Thursday, October 2, 2008

dcexaminer: Frightening but true

She had been a gang member but wants out. He puts her in a witness protection ... for a carload of gang members and forced her to a vacant apartment building. ...

MPD-3D: Report of Suspicious Activity - 911 not helpful

[Trying to catch up on posts. This is about 465 New York Avenue -Ed.]

Hello Commander,

I called 911 last night to report suspicious activity and I received no help since I didn't have an exact street address to give the operator.

There is a vacant building that is being renovated next door to the Yale Steam Laundry building. As I was walking back from Safeway at about 8:45pm last night, I saw two young black males (one with a back-pack) walk into the vacant building. The windows are boarded up and there are no lights on...

Note from DCRA

[I received this some time ago, Aug 14, and missed posting it.-Ed.]

To Ed,

The D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) launched an aggressive campaign in 2007 to identify all vacant properties in the District and to encourage property owners to return their properties to a good and productive use.

As with any new initiative, there were some bumps in the road.

With the new tax bills hitting property owner’s mailboxes tomorrow, we want to assure you that new quality control measures have been implemented to avoid the same issues that property owners lamented about this past spring.

We have revamped the DCRA Web site to include answers to important and frequently asked questions, an updated list of properties classified as vacant and more accessible information on how to contact us to request an exemption and/or corrections.

You can be assured that it was not our intent to cause undue stress for property owners.

DCRA is working closely with property owners to ensure compliance with the District’s vacant property registration law and to correct any errors that have been made. Property owners who feel their property was incorrectly classified as vacant and recently received a tax bill at the vacant tax rate are encouraged to contact DCRA immediately at (202) 442-4332.

Additional information, vacant property registration forms and the appeal process are available online at under “Vacant Property.”

We hope that you’ll help us communicate this information to your readers. Call me at anytime to chat. We would love to have your support in our efforts.

Michael Rupert
Public Information Officer
Office of the Director

Dept. of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
941 North Capitol Street, NE Suite 9500
Washington, DC 20002

Office: (202) 442-4513
Mobile: (202) 437-1024

Fax: (202) 442-9445

Comment to Fifth and Oh: Holding Your Nose

It has been pointed out that Mr. Sendar is still not paying the vacant properties taxes on his long vacant building in Shaw. Why does Mr. Pedro and Mr. Evans demand that variances be given instead of demanding that the correct taxes be paid? Why are they all carrot and no stick? How many other "developers" are getting by without paying the proper rates? Time and again, Mr. Evans is pressing for loopholes and variances, and handouts for developers with threats that progress will bypass the community if such and such isn't done. The Convention Center was supposed to lift up the community; it didn't. In contrast, just look across the river to working class immigrant communities in Arlington. Every single commercial building is being used. Shops are thriving. People are working. They aren't stuggling under high property assessments because some "developer" held out for an unreasonable sum or subsidies, i.e., TIF.

I usually refrain from commentary on this blog and just try to present the facts and information for others to take action. Now that the laws have been changed, there are no more excuses of simple government ineptitude. It is time for a serious criminal investigation into the millions of tax dollars that have gone unpaid.

Below is my comment posted to Fifth and Oh:

Now that DCRA and OTR are finally making vacant property owners pay the higher tax rate, Mr. Sendar gets all concerned about selling the property. This shows that high vacant property taxes, when enforced, do have an effect; something Jack Evans doubted when I testified before the subcommittee last year. It is not holding a grudge to expect a property owner to obey the laws like everyone else. The only thing stopping him from selling the property now at a reasonable price is his greed. In fact, there is no guaranty that he will sell if he gets the variance. His only incentives are the high taxes and perhaps fines for violations of the vacant building maintenance standards (still waiting for enforcement).

Giving a variance now only increases the price of vacant property which in turn stifles small business development. Who can afford to buy this building and rehab it? Since assessments are based in large part on recent sales prices in the neighborhood who can afford to pay the higher property taxes? Granting a variance now to a speculator helps only the speculator and hurts everyone else.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Vacant D.C. property to get makeover after 20 years of rot -

"The District bought the four-level complex from Vincent Abell, manager of Modern Management Inc., on April 29 for $3.1 million, roughly $100,000 more than the market rate appraisal. The building’s 2008 taxable assessment was $1.1 million."

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Silverman Unveils New Program to Make Neighborhoods Safer

"Ward 2 Candidate Cary Silverman proposed a new city program today that would build neighborhood safety by helping more of the District's police officers, firefighters, and public school teachers to live in the local neighborhoods. Silverman's plan would use one hundred District-owned vacant houses and several hundred vacant lots to provide affordable housing opportunities to those who are vital to the District's safety and education."

Monday, July 14, 2008

The Concerned Citizens of Oakwood Street

June 23, 2008
Good Afternoon,
Has there been any follow up on our June 9th email? Our community can not keep relying on MPD to resolve all the problems created by having these vacant and/or nuisance properties in our community. If these buildings would be abated it would improve our community and make the residents safer.
We are pleading for assistance and swift action.
Best regards,
The Concerned Citizens of Oakwood Street

Linda Argo, Director
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
Malcolm Avant, Manager of Vacant Properties
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
Phillip Pugh, Housting Inspections Program Manager
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

Roger Lovett, Ward 8 Inspections and Compliance Supervisor
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs
Stephen Cordi, Deputy Chief Financial Officer
Office of Tax & Revenue
Richie McKeithen, Director of Real Property Tax Administration
Office of Tax & Revenue
David Fitzgibbon, Chief Appraiser
Office of Tax & Revenue
Diane Groomes,Asst Chief of Police
Joel Maupin, Commander 7D
Robert Nixon, Community Outreach Specialist
US Attorney General's Office
Isha Foster Lee, Ward 8 Outreach and Service Specialist
Mayor'sOffice of Community Relations & Services
Benjamin C. Miller, Director of Audits and Compliance
DC Housing Authority

6412 Barnaby Street, NW


Here's my favorite vacant property, 6412 Barnaby St, NW 20015. It's
just down the street from my place on Utah Ave. It went to a tax sale
last July, but DC doesn't record a sale or no owner.

Best regards,
J. H.

4334 Klingle Street, NW

4334 Klingle Street, N.W. has been vacant since 2001. The owner moved out then ostensibly to begin renovation/expansion of the house. The house has been in a state of partial renovation since that time. For at least the last two years, the house has had no siding and has been covered only by tar paper. For a long period the roof was covered by a blue tarp and had no shingles. The blue tarp remains on the rear to cover an open window. Much of the rear yard is covered with weeds, where not eroded from lack of proper drainage, and has construction material (untouched in years) sitting around.

Despite being vacant and being listed on the city's vacant property list since at least 2004, the owner is currently receiving the senior citizen homestead deduction. From tax records, it appears that the city rescinded its assessment of the vacant property tax rate against the property in 2008 and has retroactively credited the owner for overpayment of taxes for tax years 2005, 2006, and 2007.

Great project you're carrying on!

Friday, June 27, 2008

RealClearMarkets - Articles - Pols Remain Masters of Domain

"Most Americans object to such takings because the intended uses of the land don’t justify violating property rights when the owner is unwilling to sell to government. But as Jacobs observed, another important objection is that government planners often do a lousy job of anticipating the marketplace when they take property to be developed into something new. What I call mega-project ‘state capitalism,’ the grandiose schemes of politicians and their planners to invest public money in big projects like stadiums, downtown super-malls, and subsidized entertainment districts, has been on the rise for years, often with disastrous results which should have given the Supreme Court justices pause before they gave their blessings to seizures that 'provide appreciable benefits to the community.'

Indeed, the very redevelopment project that sparked the Kelo lawsuit, an effort by the town of New London, Ct., to turn its Fort Trumbull waterfront into a haven for high-priced homes and 21st century jobs, has sputtered. The ground where Susette Kelo’s home stood is now barren, because the townhouses that the city-sponsored developer was supposed to build there have never gone up."

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Re: DCRA/OTC Property Survey Results - PSA 705

Because sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.

Attached please fine photographs of just some of the vacant properties in our area. These properties are only separated by a block - at most two blocks. In the case of the vacant properties on Orange Street, there are three vacant properties in a row.

We are also attaching photographs of the destruction of property crime (CNN 077-960) that took place early morning June 8th. A vandal using bricks taken from the vacant and poorly maintained property at 2816 2nd St proceeded to launch them from the backyard of that same vacant property damaging cars parked on the street. We are including a photograph of the smashed windshield of a car parked on the street. 2816 2nd St has been vacant for many, many years (according to neighbors over 10 years). There is no excuse for this property as well as the others being unresolved. A developer has even offered to purchase 2816 2nd street to renovate it but the current owner refuses to sell - and why should he? So far there has been no consequences for him failing to maintain his property or to find a suitable occupant.

We can no longer wait for the city to take action. We need private security to be stationed at these properties, additional lighting and construction crews out here WORKING to bring these properties up to code. If the city wants to recoup these funds from the owners then they should do so but we can not wait another day waiting for city agencies to take action because if history has shown us anything it is that nothing is happening. These buildings are literally being left to rot.

Please note that we have also made several requests to the Department of Public Works to install trash cans on these blocks and they have refused to do so. According to several DPW closed service tickets. " these are residential areas and we do not install litter cans in residential areas". Please find photos of what desperate residents have been forced to do to try and combat the litter problem on their streets. The only agency that consistently responds to our requests for assistance (criminal or otherwise) is MPD (specifically Asst. Chief Groomes and Commander Joel Maupin) but MPD can not be expected to pick up the ball were all these other agencies appear to have dropped it.

Ward 8 cares about our community - does anyone else?

We are desperate for some assistance so we are cc'ing news and media agencies in hopes that they will be able to bring additional attention to the plight of our community. We are here and we are doing our part but we need assistance and follow up from city agencies.

Best regards,

The Concerned Citizens of Oakwood Street

DCRA/OTC Property Survey Results - PSA 705

[This letter was passed on to me by email. --Ed.]

June 9, 2008

Linda Argo, Director
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

Malcolm Avant, Manager of Vacant Properties
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

Phillip Pugh, Housting Inspections Program Manager
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

Roger Lovett, Ward 8 Inspections and Compliance Supervisor
Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs

Stephen Cordi, Deputy Chief Financial Officer
Office of Tax & Revenue

Richie McKeithen, Director of Real Property Tax Administration
Office of Tax & Revenue

David Fitzgibbon, Chief Appraiser
Office of Tax & Revenue


Diane Groomes,Asst Chief of Police

Joel Maupin, Commander 7D

Robert Nixon, Community Outreach Specialist
US Attorney General's Office

Isha Foster Lee, Ward 8 Outreach and Service Specialist
Mayor'sOffice of Community Relations & Services

Benjamin C. Miller, Director of Audits and Compliance
DC Housing Authority

Good Evening,

Over the past 5 weeks our community organization, The Concerned Citizens of Oakwood Street has exchanged over 200 emails with members of the different city agencies (DCRA, MDP, MOE, USADC,AMBRA, NPR to name a few) to address issues in our community.

No issue is higher on our list than the issue of vacant and/or nuisance properties. These properties are not only an eyesore but are breeding crime in our community and unfortunately there does not seem to be a real plan in place to either abate or eliminate these properties.

After many,many, many written requests ; 23 properties (6 vacant and 17 residential) were inspected/reinspected by DCRA inspectors in May 2008. The results of those inspections are included on the attached spreadsheet.

CCOS took the results of those inspections and cross referenced them with the tax, sales and crime information for these properties posted on the DC website ( and have compiled the following results (see attached spreadsheet). Please note that the DCRA list of vacant properties is no longer accessible from the DCRA website. It appears the link has been removed. Prior to the link being removed CCOS visited the list and several of the Vacant Properties listed were classified as vacant in 2005/2006.

To put it mildly the results of the survey were very disappointing and illustrate serious failures to execute the most basic agency policies.


* Of the 6 vacant properties that were inspected only half (3) are currently classified as Tax 3 Class - Vacant

* Of the 3 vacant properties that are classified as Tax 3 Class - Vacant , the first time they have been taxed as Vacant is the first half of 2008 - although at least two of these properties have been vacant for almost 10 years and have been on the DCRA Vacant Property list for at least 2 years. This is very concerning as this represents lost revenue that could have been collected and used to benefit our community.

* 3 of the vacant properties have 4 OUTSTANDING liens from Clean City. 1 lien is from 1999, 2 liens are from 2000 and the latest lien is from 2003. If one assumes these liens represent property maintenance issues this clearly demonstrates a systematic failure in not only the enforcement of property laws but in the collection of fines and liens. There is also a special assessment from 2003 that has yet to be collected. The total amount from these outstanding liens totals $788.69. Residents have been complaining for months, in some cases years about these properties yet nothing happens. To see that the most recent fine was from 5 years ago and it has taken almost a decade and a lien still has not been collected demonstrates HUGE failures of the current system. Honest, hardworking citizens who keep their properties up to code AND pay their taxes feel robbed by the system. We feel victimized twice - once by the owners of these nuisance/vacant properties and again by city agencies who fail to follow through with correcting the issue.

* Based on the owner mailing addresses of these vacant properties 3 of the 6 owners have mailing addresses within DC, 3 have mailing addresses in Maryland.


* 1 property, a very large apartment complex could not be located in the tax assessment or sales database posted on the OTR website. The Public Housing website was down however CCOS members have checked in the past and been unable to locate this property on the public housing directory. This is known nuisance property were quality of life issues (graffiti, loitering, vandalism) and violent crimes occur regularly. MPD has done their part to monitor this area but there seems to be no support or proactive follow up from DCRA.

* Several properties are receiving either the Homestead or Senior Citizens Tax Deduction although it appears they do not qualify. Either because the property is a rental property or the owner no longer (or ever) resides at the property. In the case of one nuisance property which has been the site of much drug activity the owner has been deceased for over a year, yet the property is still receiving the Senior Citizens discount tax (taxes for the first part of 2008 were $196.40). This property also has a lien on it from WASA for $1,574.94 (please note these property is routinely without basic utilities - residents have been seen relieving themselves outside).

* There are UNCOLLECTED 3 "Clean City" liens, totalling $400 going back as far as 1995. Please note that according to the OTR website one of these properties currently owes Clean City $300 in liens yet has continued to receive tax credits from the city for 4 years - 3 of those years not having to pay property taxes at all. One would think that before any credits were issued that the liens would have to be paid. There is also a Nuisance tax for another property that was posted in 1993 that still has not been collected.

* There are several Water and Sewer liens. All of these properties are occupied and at least one with children. Has anyone checked to see if these homes have running water or utilities? The WASA liens alone total almost $2200

* Of the properties that have been identified as "drug houses" all but one appear to inhabited by Section 8 tenants. Once again the police are doing their part when they are called but it does not appear to be any follow up by the department handling Section 9 rentals. At least three of these drug houses contain small children. CFSA has been notified but it is unknown weather they have paid a visit. The children are still there and the drug dealing is still going on.

Please note that these figures were compiled by one lone citizen over the course of 5 hours from the website. If one person with limited access to data was able to pull together these figures there is no explanation for DCRA and the Office of Tax and Revenue not to be able to at least do the same. We are also a photograph of two vacant properties, 2816 2nd St SE and 450 Oakwood St SE (both have had the yards mowed by the city in the past 10 days).

We implore all of you (once again)to please take immediate action - none of us can afford not to!

Best regards,

Concerned Citizens of Oakwood Street

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." -Margaret Mead

Life in Mount Vernon Square: PSA 308 Community Walk

"MPDs Marco Santiago & Lt. Pate bravely checking out a vacant building. you dont want to know what was down there." To Whom Much Is Given

"This April, the District received another significant round of property tax payments from Shiloh Baptist Church for Shiloh's portfolio of vacant properties in Shaw. In all, Shiloh paid $94,835.03 in property taxes this April"


Media: "“It’s clear that Ward 2’s current council member is more concerned about protecting derelict property owners and developers than he is about helping those that actually live in our neighborhoods deal with the fallout,” Silverman said. “It’s time to get serious about nuisance properties and elect a council member who takes this problem seriously.”"

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Another Tax Scandal

The latest estimate of losses from the DC property tax refund scheme is over $50 million. Although that number is shocking, there is another albeit quieter scam that is costing DC taxpayers that much every year.

The Washington Business Journal reported on the lack of enforcement of the vacant property tax all the way back in 1998 (see below). At the time Natwar Gandhi, then director of the Office of Tax and Revenue, said, "Unfortunately, there are many properties that should be in Class 5 (vacant rate) but are not." The situation remains the same today.

Let's try to estimate the magnitude of the problem. We can easily assume that there are at least 3,000 vacant properties in DC. No one knows the true number but DCRA has put the number in the 2000-3000 range and many many properties known to be vacant are still not listed on DC's rolls. Say half are not paying the class 3 rate. This is a very conservative estimate. The median property value in the District is about $435,350 according to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. And the vacant property tax now stands at 10%. So here we go:

1,500 (half of 3,000 properties) x $435,350 (median property value) x 10% (tax rate) =


That is $65 million in tax dollars that goes uncollected every year. The real numbers are probably higher. We won't know until the mayor, the city council, or congress fully investigates these properties. Not only are heavily taxed residents and businesses getting ripped off by inflated taxes due in part to these properties not being properly taxed, but vacant properties contribute to crime and blight in DC's most needy neighborhoods.

Why is this allowed to occur? I can only assume that some vacant property owners must have enough political pull to avoid penalties. Not surprisingly, DC city government owns the most vacant properties. Churches own another large portion of rundown buildings. Certain well-connected developers also fail to pay the proper taxes on their numerous "investments". Granted, the mayor inherited this mess. But we should question the lack of action by two figures that have been around from the beginning, Natwar Gandhi and the chairman of the finance committee, Jack Evans. They've done little to address this problem.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Available for renovation?

From the mailbag:

"I've been thinking about how to deal with this for a long time because
there are just so many of these places rotting away. Some of them are
spectacular too; its a damn shame that nobody is doing anything with
them. . . Which brings me to my point. I want to try to buy one of
these places myself and make it useful again. My idea is to pay for
as little as humanly possible, try to salvage as much as I can from
the original building, make use of reclaimed materials, and throw
build parties to try to get some free labor for the heavy stuff. I
basically view it as an art project I can live in for a while and then
sell to a family that can really use it. I have some fairly handy
friends who I could enlist if we had a place to work with as well.

It seems like you have good readership on your blog, and maybe some
idea of how to go about acquiring one of these properties so I thought
you'd be interested. I need to get in touch with the right people in
the city govt and basically just get out the word that this is going
on. I'm not rolling in money or anything, but I'd be able to put up
some cash for this venture, and I'd love to find some other people who
might want to contribute time money or materials in exchange for
equity in the finished product.

Any thoughts?


Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thieves eye Asian-food delivery drivers -

"Robbers call the Chinese-carryout restaurants and order the food to be delivered to the wrong address or to a vacant home, police said. When the driver arrives, the robbers take the food, as well as the driver’s money and cell phone. In one case, they stole the car, too. Several drivers have told officers that they’ve been robbed several times....
Police have boarded up a vacant home in 5100 block of 13th Street Northwest that was used at least twice by robbers"

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

1316 9th Street, NW

This former barbershop was bought by a developer on 09/13/2007 for $300,000. The developer's presentation at the ANC2f meeting on 1/9/2008 was very encouraging and I wish them luck.

It should be noted that the building is in horrible condition due to the negligence of the previous owners and the city government's inaction. Remarkably, it is not listed as vacant by OTR or DCRA. The current owner is entitled to an exemption though.

Monday, January 7, 2008 - Death of Main Street, One Local Zoning Law at a Time - Opinion

"Local officials who simultaneously decry big box stores and national chains while doling out burdensome regulatory structures and complicated permit processes should understand that regulatory burdens hit the smaller, independent places hardest, because they're the places that have the smallest amount of discretionary cash to hire legal aid (or, if you're really cynical, to make the appropriate campaign contributions). They're on a tighter budget and, therefore, have a smaller margin of error when it comes to hassles like delaying an opening because some bureaucrat determined their signage is a couple of inches out of compliance."
by Radley Balko

Thursday, January 3, 2008

No teeth in D.C. tax on vacant land - Washington Business Journal:

"The District is not enforcing its controversial Class 5 tax rate on much of the city's vacant land, even though the D.C. Council imposed the higher rate to stimulate development.

Developers have criticized the higher rate, saying it discourages investment in real estate in the District. But not all owners of vacant or undeveloped properties are paying the higher Class 5 rate of $5 per $100 assessed value, compared with the $2.15 per $100 rate paid by owners of other commercial property.

'They pay $5 if we can identify them,' said Natwar Gandhi, director of the Office of Tax and Revenue. 'Unfortunately, there are many properties that should be in Class 5 but are not.'

Only 2,979 properties, less than 2 percent of the District's 154,582 taxable parcels, are classified as vacant or unoccupied. City officials have no estimate of how many more properties should be in that classification."
by Thomas C. Hall
Washington Business Journal
June 26, 1998
[Note: This was published in 1998.--Ed.]

Signs on vacant property

3107.6.5 Signs on vacant property. Display of any sign, poster, or other advertising medium on or in any part of a vacant building, store, or premises, visible from the street or public way, other than real estate signs, complying with Section 3107.16 and authorized billboards or poster panels, is prohibited.

Exception: One sign not more than 6 square feet (0.557 m²) in area giving the name, business, and new address of the former occupant is permitted to be displayed for not more than 60 days on the vacated premises.

District of Columbia Building Code Supplement of 2003
See page 173.

ANC2C02 Forum - Vacant Props

"With more and more ex-offenders, some without housing, being released and returning to their old stomping grounds, these vacant and sometimes unsecured properties present even more of a problem for vacant property owners and neighboring residents.
So when an undisclosable source told me that a rifle was found in a property, like the one pictured, about 10 doors from my home and only a few hundred yards from Scott Montgomery Elementary a few weeks ago. I thought it was worth informing the community publicly. The City and our Councilmember have dropped the ball on this issue and we need more ammunition like this to hold them accountable for keeping our communities unsafe."

[I don't know how I missed this posting.--Ed.]

DC Government Data Feeds

From the mail bag:

"I work with the Citywide Data Warehouse group in DC Government. I noticed your site links to our webpage under Government links; however, it is listed as CapStat. Our group has been renamed to Citywide Data Warehouse since you first posted this. There is a new CapStat page at

Although we are not currently receiving data from the DCRA Vacant Property group, our Office of Tax & Revenue Registered Vacant Property dataset may assist you when reporting on properties throughout the District. The data catalog is available at

If we can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact our team at

Julia Williams
Program Outreach and Training Coordinator
Office of the Chief Technology Officer
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Suite C-01
Washington, DC 20004
Phone: 202-727-0078
Fax: 202-727-9767

925 5th Street, NW

From the mail bag:

"Love your vacant property blog. I have a question about 925 5th Street NW. Tony Cheng (the owner of the property) has removed the roof (it had a tree growing out of it anyway). The back of the property is secured by plywood. Drug users and homeless are using the building by pulling off the plywood and/or climbing over the plywood. This is clearly a violation. The building is not secure and I'm not sure that you can have a vacant building without a roof. What do I need to do to get this property properly reported as a nuisance, condemned, fixed, etc..."