Put a License on It - NBC4 Washington

Put a License on It

Amateur sleuths may catch illegal landlords in the act



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    Some off-the-books landlords in D.C.’s Burleith neighborhood may have been caught by their amateur detective neighbors.

    A coalition of Burleith neighborhood groups recently spent two months walking the ‘hood to identify suspected illegal rentals, Urban Turf reported. We assume Hoya pennants plastered across English basement windows were a big tip-off. To confirm their suspicions, the neighbors crosschecked their entries with the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Property Information Verification System to determine whether the properties were properly registered as rentals.
    The coalition then passed a list of 134 properties to DCRA, Urban Turf reported. The alleged law-breaking landlords then got a letter from DCRA. According to DCRA’s blog, the agency also offered to assist the property owners in obtaining the proper licenses and inspections.
    For property owners, it’s play now or pay later. DCRA is threatening to send investigators to the properties whose owners don't responded within 15 days. Illegal landlords will be fined.
    While it’s tempting to poke fun at every entity of the story -- the snoopy neighbors, a city agency, scofflaw private property owners in a high-rent district and drunken college kids -- some of us have been around long enough to recall the Prospect Street fire that killed Georgetown University student Daniel Rigby in October 2004.
    Rigby’s body was found in the basement. At the time, the Georgetown Voice reported that fire officials said the house at 3318 Prospect Street had numerous fire code violations, ranging from “metal bars obstructing exit from basement windows, a back door blocked by an air conditioning unit and an excessive accumulation of combustible material in the house, among other violations.”
    So we’re not poking fun. In fact, we think unlicensed, uninspected rentals are deadly serious. Kudos to the neighbors for policing their own turf and maybe even saving the lives of some unsuspecting tenants, even if that wasn’t the original intent.