Under District law, the owners of vacant or blighted properties must register them with the city within 30 days of those properties becoming unoccupied. Otherwise, the owners could face “civil and/or criminal penalties of $2,000 in fines per violation and up to 90 days imprisonment,” according to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).
In the past, landlords had to go in person to DCRA’s office in Southwest to register their vacant properties. Now, in a move that officials hope will provide them with more accurate data, the agency is letting vacant-property owners notify officials using a new online portal.
DCRA is charged with inspecting vacant homes and encouraging owners to maintain them. As of February, per the agency, there were over 900 vacant properties registered with the city. The biggest shares of them were located east of the Anacostia River, in Wards 7 and 8. But the District likely has hundreds of more vacant properties than this due to missing data.
Properties registered as “vacant” are subject to higher tax rates than occupied properties—currently $5 per $100 of assessed value. “Blighted” or severely distressed vacant properties are currently taxed at $10 per $100 of assessed value. These rates apply for both residential and commercial properties. DCRA, however, allows owners to apply for certain exemptions.
Those exemptions include permitted construction or renovations; a property being actively marketed for sale or rent; pending legal, zoning, or historic preservation cases involving the property; or “economic hardship due to extraordinary circumstances” on the owner’s part. Owners can use DCRA’s new portal to request exemptions and pay any fees they may owe.
Ordinarily, vacant properties have to be registered with the city every year, and registration fees are $250 per property. By law, owners are required to make sure that vacant properties meet specific maintenance standards pertaining to doors, roofs, walls, and other elements.
In addition to being eyesores, vacant and blighted properties can attract rodents, cause structural damage to surrounding properties, and be havens for illicit activity. DCRA has been scrutinized for its handling of them. Last year, the D.C. Auditor released a scathing report that found the agency had failed to collect possibly millions of dollars in fines from vacant-property owners, in part by improperly granting exemptions and inspecting homes.
Later in 2017, the D.C. Council passed a bill, which is now law, that placed the burden on landlords—rather than the District—to prove that they have fixed issues with their vacant properties. DCRA was previously required to verify that properties were vacant or blighted every six months. The law also limited the window for exemptions and increased penalties.
Residents can report vacant buildings to DCRA by calling 202-442-4332 or 311, or emailing VacantBuildings@dc.gov.
- DC has way more vacant properties than it thinks [Greater Greater Washington]
- D.C. Auditor Slams City Agency Responsible for Vacant Property Enforcement [Washington City Paper]
- D.C. Failed To Enforce Law On Vacant And Blighted Homes, Audit Says [WAMU]
- D.C. Tightens Regulations on Vacant Properties [Washington City Paper]