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Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton

Representing the District of Columbia

Places in Washington DC

Norton Believes D.C. May Have Authority to Help Eliminate Abandoned and Run-Down Foreign Mission Buildings in D.C. Neighborhoods

Sep 6, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The office of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today released her letter to local District of Columbia officials urging them to supplement ongoing efforts to improve the conditions of many buildings owned by foreign missions in the District.  Last week, Norton wrote Secretary of State Rex Tillerson requesting that the U.S. State Department address foreign properties in D.C. neighborhoods that have been vacated and fallen into poor condition, posing health and safety risks to neighbors and depressing nearby property values.  Norton believes there are actions the District can take on this mixed D.C.-federal matter.

In her letter to Mayor Muriel Bowser, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, and Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey DeWitt, Norton wrote, “it appears the city may have the authority to tax foreign property no longer used for diplomatic purposes – such as those properties that housed former diplomats but have since been abandoned.  Other jurisdictions, such as New York City, have taxed such foreign properties and have gone so far as to place tax liens on some of these properties, an action that was upheld by the Supreme Court.  Taxing foreign properties could incentivize the foreign governments to improve the conditions of their properties.”

Norton’s full letter is below.

The Honorable Muriel Bowser
Mayor
District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20004

The Honorable Phil Mendelson
Chairman
Council of the District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 504
Washington, DC 20004

The Honorable Jeffrey S. DeWitt
Chief Financial Officer
District of Columbia
1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 203
Washington, DC 20004

Dear Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson and Mr. DeWitt:

As you may know, I recently sent the enclosed letter to the State Department highlighting the state of disrepair of many buildings owned by foreign missions in the District of Columbia, and urging it to take action to improve the conditions of these properties.  However, I believe that there are actions that the city itself can take to address the increasing number of such properties in the District.

First, under the Home Rule Act, the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, the Foreign Missions Act, Supreme Court precedents (e.g., 551 U.S. 193 (2007)), and local D.C. tax law, it appears the city may have the authority to tax foreign property no longer used for diplomatic purposes – such as those properties that housed former diplomats but have since been abandoned.  Other jurisdictions, such as New York City, have taxed such foreign properties and have gone so far as to place tax liens on some of these properties, an action that was upheld by the Supreme Court.  Taxing foreign properties could incentivize the foreign governments to improve the conditions of their properties.

Second, the Council may want to consider whether the provision in the D.C. Code exempting from taxation “[p]roperty belonging to foreign governments and used for legation purposes,” D.C. Code § 47-1002(3), goes beyond what is required by federal law and the Home Rule Act.  If the provision does, I would urge you to consider amending or repealing it to give D.C. more taxing authority.

I appreciate your attention to this matter, and look forward to working with you on this important issue.

Sincerely,

Eleanor Holmes Norton

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