Monday, November 23, 2009

The politically connected company that arranged for a home renovation plan and supervised repairs this summer at D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray’s house lacked a business license to provide home improvement services, according to records released Friday by the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

The records also show that two of the companies hired to work on Mr. Gray’s house by WCS Construction, a company wholly owned by W. Christopher Smith Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of mega-developer William C. Smith & Co., are not licensed to do business in the city.

Licensing issues and questions about whether building permits were necessary have prompted the city’s consumer affairs agency to “look into what may or may not have been required” at Mr. Gray’s home, a spokesman said.

“We are not ignoring it,” DCRA spokesman Michael Rupert said Friday.

Mr. Gray, who has publicly stated that he is considering a run for mayor and has been a vocal critic of the Fenty administration, has bristled at suggestions that the $5,000 in incidental home repairs performed in July and August were inappropriate. The council chairman has said the repairs arose after he turned to Mr. Smith, his longtime friend, to arrange for architectural plans, with an eye toward hiring WCS Construction to do a more complete home renovation because he trusted his friend’s work.

Both Mr. Gray and the company have challenged suggestions that Mr. Gray received special favors and sought to portray the transaction as ordinary. A company spokeswoman said that acting as a contractor for minor repairs was unusual but that the company has performed home renovation services like the project Mr. Gray was preparing. She could not provide an example.

But D.C. databases of licensed contractors and DCRA officials have no records that would indicate that the construction company had a home improvement contractor license or a home improvement salesman license that, prior to Oct. 1, was required of companies that contract to repair or remodel homes, according to the DCRA License Center.

WCS Construction on Oct. 1 obtained a general contractor’s license, a new category of license offered by the city that allows the company to oversee myriad construction jobs, including home improvement projects.

WCS spokeswoman Carol Chatham did not return several calls for comment.

Mr. Gray has said he also had exterior work performed on his property two years ago, but has insisted that William C. Smith & Co. and WCS Construction had nothing to do with it. DCRA records show that Mr. Gray has never obtained a building permit for the Hillcrest home he has owned since 1984.

Photographs posted on the Web site of a Hillcrest community group at www.hillcrestdc .com show Mr. Gray’s house in the background with a different fence and garage door than can be seen now.

On Friday, DCRA officials said that installation of an iron fence “typically requires a building permit” and that installation of a garage door, if electrical, would require a permit as well.

Mr. Gray has declined to say who installed a 6-foot-high black iron fence that lines the perimeter of his 12,000-square-foot corner lot. He also has declined to say who installed his garage door.

The name of the home improvement contractor who performs work is required on a building permit.

This summer, Mr. Gray said, he asked WCS Construction to install wiring for exterior floodlights and an electrical outlet for a TV and DVD player.

DCRA officials said installation of electrical connections also requires a permit.

The agency, which issued $757,000 in fines for illegal construction the past 12 months, has not decided “what, if any, enforcement” is appropriate, said Mr. Rupert, who last week said that, in general, illegal construction carries a $2,000 fine for the homeowner and a possible loss of license for the contractor.

Invoices Mr. Gray made public last week that were posted online by the Washington City Paper show that WCS Construction bundled its subcontractors’ invoices, including $5,000 for architectural plans, and billed Mr. Gray for $10,051.44. The company received a supervision fee of $924.42 and a “general contractor’s fee and mark up @ 5 percent” of $478.62.

The invoices contain work receipts from D.H. Kim Enterprises and Maryland Doors Frames and Locks, neither of which is licensed or registered with DCRA as companies that do business in the District. D.H. Kim shares a business address with WCS Construction on Stanton Road in Southeast Washington.

Mr. Gray’s ties to Chris Smith date to the mid-1990s. According to its Web site, WCS Construction is the builder on a majority of the city projects developed by William C. Smith & Co. or its subsidiaries, including a 110,000-square-foot educational and arts complex in Southeast Washington built by a nonprofit organization on whose board Mr. Gray served in 2005 and 2006.

According to council documents, William C. Smith & Co. has about $300 million of real estate development east of the Anacostia River - an area of the city that Mr. Gray has represented.

Mr. Gray has vigorously denied that an Oct. 7 Freedom of Information Act request to the city by The Washington Times, and questions that a reporter raised with employees of William C. Smith & Co., had anything to do with his payment for the services and the timing.

Late last week, a neighbor of Mr. Gray’s, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robin Hammond Marlin, said she can’t fault Mr. Gray for putting up an iron fence around his corner lot, because it is on a busy street. But Ms. Marlin said that when she put up a far less substantial chain-link fence in her backyard, she went to DCRA in person and obtained the appropriate permits.

“I believe in doing things the old-fashioned way, by following procedures,” she said.

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