- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2017

D.C. residents seeking to sell their homes could soon have to disclose illegal construction performed during the time they owned the properties — data the city’s regulatory agency currently does not require despite laws that force the disclosure of other problems with a home before it’s sold.

“While many renovators exercise appropriate care in renovating the properties, others have focused on quickly flipping houses without appropriate care to ensure construction is safe and follows construction codes,” said D.C. Council member Elissa Silverman, who introduced the legislation Tuesday.

The city’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) issues stop work orders for illegal construction, including work done without a permit, work outside the scope of a permit and work done outside of certain hours during the week and on weekends.

The legislation aims to safeguard homebuyers against sellers who fail to reveal illegal construction on a property. Currently, DCRA only requires the disclosure of problems with plumbing, electricity, infestations, broken appliances and other similar issues.

The measure stems from a DCRA roundtable discussion last summer that featured testimony from residents who said they had bought homes will stop work orders were still in place.

“This indicates that a DCRA inspector found the renovation of a property to be substandard or otherwise in violation of issued permits but that the property owner or general contractor then removed the stop work order notice and continued work in violation of the order,” said Ms. Silverman, at-large independent. “The homebuyer purchased the property with no knowledge of the stop work order or the underlying violation.”

Residents and officials have long criticized DCRA for its lack of transparency, slow permitting process and general unresponsiveness.

In public testimony from the July 13 council oversight hearing on DCRA, Ward 6 resident Joel Kelty said that houses often sell despite having unresolved stop work orders and that there needs to be a mechanism to stop those kinds of sales.

“Home purchasers have an expectation that DCRA provided basic oversight of construction permits,” said Mr. Kelty, a commercial real estate investor. “These homebuyers are later forced to spend thousands of dollars correcting defective work that causes their homes to leak, prevent fire or safety hazards or has resulted in zoning violations.”

Ms. Silverman said the D.C. Association of Realtors’ Public Policy Committee reviewed the legislation and voted to support it. The association did not return calls or emails for comment.

But Gary Butler, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 7, said the measure is unnecessary and that the onus is on buyers to check on the quality of the homes they’re buying.

“Current requirements already require sellers to disclose any knowledge of problems. Stop work orders are very subjective and are mainly put on properties to please a gripe,” said Mr. Butler, a real estate broker. “It does not provide a safety net to homebuyers, and I see a great number of properties unfairly stigmatized under this legislation.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Butler said DCRA needs to hire more inspectors, fix the licensing and permitting process and clarify the gray area around contractors and subcontractors pulling permits.

“These issues have been longstanding and ongoing. Poor oversight of the agency is the main cause of the problems,” he said, adding that reform must come from the agency, not through legislation.

“Legislation around this issue looks and sounds good but actually does little to assist homeowners facing this situation,” Mr. Butler said. “I would recommend DCRA leadership reform the agency.”

And as for those who continue to skirt the law and flip homes without regard for the buyer, Mr. Butler said there is already a path to recourse.

“We have a court system,” he said. “Sue. It is the American way.”

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