Decision Summary HPA No. 00-564
- HPA Number
- Building Name
- Bedford Rental Property
- 942 Westminster St. NW
- Date of Order
HPA Number: 00-564
Case Name: In the Matter of Barbara J. Bedford
Location of Property:
Date of Decision: August 8, 2003
Type of Case/Permit Sought: Construction (approval of window replacements)
Date of Case Summary: July 26, 2006
Barbara J. Bedford (the “Applicant”) replaced windows on a rental property she owned in the Greater U Street Historic District without applying for the required construction permit. After Applicant was issued a citation for failure to obtain a permit, Applicant sought approval of the window replacements. The Historic Preservation Review Board recommended against approval of the window replacements because the vinyl-type replacement windows were “incompatible with the architectural significance of the Applicant’s structure.” The Mayor’s Agent rejected Applicant’s claim that denying approval of the window replacements would create an “unreasonable economic hardship.” Applicant was ordered to replace the vinyl windows that were visible from the street with more “compatible” windows within 120 days.
Mayor’s Agent – Procedural:
The Mayor’s Agent had entered a default judgment against Applicant when she failed to appear at the first scheduled hearing. The Mayor’s Agent vacated this order and allowed a new hearing based on evidence of lack of proper prior notice, since notice was sent to the subject property, which is Applicant’s rental property, and not Applicant’s registered address of record. The Mayor’s Agent also noted that Applicant had not had an opportunity to present the merits of her appeal.
Unreasonable Economic Hardship:
The Mayor’s Agent repeated the statutory definition of “unreasonable economic hardship,” i.e., “circumstances where failure to issue a permit would amount to a taking of the owner’s property without just compensation or, in the case of a low income owner or owners, as determined by the Mayor, when failure to issue a permit would place an onerous and excessive burden upon the owners.” The Mayor’s Agent focused on whether denying approval of the window replacements would amount to a taking because Applicant had not claimed the status of a low income owner. The Mayor’s Agent concluded that requiring Applicant to re-install new windows in order to be in compliance with the historic preservation laws would not amount to a taking. The Mayor’s Agent noted that the value of the property, given Applicant paid $38,000 for the property in 1995 and the market value was determined to be approximately $500,000 to $600,000, presented Applicant with the opportunity to sell the property and realize a sales price return far greater than the $38,000 purchase price in 1995.
The Mayor’s Agent ordered Applicant to replace all of the windows that were visible from Westminster Street, but allowed all other replacement windows to remain.
Obligation to Secure Permits:
The Mayor’s Agent stated that “pursuant to the Act in particular and D.C. law in general, the ultimate obligation to secure the relevant construction permit rests upon the homeowner,” while noting that this obligation can be specifically contracted away to the installing contractor as part of the services rendered under the contract.
Ignorance of the Law:
The Mayor’s Agent concluded that “ignorance of the law cannot be permitted to rise to the level of a valid legal defense,” thereby rejecting Applicant’s argument that her actions should have been excused because she was not aware of the regulations and thought she was in compliance with the law. The Mayor’s Agent noted that many other property owners in this Historic District have complied with the regulations, finding that if such a defense were allowed, it “would undermine and eventually destroy the effectiveness of the [historic preservation] law and regulations.”
Prior History: The default order was entered as HPA 00-564, dated March 1, 2001.