • Ensure that all properties with delinquent taxes are included in the annual tax sale. Currently, the tax sale list is far from complete, and the process by which tax-delinquent properties get on the list appears to be haphazard and error-prone.


At 7/30/2007 8:01 PM, Anonymous Joe Martin said...

I am responsible for having the notice put on the property. It's just the beginning... We are pursuing as many places as we can get to ask quickly as we can. Feel free to offer your suggestions, and thanks for the helpful information about process.

Joe Martin
Mayor's Office of Community Relations and Services - Ward 2
202-442-9509 desk

At 8/03/2007 3:25 PM, Blogger Mike said...


We would like to do an interview with you about your blog for . We'd like to give you the opportunity to
give us some insight on the "person behind the blog."

It would just take a few minutes of your time. The interview form can
be submitted online at

Best regards,

Mike Thomas

At 8/08/2007 7:48 PM, Blogger si said...

good stuff! i cant wait until the next tax bills go out, then we will really see what changes have been made.

At 4/02/2008 12:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

did these properties ever get put into class 3? if not, did you find out why?

what i have noticed recently is that even if DCRA tells OTR that the buildings are vacant and that they are no longer eligible for a vacant property exception, OTR has a way of over-riding DCRA, often for reasons never disclosed.

weird and scary.


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