The property at 4304 Jay Street, NE, in Washington, D.C., has been owned by the Chappelle family for 96 years. The home was purchased by Mildred Chappelle’s parents, Belton and Janie Chappelle, on June 20, 1925.
Chappelle was raised in this home along with her brothers, Stanley and Edward, and sister Gladys. Another sibling, Julia, passed away in 1925 at age five, and her mother resided in the home until she died in 1998.
After graduating from Dunbar High School and New York University, Chappelle became a D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) teacher. Upon her retirement as an educator, she obtained a real estate license and became a realtor. She owned seven properties in the District and Maryland, including the one on Jay Street.
Chappelle no longer resides in the home she lived in for over 60 years. Now 97-years -old, she has been living with her sister, Gladys, on Tuckerman Street N.W. since 2012. Her sister helps provide Chappelle with full-time healthcare support due to advancing age and dementia. She is confined to her bed.
Neighbors Complain About Property
Chappelle maintained the home on Jay Street until 2012 when she started to develop health challenges. Well into her 80s, she still maintained the property, including cutting the grass. As her health declined, visits to the home became less frequent.
Like Chappelle’s parents, she recognized the importance of homeownership as a vehicle to build generational wealth for Black families.
Neighbors allegedly called the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) to report that the property was unoccupied and creating an eyesore in the community.
Trespassers began regularly vandalizing the property, including breaking windows.
Her nephew, Dr. Edward Chappelle, a dentist in Bowie, Maryland, managed six other properties his aunt owned. He also arranged for the lawn to be mowed on Jay Street, paid taxes on the property, and began renovations until he turned his attention to another one of her houses also in need of repairs.
Chapelle said Adult Protective Services for the District responded to someone who reported Chappelle was exhibiting signs of dementia.
“Adult Protective Services did not call me or any other family member,” Chappelle said. “We were never consulted before things got out of hand and asked to address concerns at the property. By the time I was contacted, Aunt Mildred was well in the system.”
DCRA determined that conditions at the Ward 7 home were such that a reclassification of the property to blighted, or Class 4, was mandated.
Four Classes of Real Property
The District defines four classes of real property: Class 1 is a residential property including multifamily; Class 2 is commercial and industrial property including hotels and motels; Class 3 is vacant property, and Class 4 is blighted property.
A DCRA division called Vacant Buildings Enforcement (VBE) surveys buildings in response to complaints from District residents or local government officials. Their mission is to return buildings to productive use. According to their website, VBE reaches out to owners of vacant properties and maintains a list of all properties determined to be vacant or blighted.
When a building is reclassified, the Office of Tax and Revenue (OTR) may assess the property at the higher tax rate of Class 3 (vacant) or Class 4 (blighted), as mandated in the D.C. Code.
In 2012, DCRA determined that no one had lived in the Ward 7 home for over 30 consecutive days. By law, the property was reclassified as vacant, causing the property tax rate to increase by five times the regular rate.
According to DCRA, any unoccupied property that is properly registered, and meets vacant property conditions, will be cited and issued a vacant property sticker. Unregistered properties may also be considered vacant if the property is unoccupied, not registered, or subject to an exemption.
Once it was determined that Chappelle’s Northeast D.C. property was vacant, it was also reclassified to Class 3, thereby becoming ineligible for the Homestead/Senior Citizen Deduction.
As a result, Chappelle’s tax bill escalated to approximately $18,000 in 2020.
The D.C. real property tax law intends to motivate property owners to live in their property or rent the property to a third party or sell the property to buyers who will occupy the property. The District wants properties to be in productive use, or the owner is forced to pay extremely high tax bills to leave the property vacant.
Generational Wealth Requires Planning
“I was shocked when I received a bill for this amount last year,” said her nephew. “I have been diligent about keeping current with property taxes owed each year. Everything was good in 2019. A year later, I now owe $18,000. How does that happen?”
“When real property is cited for violation of local housing ordinances, citations can lead to significantly higher real property rates and eventually a tax sale by the government,” according to Deborah D. Boddie, a D.C-based estate planning attorney and real estate broker.
“Without someone designated to address such matters, when we cannot, the outcome is disastrous. Knowing who will handle your affairs when you are unable is extremely important,” Boddie said.
“It is crucial that we plan for the future. Having a solid plan for incapacity or death ensures that wealth is maintained and transferred to the next generation. Opportunities for generational wealth can be lost in instances such as this,” she advised.
Chappelle’s nephew and guardian said he has been trying to “navigate and resolve this issue since September 11, 2012. I was just on a Zoom call preparing for a probate hearing. My costs and that of my Aunt Mildred’s estate is approximately $100,000 over a period of 9 years.”
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “it appears as though the system is set up to take assets from the elderly, and especially those whom the District has determined have properties. The possibility of losing a property that my family has kept for almost 100 years is incomprehensible and just plain wrong.”
Anthony R. Bolling, JD, CCIM, MiCAP, is the Principal Broker at Anthony Bolling Group @ K.W. Commercial. He is a second-generation Washingtonian and lifelong resident of Ward 7 with extensive experience as a real estate and business professional here in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.