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D.C. attorney general sues vacant-property owner, alleging tax evasion

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) visits an apparently vacant building at 1000 C St NE in July. (Astrid Riecken for The Washington Post)
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D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine (D) on Tuesday filed a lawsuit against the owner of a vacant Ward 6 building, alleging that they have made false statements since at least 2015 to avoid paying increased taxes on the property.

Owners of vacant and blighted properties in the city are charged a higher property tax rate, an incentive to ensure District buildings are taken care of and put to good use. Racine’s lawsuit centers on a red-brick property at 1000 C Street NE that has long been a source of frustration for neighbors, even spurring the creation of a Twitter profile impersonating the building.

In July, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) told The Washington Post that the building had been taxed as vacant for just six months in the past 13 years and had been reclassified by the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at least 31 times in the past decade.

Those reclassifications, Racine’s suit alleges, are a result of the building’s owners’ “repeated misrepresentations to the District in their continuous effort to avoid an increased tax burden,” dating as early as 2006, falsely indicating that the building was occupied. For more than 10 years, the suit reads, the “formerly stately home has sat conspicuously vacant: boarded up, overgrown, and with masonry degrading, the roof in a state of perpetual and visible decay.”

The suit identifies George Papageorge as the building’s owner; he owns the property through the company 10th and C Street Associates. Papageorge has avoided paying the vacant property tax rate by repeatedly listing the building as occupied, the suit says — a violation of the city’s False Claims Act, which was amended by the D.C. Council in 2021 to include tax-related transgressions.

D.C.’s problems with vacant, blighted properties haven’t gone away, residents and officials say

According to D.C. tax records, Papageorge owes more than $116,000 in taxes on the property. Papageorge could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Last year, The Post reported that even though the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs had flagged nearly 3,000 properties in the city as vacant or blighted, just a fraction of them were being taxed at the proper rate. Racine’s suit says that oftentimes these properties attract nuisance activity and can create dangerous conditions for children.

“Too many District residents are struggling to find safe and affordable places to live, while more than 3,000 homes sit vacant across the city,” Racine said in a statement, noting the city’s suit against a vacant-property owner was the first of its kind.

Holding property owners accountable for vacant and blighted properties in the District has been a cause celebre for Mendelson, the council chair, who is running for reelection this year. He said in his own statement, “I’m hopeful that this suit will send a message that the District is serious about fraud and that these LLCs must make an effort to put their properties back into use, rather than continue to try to game the system.”

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