Councilmember Silverman Introduces Two DCRA-Related Bills to Help Homeowners and Aid Redevelopment

D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) today introduced two bills to strengthen homeowner protections and help developers renovate blighted properties faster and more cost-efficiently.

“I've heard horror stories from District homeowners about cracked foundations, flooded basements, and years of battling contractors who refuse to take responsibility for careless work,” said Silverman. “Homeowners must have reliable protections against property damage, and we can better reward good developers who do quality work.”

In response to growing complaints of careless development practices that can damage neighborhood homes, Councilmember Silverman introduced the Substandard Construction Relief Amendment Act of 2018.

Currently, if a homeowner’s property is damaged by construction work being done at a neighboring site, the only way to seek repairs under the current law is to have the violating contractor fix the damage. Recognizing that many homeowners do not want to entrust repairs to the same contractor who damaged their property, this bill would give homeowners the option of choosing a different contractor to repair the damage at the expense of the contractor who caused the damage.

The bill was co-introduced by Chairman Phil Mendelson and eight Councilmembers: Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Robert White (D-At Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), and Trayon White (D-Ward 8). Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At Large) and Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) co-sponsored the bill.

“If a homeowner can prove a contractor has caused damage to their home, the only recourse currently–short of a lawsuit–is to have the contractor repair the damage,” said Silverman. “This simple choice empowers wronged homeowners and increases the chances that they will not be damaged a second time.”

Councilmember Silverman also introduced the Blighted Property Redevelopment Amendment Act of 2018 to remove a burdensome and unnecessary regulation for developers working on blighted properties for sale. 

“Contractors who follow the rules tell me they have an issue that is easily solved: Our vacant and blighted properties law adds unnecessary expense and time to the typical renovation process,” Silverman said.

Current law requires a developer to install new windows and doors before a problem property can be reclassified from blighted to vacant for tax purposes. Developers purchasing a blighted property for renovation cite this as an unnecessary expense and delay in moving the property to active use because it ignores industry standards and common-sense practices. Doors and windows are typically among the last improvements made during a renovation. Developers are forced to either pay an unnecessarily higher tax rate or install costly windows and doors too early in the process and risk breakage or other damage.

The bill makes a small change to the definition of a blighted property to allow the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) the discretion to change the classification if a developer has fully secured the property and provides a building permit application and supporting timeline that indicates the final replacement of doors and windows will be performed prior to final inspection.

“This bill simply provides developers with the flexibility they need to continue renovating these problem properties without spending unnecessary funds on a tax that was intended to be an incentive rather than a deterrent,” Silverman said.

A developer’s ability to receive an exemption from the higher tax rates once the building permit is approved or after all exemption periods have expired would not change under the proposed legislation. The bill was co-introduced by Councilmembers David Grosso (I-At Large), Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1), and Jack Evans (D-Ward 2).

Both bills were referred to the Committee of the Whole.