Let’s see. A D.C. restaurateur owns a vacant single-family home in Upper Northwest. His neighbors have been complaining for years that the house is unoccupied and unkempt, and the D.C. Council has grilled the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs about its involvement, which includes tending to yard work.
The actions of that agency led to more serious issues, however. One is why that agency tried to mitigate an eyesore, which is a homeowner’s problem. Or, in short, does the city provide such services to all property owners?
The other issue is far more troublesome: This particular piece of property, which again is privately owned, hasn’t been paying its property taxes.
According to some recent news reports, the owner — Hakan Ilhan, who also owns several popular D.C. restaurants — owes an estimated $1,000 in fines as recently as March, and the city has lost thousands, perhaps millions in property taxes.
The agency responsible for collecting property taxes? The D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer.
Its excuse? The agency’s IT upgrade wasn’t in sync with DCRA.
In other words, somebody or somebodies didn’t do their jobs.
Blaming human error goes quite a way these days.
It is the bogeyman who spoiled an estimated 15 million COVID-19 vaccine does in Baltimore this week.
It was the bad guy in a D.C. fire in 2019 that killed a 9-year-old boy who was trapped in an illegal rental room that was behind wrought-iron bars. That home used to be a pharmacy and was owned by a man who no longer lived in the city. While he claimed his errors, former DCRA inspectors, who had visited the “home” to enforce the law, apparently became whistleblowers but were scaped, too.
D.C. lawmakers’ other solution was to consider splitting DCRA into two agencies.
That neither of those agencies would focus solely on law and regulatory enforcement is the real bogeyman, though.
In other words, what’s the point of a bunch of rules and regs regarding construction, housing and professional licensing if there’s no long, stiff arm of law enforcement to verify?
It would be like police and law enforcement. What’s the point of John Law if you give him a gun, make him wear a badge but defund his agency and treat him like a glorified social worker?
Bureaucrats get it and encourage it.
The city’s bean counter, Jeff DeWitt, resigned in February and headed for the University of Kansas. Nobody of consequence expressed regret, but perhaps they should have.
Meanwhile, the DCRA can’t seem to find its way, but instead of City Hall laying out marching orders, the bosses want to split one huge problem into two mismanageable ones.
We’ll find out sooner or later how much the city lost in failing to levy those property tax fines — whose rates can be raised from 85 cents per $100 of value to $5 or $10 depending on the condition of the house.
In Mr. Ilhan’s case, his stylish, popular restaurants, including Ottoman Taverna, are hardly cheap, fast-food joints. And even though he’s struggling during the pandemic, he promises to handle his business with the city, which includes taxes that could reach as high as $120,000.
With DCRA listing almost 3,000 vacant properties in the city, there’s no telling how much money the CFO left on the table.
Surely, there are CFO employees who can tally up damage. If not, the D.C. auditor can do the math.
Deborah Simmons can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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