No wonder the District is awash in homeowners who take their chances about renovating without permits ["D.C. Battling Boom in Illegal Work on Homes; Construction Without Permits a Side Effect of Pricey Market," front page, June 27].
I tried to do it right when I bought an old townhouse near Dupont Circle in July 2001 to use as my law office. Four years later not a hammer has been lifted on my project, and I have yet to get that permit.
I was told by my architect that I needed a certificate of occupancy to get a building permit. The District said I could not get the certificate until I got my townhouse reclassified from "rooming house" use (a designation that dated to 1950) to "office" use. This required a hearing before the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment.
During that process I learned that I could not do the planned remodeling -- a 15-foot addition on top of the second floor at the rear of the building -- under existing zoning. Getting a ruling on my variance application took nine months.
The board rejected my application but gave me a variance to use the existing structure for offices. I had to throw out $80,000 in architectural drawings and start again.
I then entered into negotiations with city officials to preserve the 19th-century staircase that is the central feature of the house. I was willing to fall on any sword to do it. I agreed to a sprinkler system. I agreed to a smoke-exhaust system. I agreed to pay -- take your pick, $5,000 or $21,000 -- for drawings by a civil engineering firm that would take six weeks to prepare and that would show the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority how my new sprinkler system pipes would tie into the city water system.
In August 2003 the Building and Land Regulation Administration signed off on my application (filed that April) for a waiver of the requirement to close off the stairway as the fire code otherwise required. After getting most of these issues resolved in the fall of 2004, my architect and the "expediter" submitted my application for the building permit. We are still waiting.
About two weeks ago, I got letters from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the Office of Tax and Revenue informing me (incorrectly) that my building had been declared vacant and that, as a penalty, my taxes would be raised retroactively to $5 per $100 of value.
Perhaps the District will use the money to refund the mortgages and the taxes I've paid while waiting for my building permit.
PAMELA B. STUART