- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

The D.C. government knocked down an apartment building in Southeast in 2002, and now it wants the building’s owner to pay about $98,000 for it, with interest.

But, owner Erika Brown objects because, her attorney says, city officials never told her that they were going to demolish the building she purchased from the city weeks before.

Gary M. Sidell, an attorney for Miss Brown, calls the District’s move to recoup demolition costs “theft by government.” He also said that by charging an 18 percent annual interest on a demolition lien, D.C. officials are treating Miss Brown as “a profit center.”

But D.C. officials call it legal and valid and said they expect Miss Brown to pay up.

“It’s a nonissue. The lien is still in effect. She’s going to have to pay that,” said Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for D.C. Attorney General Robert J. Spagnoletti.

Last week, D.C. officials paid $180,000 to resolve a lawsuit filed by Miss Brown, in which she accused the city of failing to tell her that the building, at 5004 D St. SE, was on the city’s demolition list.

The settlement dismissed Miss Brown’s lawsuit against the District for demolishing her three-story building, weeks after the city sold it to her through a tax sale.

In the lawsuit, Miss Brown accused the city of failing to notify her about the demolition because of errors in the city’s record-keeping. She stated in the lawsuit that the District sent a notice of the planned demolition to a company that held the property years before she purchased it.

Mr. Sidell said city officials didn’t officially notify Miss Brown about the lien. He said the city filed a “special assessment” against the property last month.

Miss Brown purchased the dilapidated building for about $82,000 and obtained financing to fix it up and turn it into affordable housing, court records show.

The demolition lien includes the District’s original costs of about $59,522 and $38,391 in interest as of last month, Mr. Sidell said.

City officials said that the lien is valid and that Miss Brown is expected to pay it. Citing the settlement, they also say the legal dispute with Miss Brown has ended.

“Mr. Sidell has agreed to dismiss any related actions,” Miss Hughes said.

In a Jan. 10 letter to Mr. Spagnoletti, Mr. Sidell said there was no discussion during settlement of any plans by the city to recover demolition costs.

“I can only imagine what Major League Baseball would have to say if it knew that its baseball team risked having its anticipated luxury stadium arbitrarily demolished,” Mr. Sidell wrote.

Mr. Sidell said yesterday that Miss Brown was told when buying the building that the property was “free and clear” of any liens.

“The settlement says nothing about her having to promise to pay the city for demolition costs,” he said.

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