Dear PoP

Hey PoP,

I bought my house in Petworth almost 6 years ago and love it here. However, my neighbors have apparently abandoned their house, which is next to mine in my row, and now their backyard is overrun with rats and covered in waist high weeds. I have complained to the city, both about the rats, and about having an empty house with broken windows filled to the ceiling with trash and boxes. So far, nothing has been done and no one from the Fenty administration or any city agency has gotten back to me. Do you or anyone have any advice about how to proceed?


Fed Up


Dear Fed Up,


Man, just reading the word rat is disturbing. I’d be terribly pissed if an abandoned neighbor’s backyard was teeming with them. There was some good advice given on a previous Dear PoP about an abandoned house that you should check out. In the short term, and I know there is no justice in this recommendation, I’d mow the lawn myself or pay someone to mow the lawn. I think I’ve heard rats like the high growth so even though it is not your responsibility it may be in your best interest to do so. I would relentlessly call your ANC representative as well as Council Member Muriel Bowser’s office to see if they can help. It may be worthwhile to talk to some of your other neighbors and have them call as well. If nobody from those numbers can help email me again directly and we’ll see what other steps can be taken. Maybe we can shame the city with photographic evidence. Anyone else have any recommendations?

Good luck to you,

23 Comment

  • The one small thing you can do (again, this requires city intervention of course, and this city gov’t is what it is) is that properties like that should be taxed as an abandoned property, which is a much higher tax rate that will hopefully put them in default so the city can claim the property or push them to sell quickly. that however is a looong process, I imagine there must be more immediate steps to take and I agree to keep hounding anyone and everyone in city gov’t until they are shamed into responding …

  • Call your ANC rep. Call your Counsel Member. This has become your second job. Make as much noise as possible.

    If you don’t already know your neighbors, get to know them. Get them to call 311 to report the property.

    Here’s a check list of sorts to begin the work:

    (1) – Look on the web for the DPW form. DPW will fine home owners if the grass is over so many inches.

    (2) – Make sure this property is listed as vacant. Without the homestead exemption, it becomes very expensive to keep an abandoned house laying around.

    (3) Real Property Search – I forget the website, but double check the tax status of this property from DC’s website (linked off DCRA). Basically, it’s a slow process, but once the house is ‘in the system,’ the notices start going to the owner’s mail box. If nothing happens those are followed by a bunch of notices of fines.

  • Don’t waste your time calling Bowser. She doesn’t do much. She will “look” into the matter and that is about it. Get on the message boards for Ward 4 amd MPD ward 4 and complain, complain, complain. Call the police and complain of drug activity and squatters in the home. Complain that you fear they will set a fire over there. It takes drastic measures in this city with the leadership we have.

  • So far everyone is spot on…..except for Nate. Bowser will do more than just look into it, but like every thing else you have to be the squeaky well and do like Nate said and Complain, Complain, Complain!

  • I take that back then. Bowser is great! She’ll handle it asap. Now go on and try contacting her office to get it done. Hopefully she won’t jump you ahead of me. I am still waiting on my trashcan.

  • All the above advice is excellent, but realistically, it will become your second job. I guess this is what happens when an individual dies and there are no responsible heirs to look after the property. A title search would be great, but again, all the neighbor wants done is for the city to take care of a neglected property that is becoming a health and public safety issue. I’m sure the house is way behind on its property taxes.

  • Great posts. I have a house that is in foreclosure next door that appears abandoned. I have been mowing the front yard all summer. Anyone know how long the foreclosure process takes?

  • Looks like Toby and I agree about Bowser. If this is to become your second job as it will, then someone isn’t doing his or her job. Again, that falls back to Bowser…

  • If all of your relentless calls to your Counsel member’s office are ignored, I would call the local news channels. If you can pitch your idea effectively, it should have mass appeal (how many dozens of abandoned buildings have we all seen in otherwise vibrant neighborhoods?). That would shame the city into action quicker than anything else. Moving pictures are the most effective kind, in my opinion. And to check out my CARTOONS click on my name link.

  • i’ve been very casually working on a house 2 doors down from me for >3 years. Still not listed as vacant, despite the fact that an inspector has even come and verified that it’s vacant. I guess I should make more noise….

  • So far I have not been impressed with Bowser either.. all I have seen from her are appearances here and there, taking credit for things that were started way before she took office. But I do hope she is working on something behind the scenes too.

  • Call Joe Martin (now doing some kind of services work for the Mayor’s office) too. He’s on the ball and knows the neighborhood. 202-442-9509.

  • Anyone know the strength or weakness of anit-blight laws in the District? I know New Orleans has a new law that allows the city to seize and auction blighted and abandoned properties. Seems like that would be a good thing here too.

  • Please do call me at 202-442-9509 or cell 202-340-7853 or email me: [email protected] I carry a Blackberry. Your emails arrive on my Blackberry before they appear at my desk computer. My Blackberry is with me 24/7.

    Be specific with requests (location, problem, date, times). I also ask that EVERYONE call anything (non-emergency) into 311, the Mayors Citywide Call Center. Give me the tracking numbers of your requests, and I will follow-up.

    The importance of calling into the Call Center is that it’s the vehicle for tracking and accounting for requests. Resource allocation is determined by the volume of calls. In the ideal, every call gets a prompt service response. Some things take longer than others. In the ideal, everything gets done yesterday. We know that doesn’t happen. Hence, I am paid to nudge on your behalf.

    I regularly use the 311 system and do not identify myself to test it to see how well it works. Street and alley lights tend to get fixed within a few business days unless there is a serious wiring problem. Traffic lights, stop signs that need repair get fixed within hours.

    TALL GRASS & TRASH ON PRIVATE PROPERTY: The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) is the agency in charge of addressing this problem. The process works this way. You notify the city. DCRA gets in touch with the owner of the property. If the owner doesn’t clean up his/her property and the city does, it gets quite costly. I learned of two homes with out-of-control grass on 13th Street where DCRA sent out a crew to mow. The supevisor on duty told me each owner would be paying $1,500 for the mowing on top of other fees for not having abated the problem upon official notification.

    Call for rodent abatement into 311. Give me the tracking number. Tell me specific locations. The city’s rodent inspectors are obsessive in ways we want them to be. If rodents are on private property, the rodent inspectors work at getting waivers that allows them to go onto private property routinely to put poisonous powder in the holes. The most crucial aspect of dealing with this annoying problem is finding the food source. One out-of-control dumpster can lead to a serious infestation for an entire block. Back in my old Dupont Circle neighborhood, David Mallof organized his entire (my former block) on trash issues and helped to put pressure on the few offenders. The city played its part. It all worked. I recall David telling me at one point that the block has not seen a rat in well over a year. It essentially took the buy-in of the whole block to a plan that proved to be successful.

    VACANT PROPERTIES: DCRA has gotten more aggressive about going after these, and it’s working. The sheer volume of vacant, neglected properties remains a challenge.

    GRAFFIT: A friend at New Hampshire and Quincy called me up one Sunday afternoon to tell me his side fence had graffiti sprayed all over it. I know he’s online all the time. I told him to go to the website to the DPW page, download a graffiti waiver allowing the DPW to paint over his graffit, fill it out and fax it back the DPW. He faxed the waiver back and his graffiti was gone by the end of the next day, Monday. The DPW cannot always make every bit of graffiti disappear within hours. There’s only a certain number of people working on this problem all over the city, but I have now on several occasions seen the DPW respond quite promptly — within a few days max. The DPW also hands out — for free — graffiti-abatement kits, essentially paint and brushes. Call 311 and ask for one. Tell them the color you want. I understand the DPW was also giving out vouchers so that you could get free paint at some of the area hardward stores. The abatement kits come with primarily colors. If your back fence is painted in colors like Nantucket Sand or Monument Valley Dusk, you might prefer to purchase the paint with a voucher if you don’t already own some left over from your last design project.

    SIDEWALK REPAIR – POTHOLES: Done by the DC Department of Transportation aka DDOT. Or as painted on their white vehicle: d. Please call in the request to 311. Share your request with me, i.e., the tracking number.

    COMMERCIAL TRASH THAT’S OUT-OF-CONTROL: Call it in to 311. Mention the need for “sanitation enforcement.” If the Department of Health gets involved, the fines can start at $1,000 for each violation.

    ILLEGAL DUMPING (TRASH): Call it in. More often than not, when you spot a couch on a sidewalk or junk piled in an alley, it has not been reported to the city. If you spot a contractor or anyone else leaving junk on the street, in alleys, note vehcile license plate numbers of there is a vehicle involved.

    BULK TRASH: Pick-ups need to be scheduled in advance. Call 311. Please do NOT place large objects that cannot fit into your normal-sized trash contatiners in your alley and automatically expect it to disappear during your normal trash-pick-up day.

    DRUG HOUSES: Give specific information to the police. When a house on Varnum Street was busted recently, the undercover cops involved told me they were helped enormously by the specific information provided by many neighbors: dates, times, vehicular descriptions, license plate numbers, descriptions of individuals allegedly involved.

    CLOGGED STORM DRAINS: Report to DC WASA (not a city agency). I have found their website works well: or call M-F 9-5 202-354-3600.

    202-872-3432 downed wires
    877-737-2662 outages

    DEAD TREES / NEW TREES ON PUBLIC PROPERTY: Call 311. This is handled by DDOT’s Urban Forestry Division (UFA). Their arborists are tree experts. If a tree on public property is tapping onto your house, let UFA know through 311. The planting season for new trees is the spring or fall.

    If you have a problem with any of the above or other city-service issues, I want to know.


  • I type too fast. I spotted one typo above, and I hope that’s all. Forgive me.

    About blighted properties, DCRA and related agencies have gotten more aggressive. There’s a building on 14th Street NW that will be going from being an eyesore to affordable housing. Others like that are in the pipeline.

    Do provide me the addresses of vacant properties you know need to be on our radar. I learned when working as the Ward 2 coordinator last year and early this, there are people in Shaw with websites dedicated to the vacant property issue. They are playing a creative role with DCRA. Those individuala and their websites were very helpful in my work.

    By the way, there’s also a Shaw website set up by a guy with an obsession with street trash and junk thrown in treeboxes. It has my favorite named website: Treebox Vodka. The main page shows a dirty, discarded vodka bottle in a tree box.

    TALL GRASS: Again. Sometimes the home is owned by a senior with very limited income, some who may have a hard time paying someone to cut his or her grass, some without the physical abiltiies to keep their grass cut. Please consider being neighborly and helping out. It’s good for community-building, and we all hope to be old someday, to stay in our own homes and have younger neighbors give us a helping hand.

  • wow joe…thanks so much! its great to have someone care to the depth that you obviously do!

  • Thanks Joe – I work outside the District, so 311 doesn’t work. What is the 202 numbers? Also thanks for the work on the Seniors…I have one for a neighbor – we have a deal I mow his yard and he comes out and sweeps. Pretty cool actually!

  • If 311 does not work, 202-727-1000 still works. Try that. Sometimes 311 does not work with my personal cell. I still use 727-1000. At some point, 727-1000 will be phased out.

    FYI, 911 is now use for ALL emergency and non-emergency police/fire/ambulance calls.

    Other useful numbers:
    202-442-STOP for stop-work orders – illegal construction
    202-671-7233 – Child abuse and neglect
    202-541-3950 – Adult protective services (abuse or neglect of seniors and the disabled)

    Domestic violence should be reported to the Metropolitan Police at 911.

    Public safety problems in/near the Metro or on bus lines, call Metro Transit Police at 202/962-2121.

    If you know seniors needing assistance with home repairs, please call the Office on Aging at 202-724-5622.

    Thanks to everyone and anyone who has read my rather lengthy postings.

  • Good luck trying to shame the city about a vacant property, having crappy public schools, a crack-head council member, and an incompetent tax office hasn’t shamed either the citizens of DC nor the government.

  • Notyou – nice – slam the city right after a very contentious City employee tries to help folks out. Class act. The DC government does have problems, but what city government doesn’t. I would be willing to bet that for every tax office swindler and lazy principal, there is a energetic hard working staff memeber like Joe who is trying to make a difference with less then adequate resources.

  • Thanks for the informative comments, Joe. I used the 311 system just yesterday while searching for information regarding vehicle registration in DC

  • vacant properties, useful tip.

    What about neighbors receiving the homestead tax deduction while being slumlords? Where can I report this (or is it mean-spirited and I should do some yoga and let is slide?) I would not be upset except that this is the neighbor who already knocked down my front porch and now states that she is “scared” to actually live in our neighborhood.

  • bogfrog,

    What you’re describing is tax fraud. You can report it to the DC Tax Fraud Hotline at:Email: (800) 380-3495 or [email protected].

    According to the Web site for the Office of Tax and Revenue, the following qualify as tax fraud and should be reported:

    * Failure to file tax returns
    * Failure to pay or correctly report taxes
    * False Schedule H returns
    * Claiming of false dependents
    * Fraudulent DC employee withholding allowance certificate (Form D-4)
    * Fraudulent employer withholding tax statement (Form W-2)
    * Fraudulent returns and return preparation schemes
    * Erroneous claims for real property and tax abatement programs
    * Sale of Social Security numbers for dependents
    * Tax evasion activity
    * Unlicensed businesses
    * Unrecorded payments to employees
    * Unreported income
    * Inappropriate actions by Office of Tax and Revenue employees

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