There is an alley that runs through the center of the block contained by Potomac St., 33rd St., N St. and O St. It has been there at least 100 years (and probably more).
It is a private alley, meaning that the land that comprises the alley itself is privately owned. (Notwithstanding the private ownership, landowners abutting the alley typically can use private alleys under some sort of an easement or covenant relationship.)
Also, typically with private alleys, the alley land is connected to one or more of the abutting properties. For this alley, however, at some point the land that comprised the alley was broken off from the street facing lots. As such, these lots are basically worthless. Owning them, you have all the burden of keeping the alley in useable shape, but none of the privileges-most importantly the privilege of exclusive use-that comes with land ownership.
Perhaps that is why the owners of these lots stopped paying the meager taxes that the city levied on them. And when you stop paying taxes on property in DC, the city eventually holds a tax sale for your property. Essentially the city auctions off your property to the highest bidder. Once that bidder wins the auction, they are granted a right to foreclose on the landowner. Up to this point, if the landowner finally pays the taxes, the bidder’s claim is canceled. But if they still don’t pay the taxes after the foreclosure, the land is then given to the winning bidder.
From 2002 through 2007, a Rockville-resident named Kebreab Zere has been diligently winning tax sales on the five lots that make up this alley. After winning each auction, he methodically went through the motions to foreclose on the lot and acquire title. He spent a total $25,204.67 over the course of the five auctions. (Interestingly, the owner of at least a couple of these lots originally acquired them in a similar tax sales back in 1963).
What happened next has already been reported by the Current. Having finally pieced together ownership of the entire private alley, Zere proposed the construction of fences at each end of the alley because ““I need security. People are trespassing.”
In other words, he is shaking down the abutting landowners to pay him off in order to maintain their legal rights of alley access.
The neighbors and the ANC did not take kindly to the threat. And not surprisingly, the Old Georgetown Board rejected Zere’s proposed fence.
Hinting at his motive, Zere told the Current that “his goal is to develop the land, but he added that he might also be open to selling his lots.”
Oh mightn’t he?
Yes, these worthless lots can be yours for the low, low price of $350,000.
Trying to sell valueless property, for which you paid $25,204.67, for more than a third of a million bucks?
That, friends, is Grade A Chutzpah.
(And what’s with TTR Sotheby’s listing this?)