101 5th Street, NE
City Agency Slow to Call Out Reg Violations in Capitol Hill Student Rooming House
By Larry Janezich
Posted May 12, 2023
A rooming house at 101 5th Street, NE, owned by a Las Vegas Real Estate Investment firm has housed 20 students from Delaware and New York since the summer of 2022 without a Certificate of Occupancy (CO) or a rooming house license. The students are participating in the Universities’ Semester in DC Programs. Capitol Hill has a growing number of residential properties repurposed for corporate use (violating city regulations) but whose owners suffer little or no sanctions for doing so. ANCs are almost powerless to address the issue and city agencies, in the words of an ANC6B commissioner referring to the same problem on New Jersey Avenue, SE, “don’t want to do anything about it.”
ANC6C Commissioner Jay Adelstein, investigating on behalf of concerned neighbors, recently ascertained the number of students occupying the house and where they are from.
In response to neighbor concerns, DLCP and DOB determined in September of 2022 that the owners of 101 5th Street were in violation of DC laws: 1. Engaging in business (rooming house) without a housing transient license endorsement and 2. Operating after a business certificate of registration has been terminated.
But it took until first week of May 2023 for DLCP and DOB to start enforcing the law by prohibiting further operation because of the lack of a CO and rooming license and because 101 5th Street failed a CO inspection on May 4.
Valerie Jablow, an education blogger who lives on Capitol Hill near 101 5th Street, NE, has been engaged with city agencies on the use of the property for the past ten months. Last Wednesday night, she appeared before ANC6C for the second time on the matter, and again citing 101 5th, urged ANC6C to work with ANC6B to ensure proper use of neighborhood buildings and proper licensing.
Commissioner Adelstein complimented Jablow saying that “you have not only shaken the branches but shaken the trunk and apparently have the attention of both DOB and DLCP… they’ve reached out to the University of Delaware … I think it’s on course for resolution . The bigger problem is the commercialization of our residential properties on The Hill.”
Commissioner Joel Kelty said he wanted “to note that ANC6C has spent many many years attempting to bring the failures of former DCRA now DOB and the professional licensing division of the former DCRA to light and so we are sympathetic to your concerns…”
A time line of mile stones in story of the search for accountability is revealing:
- July, 2022 – Valerie Jablow raised concerns with city agencies about the property when the house was being renovated without the owners getting permits. The city issued a stop work order and levied fines before work resumed on the renovation.
- September, 2022. DLCP and DOB, determine that the owners of 101 5th Street were in violation of DC laws: 1. Engaging in business (rooming house) without a housing transient license endorsement, and 2. Operating after a business certificate of registration has been terminated.
- October 13, 2022. Notice of Infraction was sent to the Office of Administrative Hearings for adjudication. (That case was still awaiting adjudication in May of 2023. Meanwhile, rooming and apparently business meetings continued without disruption DLCP.)
- January, 2023. People are seen leaving the property on weekday evenings without suitcases, but in business attire and with briefcases, suggesting that they were conducting business there during the day, then leaving at day’s end.
- Mid-February. The property still had no rooming house license and no CO.
- March 13. In response to neighbors’ inquiries, DCPL certifies that there are currently no active licenses for 101 5th Street and that the Notice of Infraction sent to the Office of Administrative Hearings for adjudication was still pending. DCPL refused to comment on the Notice of Infraction but said community members “are welcome to file a FOIA request in the meantime.”
- March 28. Jablow testified before Council on DOB oversight hearing to support enforcement of license requirements re operation of any hotel or inn in DC and asked that DOB’s ability to keep corporation from pretending to be actual people who occupy a house be ensured.
- April 12. Jablow emails ANC6C Planning & Zoning Committee asks why 101 5th Street has been allowed to operate without a license and asked the ANC to 1. reach out to other city agencies to ask how they define how a corporation “resides” in a house, 2. work to stop unlicensed rooming houses and prohibit use of neighborhood properties as offices, and 3. better align property taxation, zoning, and permitting with use to combat tax and other building fraud.
- May, 2023. DLCP and DOB prohibit 101 5th Street from operating as a rooming house because of the lack of a CO and rooming license and because it failed a CO inspection on May 4.
- Jablow expresses her concerns to the University of Delaware which replies that it is seeking details from the housing provider.
- May 9 – DLCP contacts the University of Delaware and says “we’re beginning a conversation with the schools involved now to see what steps will taken with regards to further enforcement action.”
- May 9 – Jablow emails Emir Gur-Ravantab | Account Manager, Office of the Director [DLCP], to inquire what happens after the universities’ Semester in DC ends on May 20 with respect to the suspected business activities at 101 5th Street?
- May 10 Emir Gur-Ravantab | Account Manager, Office of the Director [DLCP] replys:
“I understand your concern given that you’ve been seeing this building operate as a business illegally for some time now. I know that action may seem inert due to the time frame it’s been taking, but there is action from our end in the pipeline; the complaint filed earlier in the spring when I first contacted you carries several thousand dollars in fines, and is now going through the legal motions. As a reminder, Notices of Infraction from DLCP must first be processed through the Office of Administrative Hearings, after which they become public, and payment is due. If unlicensed business activity continues, beyond May 20th or at any time, our agency will continue to issue NOIs with fines worth thousands of dollars to enforce the owner into compliance. In certain cases, we can also issue a cease and desist order, but that would need to be approved by our legal office. Due to the structure of DC law and our agency’s policies, we must utilize our method of issuing citations first before being able to take any drastic measures, i.e., cease and desist order. The only time otherwise where business activity can be swiftly shut down or otherwise interfered with is in the case of a life or health safety issue, which would involve action from either DOB or DC Health, depending on the issue, and not a call that DLCP can make. I hope this clarifies a few things. Warm Regards,”
What’s missing from the reply is an explanation for the months of delay in addressing the issue, either to stop the illegal occupancy or ensure safe operation at 101 5th, until May of 2023. Further, the email allows the reader to infer that there is no remedy to the purported use of a corporate-owned residential property for business or political meetings.
The case of 101 5th Street illustrates what appears to be city government tolerance of corporate use of Capitol Hill’s residential properties – much desired owing to their proximity to the U.S. Capitol, bars, restaurants and the Metro. But, as Jablow put it in correspondence with CM Briane Nadeau and Council Chair Phil Mendelson, “I want to point out that if DLCP refuses to enforce the law in this case, or construes its duty to end at enforcement, DC will see only more of this behavior, especially in close-in areas of Capitol Hill, where improper use of residential properties as corporate spaces can be lucrative and convenient when the law is not enforced. This in turn violates the expectation of DC residents living in residential areas like mine, which is that the properties around them coded for use as residential are, in fact, residential.”
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