Council bill targets abandoned foreign missions

Pakistan's former embassy sits at 22nd and R streets NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/June 2017)

In response to D.C. Del. Eleanor Norton’s recent calls for action on the issue, District officials are taking steps to address the city’s large number of abandoned properties owned by foreign governments.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson introduced legislation Tuesday that would allow the District to tax vacant and blighted foreign government properties at a higher rate, following a request by Norton in a Sept. 6 letter. The District generally charges a higher tax rate on abandoned properties in an effort to discourage vacancy, but the law does not currently apply to properties owned by foreign governments. Properties with active diplomatic status are exempt from any local taxation.

Norton has also secured the promise of a meeting with the U.S. Office of Foreign Missions following her Aug. 28 letter to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Norton plans to press officials on ways to improve or seize abandoned foreign governments’ buildings in D.C.

“We are also in full agreement that via the Foreign Missions Act, Congress has provided the Department with wide latitude to require foreign governments to substantially comply with the District’s building codes and regulations,” Charles Faulkner of the Bureau of Legislative Affairs wrote in the Sept. 14 letter.

Norton looked forward to meeting with the U.S. State Department, she said Tuesday. “Taking a two-pronged approach at the federal and local levels will hopefully lead to action,” Norton said in a news release.