City Council member Nadine P. Winter (D-Ward 6) said last week that she will propose legislation to prevent the misuse of the thousands of vacant buildings throughout the District.
Winter said she was acting in response to increasing community interest in preventing arsonists, drug users, burglars and vagrants from getting into vacant and boarded-up houses and apartment buildings.
"The people in my ward are frightened," she said. "The problems with abandoned housing are really approaching the crisis stage."
Winter presided last week over an informal hearing at the District Building that drew 20 people, including Ward 6 residents and representatives of the real estate and iron works industries.
Winter said the bill she plans to introduce on April 7 would require owners of vacant buildings to clean up their properties within 90 days of passage or pay fines equal to 1 percent of what they now pay in property taxes on the structures. The bill would amend present regulations regarding the maintenance of vacant buildings.
Several residents who met with Winter suggested that abandoned buildings bear the names and telephone numbers of their owners so they could be reached if problems arise. Winter said that there is no sure way of tracking down a property owner -- even if one contacts the D.C. Office of Real Property Taxes, a division of the Department of Finance and Revenue.
Kim Burgess, who represented ACE Ironworks Co., said that it would cost an average of $65 to put iron bars on one window or an average of $125 to put an iron gate across one doorway in a vacant structure. But he pointed out that although it costs an average of only $35 to cover one window or door with plywood, it would be cheaper in the long run to use bars and gates.
Burgess said that unlike plywood, gates could be reused after a building was renovated. Also, since the boards have to be replaced repeatedly, it ends up costing more than the initial $35 to keep a window or door boarded up with plywood. The iron bars and gates could not be removed as easily, so would be more cost efficient, Burgess said.
Levying a special fee on property owners who allow their buildings to remain vacant for more than three years was another idea brought up at Winter's hearing. However, Winter said, a property owner could get around that by selling his or her property to a friend in time to avoid paying the tax and then buying it back later