Today, DC Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6) introduced legislation to protect historic homes from unauthorized destruction and demolition, enabled in part because the existing fines are so low it does not serve as a successful deterrence, nor does it allow for significant differences between small and severe violations.
The bill comes out of examination of demolition records and fines for historic buildings, which made clear the existing fine structure was not deterring construction companies. In reviewing violations and infractions, few contractors were required to pay more than even $3,000 for violations that were severe. Notably, the fine was the same for something smaller, such as repointing, as it was for a larger, near-full scale demolition.
The bill from Councilmember Allen proposes a stronger and more flexible fine system to allow the Office of Planning and the Historic Preservation Review Board to take decisive action. The Protecting Historic Homes Amendment Act of 2023 would create scaled, higher fines for significant violations of the Historic Landmark and Historic District Protection Act of 1978, the legislation that created the District’s current framework for historic preservation. The new bill provides that penalties assessed by the Historic Preservation Board must vary by degree of severity of the damage, up to $100,000 per violation.
“Earlier this year a historic home in Ward 6 was nearly demolished when a construction project to add onto the home went way beyond the scope of the original permit,” said Councilmember Allen. “This legislation will give the District more flexibility to enforce against bad actors like this for significant violations of historic preservation law. Right now, these companies can skirt the law and tear down history just by writing a small check to the city. And even excellent enforcement can only go so far, if the ceiling on fines for the worst behavior is about the same as a few new doors or windows.”