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DCRA Split Takes Effect Oct. 1

Two new agencies will replace the District Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) as of midnight, Oct. 1. These new agencies, the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Department of Licensing and Consumer Protection (DLCP), will each assume part of the former department’s portfolio.

The split comes after DC Council passed a bill in late 2020 dividing the troubled agency.

Critics of DCRA said it was too large to get the work done. But two agencies will cost more and have more employees: in this, its last year as an agency, DCRA has a budget of $90 million with 500 employees. Next year, DOB will have about a $68 million budget and 400 employees while the DLCP will have a budget of around $38 million and 200 employees.

So one agency becomes two: the DOB will focus on construction and housing; the DLCP will issue business and occupational licenses and enforce the city’s consumer protection laws.

But do you go to the DOB if you need a permit for construction, or a new certificate of occupancy? Or is that licensing? With whom do you lodge a complaint about late-night or weekend construction? Is that consumer protection or buildings?

Here’s a breakdown of what each new agency will be responsible for, and what to expect from the transition.

Everything Building
The new DOB is responsible for buildings. It will regulate most everything to do with District structures from surveying to construction to later inspections for code compliance and safety. It will also have inspection and oversight authority over building and rental housing establishments. The third-party inspection system continues under their purview. It also manages construction under the green codes enacted to ensure more sustainable building in the District.

DOB can also issue violations of permits and DC Code and pursue solutions within the limits of the law.

While it’s only part of the old DCRA, it is still a pretty big agency that will include the Offices of Construction and Building Standards, Strategic Code enforcement, Residential Inspections, and Zoning Administration.

DOB is where you apply for building permits, vacant property tax exceptions and certificates of occupancy. It’s also where you can lodge complaints about illegal construction, concern with building construction or the state of rental housing and housing code violations. The department will inspect and classify vacant and blighted property, including rental units, and they can issue citations. It will also deal with structure assessment in emergency or disasters.

Finally, the department’s Office of Zoning Administration will continue administering and determining compliance with District zoning regulations.

Legal Earning is Key at DLCP
If you’re trying to remember if you apply for a permit at DOB or DLCP, know that while buildings are prime at DOB, profit is the key at DLCP. You’ll go to DLCP to apply for business licenses, occupational and professional licenses in fields other than health, as well as special events permits and vending licenses. DLCP will register corporations and inspect weighing and measuring devices used for monetary profit.

Aside from the Office of the Director, DLCP is separated into two divisions: the Office of Enforcement as well as Business and Professional Licensing.

The Office of Enforcement will investigate consumer protection complaints from residents and visitors about businesses that are accused of trying to exploit District residents. It will conduct regulatory investigations, investigating any unlicensed business activity and proactively reviewing business license applications to ensure businesses are operating in compliance with applicable regulations.

The Business and Professional Licensing Administration provides a business service center to help current and aspiring business owners get their paperwork. It registers all entities conducting business in DC. This is where applications for new business licensing or renewals are submitted, including special events and vending. And the unit’s occupational and processional licensing office supports professional boards aside from health occupations.

Working to Seamless Transition
DCRA has been working on the transition over the last year. The goal, said a representative, is to make it so seamless that residents who don’t know the split is coming won’t notice it has happened. Permit and license applications in progress will not be interrupted, they say, and all online systems will continue to function.

Customers, both new and those with transactions in process, will continue to access services by using the platforms developed as part of DCRA’s digital transformation. These include the Permit Wizard and Contractor Rating System which will operate under the purview of DOB and CorpOnline and the My DC Business Center which will operate under the purview of DLCP. In both cases, said the DCRA representative, customers can use their Access DC single sign-on to login.

“We understand that residents and businesses have questions,” said a DCRA spokesperson, “which is why we continue outreach efforts to inform and assure customers and stakeholders that service will continue without interruption.”

DOB and DLCP both will take over the current DCRA offices, at 1100 Fourth St. SW. The search is on, however, for new directors for both agencies—if you’re qualified, you can apply now at mota.dc.gov/page/apply-job. Directors are appointed by the Mayor of the District of Columbia and confirmed by DC Council. Both agencies are still looking to hire (apply at dcra.dc.gov/jobs).

The official split begins Oct. 1. Until then, learn more at dcratransition.dc.gov

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