Vacant/Blighted Property Issues for DC Property Owners

Michael W. Lin, Attorney

October 17 2018

Recently I represented clients who own a property in DC which they bought in 2016. They did not know that DC has a law that requires vacant property owners to register with the DC government.  https://dcra.dc.gov/node/514352  This registration is important for many reasons. The primary reason is that the law is created to identify and account for unoccupied properties. The law is intended to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public. Vacant properties can be a cause and source of blight. Registering vacant property persuades the property owners to come into compliance, especially when the owners fail to actively maintain, preserve and manage the properties to ensure these properties do not become a nuisance to the community. In any event, the purpose of the law is to encourage owners to develop the properties instead of keeping them unoccupied.

The clients bought the property in 2016 and obtained a demolition permit to clear the building. The clients did not know that the property was designated as a historic building and an additional permit is required before any work could be done.  So while they were working on applying for a building permit, the DC government had designated their property as a blighted property, which triggered a 10% property tax be imposed on the property for the year of 2017 (wow!!!). The client came to us and after reviewing the case, we contacted the DCRA and worked to reduce the designation from blighted property to vacant property designation. We also worked to obtain an exemption for the year 2018.  Overall, we saved the client over $200,000 in taxes. 🙂

In conclusion, when you have a property that is vacant, if you are not going to develop it any time soon, make sure you go through the property and do the necessary maintenance work to upkeep the property to avoid being designated as a blighted property. You must also register the property with the DCRA. For more information about vacant property law in DC, please visit DCRA webiste. https://dcra.dc.gov/vacant-properties