After 16 years of decay, an eyesore property may finally get a face lift.
For 16 years, the two-story single-family home at 1414 A St. NE has been slowly collapsing. The man who won it at tax auction in 1984 spent those years fighting a protracted legal battle to win clear title to the property. And in the meantime, the house has remained unoccupied—unless you count the squatters who set fire to the place, or the raccoons that entered through the fire-damaged roof after the windows and doors were boarded over.
Who had it in for 1414 A St.? It turns out that the black cloud hanging over the house was the D.C. Municipal Code—particularly its sections on inheritance law and tax confiscation. Interest in the property had fractured among nine heirs when the tax-delinquent owner died. D.C. law allows those who have interest in a property to contest any tax sale once they are notified. And between 1984 and last year, tax-auction buyer Randolph Oldes Sr. never managed to locate and notify all the heirs with interest in the property—leaving him unable to obtain clear title.
Last summer, Oldes gave up his quest after running out of money to pay his lawyers, Kurt Berlin and Jeff Tuckfelt. He sold the place to Berlin’s company, Barton Realty Corp., to cover the attorney’s fees. However, under circumstances that are still not clear, he also sold it to someone named Arthur Neal, who then turned around and sold the property to a small real estate development firm called Kingsway & Associates.
On July 24, following a Washington City Paper story (“Biography of an Eyesore,” 7/21), the boards started to come off.
“The Monday after the article they put a dumpster in the street—the bulk trash thing—that’s been there ever since. They’ve taken away two loads of junk,” says neighbor Michael Woodson. He says he’s thrilled that the owners are finally about to rehabilitate the eyesore property.
But like neighbors everywhere, he’s got some complaints about all that trash-hauling going on. “There’s no demolition permit,” Woodson says. “They’re supposed to post a permit out front.” He points to a pile of metal sitting against his fence. “They leave stuff in the front yard,” he says.
Premier Investments Realty Group, according to a sign posted in the yard, is completely gutting the building. Workers have torn out beams, walls, and bathroom sinks—one of which sits out front, along with a motley collection of electrical wire, beer cans, leaky old pots, and aged beach chairs. Two grimy books, smelling of must and warped by damp and rain, are wedged into a nook in the side of the brick front stoop: The Popular Mechanics Do-It-Yourself Encyclopedia on home repair and Gary Branson’s Home Maintenance and Repair: Walls, Ceilings and Floors.
“They said they found everything but a body,” says Woodson. “Sometimes in the summer that house would reek, because of the dead animals [in it] and everything.”
What the rehabilitators did not find, however, was a scrap of salvageable house. According to two home inspectors working for Gregory Barnes and Rodney Wooten of Premier Investments, the house will need a new roof, new joists, new walls, new plumbing, and new wiring. “It is gone. It’s a total recondition. That’s all I can say,” says one of the inspectors, who declined to give his name. “It’ll cost about $165,000 to $175,000 to put together—and that’s not doing top-notch finish work. That’s just putting it together.”
The property was in such poor condition that when the inspectors arrived they thought they had the wrong address, and went to inspect Woodson’s home next door.
Harry Schnipper, a neighbor and a professional real estate broker, estimated in 1995 that renovation of the vacant property would cost about $84,000. As of mid-July, Kingsway & Associates was planning to renovate the building before offering it for sale. According to manager Theo Myers, the firm planned to create a three-bath duplex and English basement apartment out of the building. But the firm soon changed its mind, selling 1414 A St. to Camp Springs, Md.-based Premier Investments for $50,000, according to records filed with the D.C. Recorder of Deeds. Premier Investments is now offering the gutted shell for sale at a price of $108,500; the buyer will be responsible for renovation.
Barnes will not comment on Premier’s plans for the property. “I’m the owner and the broker. I bought it,” says Barnes. “That’s all I have to say.”
Tuckfelt says that on July 27, he wrote a letter to Kingsway & Associates, attempting to amicably resolve the dispute over ownership. “We have reason to question the validity of the deed from Mr. Oldes to Mr. Neal,” he wrote. Tuckfelt says that he has not yet received a reply and that the property remains contested.
Neighbors of the eyesore no longer care who owns the land, as long as one of the putative owners takes care of it. “The reality is, it’s getting an eyesore off the streets. The property may remain in limbo forever. However, we’d rather it remain in limbo indefinitely and be rehabilitated, rather than in limbo and be decrepit,” says Schnipper. “If you’ve been waiting 20 years for a property to be rehabilitated, do you really care whether the redevelopers have legitimate right to the property?” CP