Councilmember Silverman Introduces Bill to Strengthen Enforcement on District's Vacant Properties

Today, At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman introduced legislation to address the growing number of vacant and blighted properties across the District by strengthening oversight laws. The Vacant and Blighted Building Enforcement Amendment Act of 2015, co-introduced by Chairman Mendelson and Councilmembers Cheh, May, Nadeau, Orange, and Todd, requires property owners to take action if they wish to remove their property from the vacant or blighted property list.

“By placing the responsibility on owners of vacant or blighted properties to provide evidence that their property has become occupied or is qualified for an exemption, this legislation ensures inspectors can spend more time responding to new complaints instead of re-inspecting the same properties every six months,” said Silverman.

Under current District law, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) is required to send its inspectors to every property designated as vacant or blighted, currently reported as totaling 1,277 properties, every six months in order to continue designating the properties as vacant. The legislation aims to eliminate inefficient use of DCRA inspectors’ time, strengthen existing incentives to put properties to productive use, and fund nuisance abatement efforts to mitigate harms caused by vacant or blighted properties.

“We have a housing crisis in our city. I want us to do more to put these properties back in functioning service so they can house our residents and stop draining our time and money,” said Silverman. “We need to enforce our vacant property laws as effectively as possible.”

The District government currently charges higher property tax rates for vacant or blighted properties. Some properties may qualify for limited exemptions from higher rates based on landlords’ active efforts to improve, rent, or sell the properties. The level of constituent complaints to the D.C. Council suggests that many vacant or blighted properties may not be properly classified and further investigations by DCRA have led to altered classifications of exempted properties as vacant or blighted.

The legislation was referred to the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs.