SMART FAQ About Vacant and Blighted Property Tax Exemptions In DC

DISCLOSURE: The facts provided in this article are for informational purposes only and are deemed accurate at the time it was published. For the most updated information, visit the website of DC Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

Whether you are between renters or renovating an old building, it is critical that you know your financial and reporting obligations for vacant and blighted properties in Washington, DC.

Vacant Buildings

A vacant building is any building that is unoccupied by people. The owner of a vacant building must register it with this form or online within 30 days of it becoming vacant, and he or she must pay a $250 registration fee to the DC Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs (DCRA).

If you fail to register your vacant building, you are subject to civil and/or criminal penalties, which include up to $2,000 in fines per violation and up to 90 days imprisonment.

Vacant buildings are taxed twice a year by the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR). At the time the tax is issued, a vacant building accrues an amount that equals $5.00 for every $100 of the building’s assessed property value. As a reference, the tax rates for non-vacant properties are as follows:

Class Tax Rate per $100 of property value Description
1 $0.85 Residential real property, including multi-family properties.
2 $1.65 Commercial and industrial property, including hotels and motels, if the assessed value is not greater than $5 million.
2 $1.77 Commercial and industrial property, including hotels and motels, if the assessed value is greater than $5 million but not greater than $10 million.
2 $1.89 Commercial and industrial property, including hotels and motels, if the assessed value is greater than $10 million.

Blighted Buildings

A building is designated as blighted if it is found to be “unsafe, insanitary, or a threat to the health, safety, or general welfare of the community”.

Considerations for designating a building as blighted include:

  • Whether the building is boarded up.

  • Whether openings such as doors and windows are weather-tight and secured against entry.

  • Whether exterior walls are free from holes, graffiti, and/or rotting material.

  • Whether all exposed wooden and metal surfaces are protected from decay by paint or other weather-coating material.

  • Whether all porches, balconies, signs, and similar features are safe and sound.

After a building is deemed “blighted,” it is possible to remove the designation by rectifying the identified issues. Once you believe the building is out of “blighted” status, send photographs showing the improved conditions to the Vacant Building Enforcement unit.

Like vacant buildings, blighted properties are taxed twice a year by the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR), but their tax rate is $10.00 per $100 of the assessed property value.

Vacant and Blighted Building Exemptions

The DCRA grants exemptions to the aforementioned registration fees and increased real estate tax rates on a limited basis. If the exemption is approved, your tax rate will remain the same for the applicable fiscal year only. Additionally, the Vacant Building Enforcement unit will send you an exemption confirmation letter.

To receive an exemption for a vacant or blighted building, it must meet the following qualifications:

  • The building is under construction or undergoing rehabilitation, renovation, or repair.

  • The building is the subject of a probate proceeding, or the title is the subject of litigation.

  • The property is the subject of a pending application for development that requires the approval of the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment, Zoning Commission, Commission on Fine Arts, Historic Preservation Review Board, Mayor’s Agent for Historic Preservation, or National Capital Planning Commission.

  • The owner has been searching for a renter or buyer for under a year for residential properties or under two years for commercial properties.

  • The owner requests Economic Hardship due to extraordinary circumstances.

If you feel that you qualify for an exemption, fill in the applicable exemption information on the vacant or blighted forms mentioned above (found here or filled out online) and include the requested supplemental documentation (utility bills, building permits, court documents, etc.).

If your exemption request is denied, your property tax rate will move up to the new applicable Property Class tax rate. The Vacant Building Enforcement unit will also send you a denial notice with instructions to file an appeal.