A story published Monday incorrectly referred to the late father of Sheldon J. Krys. Krys' father, Martin Krys, is alive. Members of the Krys family own a lot at 935 M St. NW that adjoins an odd-shaped parcel of tax-delinquent land that was the subject of the story. CAPTION: (NEW-LINE)Picture 1, This tiny strip of land on Newport Place NW is one of many odd lots than have fallen into city custody.; Picture 2, Land in 900 black of M St. NW has $1,921.18 price. By The Washington Post; Picture 3, Parcel in alley off Reservoir Road NW, in Georgetown, is big enough to accommodate a doghouse.; Picture 4, Surveying error probably caused lots like this in the 1000 block of P St. NW. By The Washington Post
Page S. Kidder and Sheldon J. Krys both own land near Washington's Mount Vernon Square and have always thought their lots are right next to each other. Not so.
The town house at 933 M. St. NW that Kidder owns and the vacant lot at 935 M St. that Krys and his sister own are separated by a third piece of property that is a scant 23.67 inches wide and 140 feet deep, according to city land records.
Word from a reporter that the slender barrier exists surprised both Kidder and Krys, both of whom live in Montgomery County and do not know each other.
If either or both wanted to buy the two-foot-wide strip, it would cost nearly $2,000. Kidder said she is not interested, but Krys said he might be if the price were lowered.
Krys, a State Department official, said his late father had owned his property for many decades, apparently unaware of the ribbon of land along its edge. Probably created by a surveyor's error in resubdividing land, the ribbon dates to some time before 1890 when, records show, one James Fraser stopped paying taxes on it.
Officially described as Lot 10 in Square 368, the silver is one of an estimated 500 odd lots - odd in shape, size or location - that have fallen into the city's custody over the years, although the city doesn't own the property outright. Concentrated in Washington's older neighborhoods, some have had tax delinquencies for a century.
Typically, they are tiny parcels, like hairline gaps in a jigsaw puzzle, left over years ago when new streets were being built or when surveyors made minor errors in mapping city lots. Others are larger, but often strangely shaped or lacking direct street access.
They include one strip a foot wide and 120 feet long that runs down the edge of an alley off the 1000 block of P Street NW. Another strip, two feet wide and 100 feet long, appears to be part of someone's garden in the 2100 block of Newport Place NW, not far from Dupont Circle. Another, in the jog of an alley just a block from the Georgetown University campus, might provide an ample site for a doghouse, but nothing much larger.
Although they serve no apparent useful purpose, the odd lots keep the city's bureaucratic wheels spinning perpetually.
Alfred L. Richards, chief of assessment services for the D.C. Department of Finance and Revenue, blamed the working of a local law passed by Congress in 1898 that makes it cumbersome for the city to dispose of the properties.
Each year, disposition becomes even harder, Richard said, because the law requires the city to collect all past-due taxes, interest and penalties from any buyer.
Thus in the case of the M Street silver that divides the Kidder and Krys properties, it would now cost $1,921.18 to acquire that silver, which had an assessed value last year of $343 an annual tax bill of $6.28. The total cost is made up of $346.44 in back taxes and $1,574.74 in penalties and interest.
Each year, city officials must assess every one of the odd properties - as they do all other land - and must prepare bills made out to their last known owners, many of them long dead. The properties stay listed in the names of the old owners, no matter how long the taxes have been delinquent. That often makes them, literally, bits of no-man's-land.
With the bills on the odd lots usually left unpaid, the city must then try each year to dispose of the land, advertising the lots along with all other tax-delinquent properties for an annual auction in January.
Usable land is snapped up at the auctions, and often redeemed by late paying owners, but the odd lots almost always remain unsold.
"They're a real pain in the neck," said Donald R. Beach, the city's chief tax assessor.
Beach said he believes the D.C. City Council could pass a law similar to those in most other cities and counties around the country that would make it easier to dispose of the odd lots.
Such a law would permit the District to obtain title to all delinquent properties after a period of time, and to sell the parcels for whatever money they might bring. The city also would keep title to those properties it could not sell.
The D.C. law requiring payment of all back taxes, penalties and interest for the entire period of delinquency was upheld in 1943 by the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Richards, the assessment services chief, said the process of figuring what is owned on a piece of long-delinquent property is tedious.
A clerk must go back and figure what was owned in taxes, year by year, and then calculate and add the interest and penalties, which differ for each of those years.
To make such computations possible, a veteran employe of Richards' office, Carlton E. Tillman, sits down each month with a calculator and updates a chart that lists the interest and penalties due on delinquencies for every year since 1971.
The result is a chart that informs you, for example, that 7.86044 percent must be added this month to any tax bill that was not paid in 1979.
Margery C. Hoenack, who renovated and rents out a house at 610 I St. NE, on the northern fringe of Capitol Hill, discovered last week how hard this tax-adding process might sock her in the pocketbook.
Out back of the house, facing a littered alley, is a lot about 40 by 80 feet in size that apparently was occupied years ago by automobile garages. One edge of the lot slices diagonally, apparently laid out that way to provide a right-of-way for a proposed extension of West Virginia Avenue that never was built.
Today that lot out back is choked with weeds, heaped high with two piles of discarded mattresses and assorted trash, and it harbours a derelict car.
Hoenack went to the tax office hoping, she said, to acquire the land cheaply so she could get it cleaned up and fenced in, protecting the investment in her renovated house.
Since the lot's last owner, one Robert C. Murphy, had died in 1931, leaving no will and no known heirs, Hoenack said she was told that the only way she could acquire the land was by paying everything past due to the city.
Last Thursday, tax official Richards produced the bottom line: $10,714.11. That includes $4,253.31 in taxes ($76.04 for this year) plus $6,461.80 in penalties.
"I don't know now that I'm going to do," Hoenack said after she got the word.
There is a way she could get the lot cleared up, but there would be no guarantee that it would stay that way for long.
James E. Murphy, chief of the bureau of community hygiene of the D.C. Department of Environmental Services, said Hoenack - like any neighbor of a littered vacant lot in Washington - could call his office and complain.
Like the tax office with its bills, Murphy must try to contact the nonexistent heirs to the late owner, also named Murphy. Having taken perhaps a month doing that and presumably failing, he could then order a cleanup.
The bill for the cleanup, averaging $350 to $400 for each mission, would be added to the $10,714 tax delinquency Hoenack would have to pay if she decided to acquire the vacant lot.
William B. Johnson, deputy head of the D.C. Solid Waste Management Administration, said the city has budgeted $194,000 this year to maintain two trucks, a front-end loader and a crew of 12 workers who spend all their time cleaning vacant lots, whether tax-delinquent of not.
Murphy, the community hygiene chief, said that keeping tax-delinquent properties clean is a constant problem.
Hoenack, like other potential buyers of tax delinquent properties, would not have to wait for the annual tax auction to acquire title to the land if she decided she wanted it. Under one provision of law, she could pay the past-due taxes and ask a court to approve the issuance of a special deed.
This process sometimes is used, officials said, by developers who find tax delinquent land among parcels they are assembling for large projects. Other who sometimes use this process are property owners who stumble on encroachments created by odd lots when title searchers are being done for home expansions or refinancings.
At one time, Richards estimated there were as many as 700 odd lots in the city. But he said the number was diminished by private and assemblies and by the expansion of the city's urban renewal program.