Dear PoP

Dear PoP,
I live on 13th Street, at the northern edge of Columbia Heights and Petworth.  I rent a small basement apartment.  In our alley, which is shared with 11th St (there is no 12th) there has been repeated dumping of material by a contractor doing work in our alley.  The latest included a series of mattress, tires, and a 15×10 huge piece of plywood (which looks exactly like the plywood that fronts up their garage, it is very clear that the mess comes from the house across the alley)

My trash can lies on the other side of the alley.  Periodically, because of the garbagemen or people using our trashcan for their own purposes, our trashcan ends up on other places in the alley.  I had a cardboard box that was tucked behind my can, and it had my address on it.  This blew over to the mess.

DPW came through the alley, saw the huge mess, saw the box with my name on it, and gave me a $1000 fine for illegal dumping (!).  I got a fine sheet with about 5-6 photographs attached. I have a hearing scheduled (sometime in the next 2-4 months, they said), but I’m not quite sure what to do to prove my innocence and make sure that I don’t get stuck with a ridiculous fine.

Could your readers give me some advice?  Should I try to contact Councilmember Graham? (I live just inside the boundaries of Ward 1).  I love DC, but this is the sort of thing that makes me want to move out.


Dear Frustrated,
Absolutely fight this.  It is absurd.  I have a friend who faced a similar circumstance and  fought it successfully.  I believe should the appropriate authorities know your story they will quickly drop the charges.  There is no harm in contacting Councilman Graham but I doubt it will be necessary.  So my advice is, appeal, appeal, appeal.

You guys have any other advice?

20 Comment

  • I live on your block and would happily back up everything you say in court it drives me crazy, but we have not been fined!!

  • that’s my alley too! its a dump

  • I just had a similar issue. Basically, when you have illegal dumping like that, you must take the preemptive strike and report it to both the police and DPW. The police will tell you that it’s not their responsibility, but INSIST that they write a police report. Then, file a complaint with DPW too. That will cover your ass so that when you get the notice of infraction, you can have proof that the mess didn’t come from you.

  • and take pictures, lots of pictures. photographic evidence will help you out quite a bit in this case.

  • Well, see – the thing is that my neighbors DID. We had been talking about the problem for a while. The problem was that a box next to the trash blew over to the other side and so they assumed the mess was mine.

    I have been taking pictures of the alley across the way. The DPW officer who I called sounded sympathetic but said she could not legally provide any proof of violations of the other address at the hearing (she told me that they had gotten many), and that I had to provide any/all evidence.

    Unfortunately, I got this dumping notice about 2 weeks after the actual violation because it was sent via certified mail. (which at the CH post office, was only open during non-work hours on Saturday), so the mess was cleaned up far after the actual dumping.

  • I think I’m on the same block, too, and that alley is a disaster. We’ve been battling with the apartment building at the north end of the alley, facing Spring Rd, for over a year now. We do everything we can to keep things clean around us and something like this is why I’m always very hesitant to put out recycling or anything that doesn’t actually fit in a can.

    I agree with taking as many pictures as possible of any new contractor mess and filing with DPW over any new dumping. Hopefully being able to show repeated problems over there will help you out.

  • Start sending emails en mass to DPW, Graham’s, and the Mayor’s offices.

  • Yes, I’m on the alley between Otis and Spring. That alley is a mess.

  • Whoever writes those tickets doesn’t do a very good job. I got a ticket for a mess on another block.

  • Look up the owner of record. We need to do the same thing with the mess behind 3207 Sherman Ave because it’s overflowing into the alley and makes it dangerous to drive through.

    That situation is outrageous and completely unjustified, Mr/Ms 13th Street!

  • My landland received a similar citation a few months ago. He called the person who cited him directly and discussed the problem we have been having in our alley. Evidently, the investigator said that since none of the trash had identifying information (that such as junk mail with names and addresses), they would drop the charge (they couldn’t prove that the trash was ours).

    Good luck.

  • If you haven’t already, contact Graham’s office as well as the ANC rep, Larry Ray ([email protected]). We got them involved with the problems at the 1122 Spring Rd apartment building, which resulted in the owner magically deciding to build a fence to keep the dumpster enclosed. Now we just need to do something about the 2nd floor tenants dropping full bags of trash off their balconies into the alley – one finally split upon impact the other day, strewing garabage everywhere. At the very least, Graham’s office and Larry are (or should be) aware of the ongoing problems in that alley and might be of some help.

    If you need to find the owner of record for the building that’s under construction, go to and look for the real property tax assessment database. You can search by address and the result will give you the owner’s name and address (if they don’t live on site). There might be an easier/more direct way, but the above works too.

  • Yes, the problem here is that they have a box photographed with my name on it, that blew across the alley near the pile (along with our trash can, which somehow ended up next to the dumpee’s trashcan).

    So even though the material obviously came from the contractor working on the house across the alley (there’s a 15×10 foot piece of wood that is the *exact same* as the kind that is used to cover up the garage across the alley).

    I have been hesitant to go after the contractor/owner on the other side of the alley, given that they would be liable for the fine instead of me. I want the city to ascribe blame, which i guess is why i’m going into the hearing.

    I do know *of* Larry Ray, but i havent talked with him before. Is he helpful in circumsatnces like this?

    Also, should I try to do anything before the actual hearing?

  • If you need witnesses for your day in court gives us a shout out, I would come as would other residents I am sure.

    Also, if anyone has any tips on getting the dealers out of the 13th Street side of the alley too that would be greatly appreciated. Don’t even get me started on some of the stupid things they have done!

  • Send pictures to Fenty in your emails. I have a friend who works in the Mayor’s office and he says that everyday Fenty (along with department heads) looks over pictures that are sent to him. He then tells those responsible to “get it taken care of”. Be sure to CC: Graham, DPW, and anybody else you can think of…


  • Toby,

    I guess my question is – should I try to fight this before the hearing? I mean, i would imagine some of these offices might respond that I should “contest it at the hearing”…i mean, that was the point of the hearing.

    Yes, the dealers are a problem. A nuisance, not a danger…but a nuisance and its gets really messy back there.

  • Larry Ray can be helpful, but you kind of have to keep on him. He’s definitely good at getting the attention of someone in Graham’s office. I wouldn’t try to make the city assign blame – it’s clear they think they already have (on you) so now it’s up to you to show that you’re not responsible. Personally, I wouldn’t hesitate to go after the contractor, but that’s just me.

    Re the dealers – there used to be a group of HS kids who hung out right behind my house; one of them was dealing (pot, we think). We managed to get them to move on just by being a nuisance to them. Turning our back light on, letting them know we were watching them through the window, “talking” on the phone while looking out the window, going outside to take out the trash/recycling while they were smoking a joint back there and taking a reeeeaaaaallllllyyyy long time to straighten out the trash cans so they were *just right*. Basically making it clear that we knew what they were up to and making them as uncomfortable as possible.

    But those were HS kids, of course, so it was probably easier. If it’s not those same kids, I’d be calling 311 with a detailed description every time I saw people dealing back there. The cops did round up 5 or 6 guys from that alley several months ago, all for drug possession, so maybe they’ll take a run through there again if they get enough complaints.

    Honestly, though, I think one of the biggest things that oculd be done to clean out that alley is getting the owner of 3601 13th – the boarded up house on the corner – to do something with the property. We’re about 99% sure there’s people in and out of there. But I’m not holding my breath on anything happening, given that it’s been “for sale” for at least 1.5 years and I can’t even get a straight answer from Larry Ray about its status.

  • I thought 3601 was all boarded up. Where are people going in and out of it?

  • nice to see a thread about my alley! i haven’t witnessed the construction in the alley but the same thing happened to the house on the southwest corner of 11th and spring. maybe speak to that owner. he was fined becaseu my direct neighbor (and admittedly myself sometimes) put trash in a “community” spot. While I always kept it neat, my neighbor didn’t. And it was a constant eyesore. but he got fined and now has it landscaped so no one dumps there anymore.

    as far as the dealers in the alley, i have such mixed feelings. i dont think they are dangerous, i.e. they don’t use guns, I’ve seen tasers but nothing more serious in terms of stray bullets or anything like that. there have been times when i seriuosly wished i had a gun. they used to hang out in front of my house and stay there all night below my window, i literally would cry myself to sleep. i constantly called the police who did nothing or even worse came to my door in from of them to find out what my problem was; even though they were friendly i hated them. i’ve seen two of them go away for a couple of years and come back to the life. i’ve seen two of them who seem so smart and nice and full of promise become depressing angry alcoholics and drug addicts.
    my car was keyed, my windshield broken and one man threatened to set fire to my house. thinkgs have gotten better, i just feel sorry for people whose bedrooms back the alley.

    so now that there are so many neighbors unhappy with the alley why can’t we take it back? there are at least five on this thread.

    i would also testify on your behalf at least to what i’ve seen which is garbagemen who don;t return the cans to the houses but leave them where they want. this has cost dc a lot of money becaseu my cans always disappear and i have to order more. if they just put them back…

    3601 has been boarded up since 2000 when I moved in. the manager guy says its a probate issue. i have complained to the city because they were taxing tehm at the occupied instead of vacant rate!

  • I’ll pile on and say you should contact someone in Graham’s office. When I had an issue with DPW a few years ago (after we moved in we couldn’t seem to get trash cans no matter who we begged — you try dealing with months worth of trash, ugh), but once we got a hold of one of Graham’s aides, the guy contacted everyone under the sun for us, including DPW and the Inspectors Office, and made it clear to everyone that we needed to get our trash cans STAT and in no way would anyone be fining us for the trash we were forced to leave on the curb hoping someone would pick up.

    If this dumping is something Graham has already been notified about, or if you can just convince them of your side (I think that won’t be too hard), I would wager they’d go to bat for you.

    As a side note, I was under contract to buy a house in this neighborhood, and between my contract date and my closing, some developer backed their truck into the open backyard and dumped TONS of crap back there. I’m still trying to get the seller to pay for the clean up since they didn’t secure the house well enough, but we’ll see if that actually happens. I feel your pain.

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