New housing inspection policy expedites infractions and fines, attempting to clear backlog
In an attempt to expedite the repair process, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs is no longer issuing a Notice of Violation as a first warning during housing inspections. Landlords will instead skip directly to receiving a Notice of Infraction and a fine, according to a press release from the DCRA and the mayor’s office. Previously, an infraction notice was only issued when necessary repairs were not corrected upon re-inspection, according to the DCRA website.
Property owners have a period of seven days to repair violations outlined by an infraction notice. After the time period, DCRA may re-inspect the property to ensure the issue was fixed. An uncorrected violation may lead to additional fines or even result in criminal prosecution, according to the DCRA website.
The policy change is an attempt to increase efficiency and expedite repairs. In the last two years, however, numerous housing violations have gone unrepaired throughout the District.
Of the housing inspections with violations in the 2017 – 2019 fiscal years, only 41 percent in Ward 7 and 38 percent in Ward 8 were repaired. So far in fiscal year 2019, which ends in September, only 142 of 517 violations reported in Ward 8 have been repaired.
The discrepancies in response time and enforcement are due to D.C.’s rapid expansion, according to DCRA director Ernest Chrappah.
“It is in part because the city is growing rapidly, and we have a workforce of 68 inspectors who are responsible for about 90,000 inspections,” Chrappah said in an interview with Street Sense Media. “That is just not scalable when the volume of inspections is expected to grow to 115,000.”
Inspections are necessary to both ensure a repair is completed, as well as identify ongoing violations, according to Chrappah. It is difficult to accomplish both tasks while the District continues to grow at an increasing rate.
“As D.C. continues to grow and thrive, we’re working to make D.C. agencies more efficient and user-friendly to meet that growing demand,” Mayor Bowser said in the press release. “Streamlining and digitizing our housing inspection process is one way we’re using technology to deliver the services that residents and businesses rely on.”
Violations of D.C. Housing Code standards can include issues such as cleanliness, electricity, plumbing, security, and infrastructural integrity. Fines are established by the Office of Enforcement and Environmental Justice. Imminent health issues can result in fines from $2,000-$8,000 while non-harmful nuisances merit fines of $50-$400, according to the department’s website.
Further changes to the inspection process included mobile tablets that allow inspectors to instantly see violation histories and submit reports remotely.
DCRA also plans on creating a program in which residents can apply to become certified housing inspectors. In order to be eligible, applicants must be 18 or older, pass a background check, and preferably be a D.C. resident. The training program will consist of a few trainings for field inspections and an exam in order to certify community members as property maintenance inspectors, according to Chrappah.