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How the Enforcement Process Works

The Historic Preservation Office (HPO) operates an inspections and compliance program as provided in the DC historic preservation law, in coordination with and under the authority of the Department of Buildings (DOB). 

Program Goals

HPO inspections complement DOB's efforts to ensure that building construction complies with applicable DC laws, building codes and permit requirements. While DOB inspects the construction and maintenance of multiple building components and systems citywide, HPO inspections address only the more specialized preservation concerns that apply to historic properties and areas. 

HPO emphasizes significant preservation concerns in its inspections and enforcement activity. The goal is to protect the city’s historic character by stopping illegal work, ensuring that construction complies with preservation approvals, and preventing deterioration that could lead to building decay.  

Types of Inspection

HPO conducts two types of inspections: monitoring construction activity and monitoring deteriorated historic property for serious neglect. HPO coordinates these inspections with DOB and the Board for the Condemnation of Insanitary Buildings (BCIB). HPO also responds to public requests for inspection.

What actions does HPO take against illegal construction? 

HPO compliance actions depend on the type of violation observed. For minor offenses causing no permanent damage, a verbal warning or Notice of Violation often achieves voluntary compliance. If this is not adequate, and for more serious violations, HPO can stop the work in progress and issue appropriate fines. In most cases, these actions lead to compliance.

The recipient of an enforcement notice has the right to appeal. Once the adjudication process is complete, the owner or contractor is liable for any fine assessed, and for correcting the violation. If the fine is not paid, the amount may be attached as a lien on the property, and if the violation is not corrected, HPO may take further enforcement action. 

How does HPO address property neglect?

DC building codes require property owners to maintain their properties in safe and sound condition. The District monitors property for serious disrepair and may classify buildings creating a visual or physical blight at a higher tax rate until the defects are corrected. HPO prioritizes its compliance actions against property neglect by monitoring DOB’s list of blighted buildings, serving on the Board of Condemnation for Insanitary Buildings (BCIB), and evaluating public complaints.