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It’s a timeless adage: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But what it doesn’t tell you is that, in the District at least, you can’t technically sell that lemonade without a permit.
That could change under new legislation Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed this week to relax the rules governing “de minimis business activity” like setting up a lemonade stand, peddling Girl Scout cookies, or establishing a pop-up car wash. As drafted, it would carve out an exemption for obtaining a “basic business license” for the most innocuous entrepreneurship.
The bill represents a package of tweaks designed to make the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs more efficient, following a weeklong review of the agency that Bowser conducted last month. In addition, the D.C. Council-submitted proposal seeks to require landlords to fork over 24-hour contact numbers for repairs and emergencies with DCRA, and to place those numbers in building common rooms or units. A third prong of the bill would mandate that only an owner-of-record or their authorized agent could register a property as vacant with DCRA, in turn protecting them from “the mistaken application of higher vacant property tax rates” that currently result when people report suspected vacant properties.
“The proposed requirement for a 24-hour accessible number will help tenants address [repair] issues with their landlords and will allow [DCRA] to quickly contact landlords if there are issues that must be abated,” Bowser wrote to Council Chairman Phil Mendelson in a letter accompanying the legislation. As for vacancies, “the standard complaint and inspection process” would apply “before a homeowner receives an increased tax bill” on an allegedly vacant property.
Seems like some long overdue relief for kids, renters, and homeowners, right? Not so, says ANC 6C Commissioner and DCRA watchdog Mark Eckenwiler, who runs a Twitter account called @unsuckDCRA. To him, the changes are “technical tweaks on minor issues,” as opposed, for example, to bills also before the Council that address vacant properties. “An agency that openly and chronically flouts District law can’t be fixed by passing new laws,” he argues. “What’s needed is top-down leadership that demands change and holds misbehaving DCRA employees accountable. Without that, nothing will improve.”
Except maybe for nurturing lemonade entrepreneurs.