DC's vacant property inventory is about to decrease

July 14, 2016 3 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article



A vacant building at 824 Kennedy Street

Greater Greater Washington, our DC partners, write about proposed legislation designed to prevent owners from keeping their properties vacant. Authors David Sheon and David Gottfried suggest five more ideas which they think will  make the proposed legislation even more effective.

Is this type of legislation something Jacksonville should emulate?

There are major problems with how DC counts and taxes its vacant buildings, and on Thursday, the DC Council will hold a hearing on two bills aimed at fixing them. The new laws will hold vacant building owners more accountable, but there are still ways to further the laws' reach.

Today, DC can charge higher tax rates on buildings that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs says are vacant, at a rate of five percent of assessed value if vacant and 10 percent if the property is found to be blighted. The problem is that there are a lot of loopholes that allow negligent owners to keep their properties from going on the list.

Vacant buildings aren't just eyesores. They contribute to rodent and other infestations, and according to the Office of the Attorney General's former Assistant Attorney General Michael Aniton, they are proven to have a high association with criminal activity because illegal activity thrives out of view and on private property.

Here's what the new bills are set to do:

Authored by at-large councilmember Elissa Silverman, bills B21-527 and B21-598 appear to have broad support among the council (one of the two companion bills was co-introduced by a majority of councilmembers). The legislation aims to help solve DC's vacant building problem by:

* Cutting how long vacant properties can be exempt from higher taxes
* Making homeowners prove buildings aren't vacant rather than making the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs prove they are
* Raising fines for not registering vacant properties
* Giving tax rebates owners who fill vacant properties
* Here's how they could be even better:

Still, the underlying issue is that some buildings and owners fall through the cracks because the penalties for keeping properties vacant either aren't enforced or aren't incentive enough to change.

The following ideas would help the proposed legislation go even further in pushing vacant property owners to turn their buildings into something useful:

1. Take no nonsense when it comes to identifying building owners



Currently, some developers use dozens of LLCs to own properties, making it impossible to know who it is that routinely buys and holds vacant buildings without actually improving them. If all property sales in the District required a name, address, phone and next of kin information for every property, and if this information were publicly available, it'd be much easier to identify the vacant building code's serial violators.

This would have the added benefit of expediting communications should a property owner pass away. It would also help the city to ensure that when property passes from an older family member to a younger one, it doesn't keep charging the reduced tax rates it does for senior.

2. Make it more expensive to leave a property vacant



Currently, DCRA sends out teams to board up doors and windows of vacant properties, and DPW mows the lawn. The bill is tacked on to the owner's tax bill. Doubling the fees for these services would incentivize vacant property owners to manage these issues on their own or to return the property to active use.


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