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D.C. plans to accelerate process for rental housing inspections, starting in May

Under new changes, fines for housing code violations would be levied more quickly than now

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The District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) announced small but important changes to its protocol for rental housing inspections earlier this month that are to come into effect soon. Beginning in May, DCRA says its inspectors will directly issue notices of infraction for unaddressed housing code violations, like fire hazards, leaks, and damaged fixtures, instead of preliminary notices of violation. Notices of infraction carry civil penalties, although property owners can challenge them in the city’s Office of Administrative Hearings.

In a release, DCRA said this switch, among a few others, is meant to “streamline” its housing code enforcement. The agency said it had analyzed data over the last three years and learned that only about 3,400 rental housing inspections where a violation was found, out of 30,700 total inspections—or 11 percent—had been brought up to code following notices of violation.

“Our goal is to ensure that tenants know that housing providers will be held accountable for housing code violations; especially repeat offenders,” Ernest Chrappah, DCRA’s acting head, said in a statement. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s nomination of Chrappah to lead DCRA on a permanent basis is still pending before the D.C. Council. He previously was at the helm of the Department of For-Hire Vehicles and has pledged to implement a range of reforms at DCRA.

The agency also said it would have its inspectors use mobile tablets to pull up a landlord’s history of violations and submit inspection reports on site. Other promised changes include sending landlords digital alerts about housing code violations and creating a digital map of housing code violations across the city that would be available on DCRA’s online dashboard.

Housing advocates have long called for these kinds of changes. DCRA says the city has more than 28,500 licensed family rental units and apartment buildings. “Enhanced data analysis will provide greater flexibility in targeting historically problematic properties,” the release said. “This effort combined with on-site reporting from inspectors and streamlined [notice of infraction] process will strengthen [DCRA’s] ability to take effective enforcement actions to achieve greater levels of compliance.” In addition, a bill that the Council is now considering would require the department’s housing inspectors to receive training for mold inspections.