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Graham pushes D.C. role in homeowner disputes

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder

A D.C. councilman wants to make the city the middleman for homeowners angry at a property's previous owner for "substandard work."

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham is pressing legislation that would allow homeowners to seek money to repair harms linked to a previous owner's violations of the District's sweeping building codes. Those regulations cover matters ranging from emergency escapes to drainage systems.

Under Graham's measure, the mayor would be responsible for determining whether a home's previous owner broke the building code and could "impose a penalty of 100 percent of the cost incurred" to resolve the issue.

The District would pass along any collected penalties to the new owner, who would have to make their request for compensation within 10 years of the violation. The city could also charge the ex-owner for its administrative costs in handling the claim.

"There has been an increasing amount of slipshod construction," Graham told The Washington Examiner. "I wanted to do anything I could to strengthen those who are injured as a result of this shoddy construction so they can have the opportunity to be made whole."

If a former owner ordered by the mayor to pay up failed to do so, the amount would become a debt owed to the District government -- meaning the city could withhold the person's tax refunds.

Graham also said his proposal would not supplant a person's right to take a former homeowner to court. He said he hoped his measure would offer another avenue for relief.

"It's not everyone who has access to legal expertise that's necessary to go through all of that," Graham said of a traditional lawsuit. "I wanted to get some other options."

Edward Krauze, the CEO of the Washington Association of Realtors, said Graham's approach was unusual because the contracts for a sale usually cover liability.

"It's not typical," he said. "I can't say that it never happened, but when you buy and sell a house, at the end of the day, it's a contract between the buyer and seller."

Krauze said his organization was reviewing the proposal and had not decided whether to support it.

A hearing on Graham's legislation has not been scheduled.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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