Dear PoP – DPW Troubles

Trash Truck Decorations, originally uploaded by Karol A.

“My 4 roommates and I are relatively new to the area (1 year in Columbia Heights, 2 years in the Columbia Heights/Petworth area) and we have run into a bit of a hurdle that we are hoping others in the area might be able to help us with. We live on the 2800 block of Sherman Avenue and have now gone about 4 months of battling with the Department of Public Works. It is important to note here that we are the only house on the block that receives trash/recycling pick up from the city. Every Tuesday/Friday morning, with the exception of maybe 4 times, DPW has skipped our block for trash and/or recycling. When we come home to find the trash/recycling still there, we call the number they provided to complain, they give us a confirmation number, and they tell us to leave it out it will be picked up in the next 48 hours. They never come. We call again, and they tell us they will make a note for our trash/recycling to be picked up for the next scheduled day. As you might imagine, when they do not come several times in a row, our trash and recycling gets very backed up. We are often reduced to piling it all into the car and driving it around to find a dumpster (recycling included). This has become a weekly ritual and our neighbors have grown so angry at the trash/recycling being left out that they have called the inspector on us and have contacted our own landlord who is now threatening to fine us. Of course, we wish they would have come to us so we could explain the situation before contacting our landlord, but obviously this has escalated and we are lost as to how we can remedy this situation. Anyone else ever have this problem? Any advice on how to deal with our neighbors who have yet to approach us about this issue?”

Wow, that is unbelievably frustrating. First and foremost you should contact your Councilmember (Graham). One thing that made Fenty such a successful Councilmember was his attention to constituent services. Other Councilmembers recognize how important responsiveness to these issues have become. I was also look into your ANC representative, they too can be helpful in resolving city service issues.

As far as approaching neighbors, I think it would be perfectly fair to knock on their doors at a reasonable hour and explain to them the situation. I think if you are respectful and apologetic they will be very understanding. You can also tell them the steps you have already taken as well as the steps you will take (ie contacting the Councilmember). Has anyone else encountered a situation like this? How was it resolved? Any other suggestions?

21 Comment

  • I live in a completely residential area in the middle of Capitol Hill and have had this problem. Call the Mayor’s office – it gets taken care of immediately. After 2 or 3 times calling, it has never happened again.

  • I recommend emailing councilman Jim Grahm. I had some trash pickup problems in my neighborhood due to some construction and he got DPW and the construction company all on the same page.

  • definitely keep a log of phone calls made, received, and when trash is picked up etc. Its always good to have a paper trail in a situation like this.

  • Definitely keep not of all of your dealings with dates, times, etc. That way you can put up a reasonable defense. If you can get the landlord on your side as well may they too can get in on the fight.

    I don’t think explaining what is going on to your neighbors is a problem. They obviously have no idea what you are dealing with as they are not in on your calls etc.

  • “we are the only house on the block that receives trash/recycling pick up from the city.”

    Can I ask what your neighbors do with their trash?

  • they probably are larger than 4 (?) units, and have to have commercial pickup. the OP seems to be living in a (smaller) building that qualifies for city pickup.

  • I agree with that “keep a log” plan. Always ask for the name of the person you’re talking to. Write it down. Dates/times what was said. It will help.

  • Only 4 months of battling DPW? That’s nothing! 🙂 When we first moved to CH, we had basically the same situation for 6 months plus on an entirely residential block. Made worse by the fact that the neighbors had completely given up on getting DPW to pick up as they were supposed to and were using the dumpster for the small apartment building directly behind our house. As a result, the dumpster was constantly overflowing and disgusting (and residents of the 2nd floor apartments would drop trash bags from their balcony, which would miss the dumpster and split open about half the time), so we were also battling the owner of that building at the same time… Honestly, the whole thing had me starting to regret that we’d bought the house.

    Anyway, getting resolution required a whole lot of persistence. Definitely keep a list of who you call and when. Get names and talk to supervisors. Call the mayor’s office, Jim Graham, and your ANC rep. Document everything, take photos, etc. I swear the photos I took were what got our situation resolved.

    Also, we have 2x/week pickup with the small cans and have noticed that DPW will not pick up any trash unless it is bagged- “loose” stuff thrown into the trash can will not be picked up, nor will any bags of trash if there is loose stuff on the top. They are also unlikely to take bags of yard waste, for example, that are left on the ground next to the trash cans. And the cans must be in the alley – they will not take the trash if we leave the can on our back steps. I have no idea if these are real rules for DPW pick-up, but it’s far easier to comply with them than to be frustrated by getting skipped week after week!

  • Hi, i am an “angry neighbor” of yours and i just want to clarify that there are some of us in your neighboring house that are not angry, did not report you to anyone, and have actually talked to one or more of you about the issue. there is a certain person that lives in our building that has an attitude problem. we like you guys and understand that you “wish we would have come to you first”, but some of us did talk to you and we can’t control the other guy, let’s just call him Superman, i will explain that later when i see you. good luck with the trash situation, as far as i’m concerned there is no need to “deal with our neighbors who have yet to approach us about this issue” and it’s not cool to lump us all together as bad neighbors. peace

  • Not to pile on, but another vote for calling Councilman Graham’s office here. When I lived at 11th and U we called, begged and cried for DPW to get us a trash can (yes, a CAN) for literally months. We’d have to put out our trash in bags, which the trashmen wouldn’t pick up, and rats would tear open the bags. A neighbor who worked from home would run down the trashmen after they’d skip our house and demand they pick it up, but to no avail. We called then-Mayor Williams office and nothing happened. Finally we called Graham’s office and worked with an incredibly helpful and attentive aide, who had a can delivered to us in 48 hours.

  • I find it’s pretty hypocritical to complain about how who you wished your neighbors would have approached you first before complaining to your landlord or the city, then complain about your neighbors on a public blog when you didn’t approach your neighbors to talk about the complaint in the first place.

    Now we can complain about complaining on complaint blogs.

  • Thank you everyone for your suggestions! They are extremely helpful. Just for clarification purposes now that I realize how my email sounded, the neighbor situation has to do with the fact that it is an apartment building, so we did not know who was complaining.

    Dreas – it is such a relief to hear that it is resolvable. We were beginning to think that it was just a battle that would never end. With our upset neighbor, landlord and an inspector speaking to us like we weren’t at least as unhappy with the situation as they were, we did not know what to do.

    “I live there” – I’m sorry for lumping you all together, and I actually didn’t intend for you to sound like bad neighbors. Just rightfully upset ones who are as frustrated as we are. Unfortunately, we all came home to another full barrel last week, and received a very nasty letter from our landlord (after a not so pleasant visit from the inspector) who has been getting complaint(s) from that one person. We did not know who called the inspector on us as well as our landlord, and since my post (which is only from me, not my house) wasn’t directed towards you specifically, I generalized for the sake of explaining the situation. Thank you for being so understanding – I know how frustrating this must be for you since it is actually affecting your living situation. We just don’t want to come home one day to find all our belongings out on the street like the last group who lived there.

    As for an update – since writing the email above that PoP was so kind to post, we were put on the “hot list” which means the supervisor was going to follow the truck to ensure it picked up our barrel. Needless to say, we came home last night to the barrel still full. This, of course, means that next week we will have another overflowing barrel and will need to put the excess paper items in the paper shopping bags we save for these days, which will once again attract the rats that are causing the problem for our neighbors. We will definitely be making the weekly call to DPW, as well as calling the mayor’s office, Jim Graham, our ANC rep, and taking photos.

    Thanks again everyone. And for the record, some of our neighbors are awesome and ridiculously understanding considering the impact this is having on their lives as well.

  • Nice note anonymous! and really, the most frustrating part of our living situation is not your trash, but Superman…

  • I wouldn’t take shit from your landlord – that’s his responsibility, not yours. Just like if the city shut off your water – the guarantee of basic city services comes with the lease.

  • You guys are killing me – you’ve got to fill us in on the ‘superman’ thing. I’m imagining some mentally ill neighbor running around in underoos and a cape. Please? I doubt he has internet access [unless of course he’s William Jordan – if that’s the case keep quiet and may god have mercy on your souls].

  • I had the exact same problem when I moved into my current house — There are 6 houses on the street that get city trash collections, but ours was the only one occupied at the time, and neighbors said the city hadn’t picked up trash here since ’68. (I’m serious.)

    I called. I complained. I tried Jim Graham’s office. I talked to people who insisted that my trash was picked up (it wasn’t) and that we were putting it in the wrong place (we weren’t). Our trash piled up for over 3 months. I finally wrote an e-mail addressed to the Director of DPW and they sent a truck to pick up the accumulated trash, and to make sure that we were put on a route. Since then, it has always been collected and now 4 of 6 houses are occupied, so I’m glad we got it resolved.

    Good luck.

  • When I have a problem with city services I send e-mails to my councilperson (Muriel Browser in my current Ward 4) with cc to the at large members and the mayor’s office. If that doesn’t work, Channel 7 will do news casts of services that don’t work. However, I’ve generally found the share the love approach with the broad city council and mayor generally works.

  • I still don’t understand what part of the 2800 block has only 1 single family house. Will go out there right now and look for myself —- ooooh! Is this on the west side? in the fancied up John FitzGerald building amid all the vacant shells?

    Curious to see where in fact you do live!

  • ontarioroader, it is even better than that and i even have a photo….

  • 14thandColumbia Says: Wow- slow down dude. If the landlord didn’t know about it until after the fact, how would he or she do anything about it? Yes, many leases ensure that the tenants will have these basic services, but it’s also the tenants responsibility to report problems as soon as they arise, ideally- before fines are involved and neighbors are angry. If I were a landlord and heard about a long standing problem from the city inspector rather than my tenants, I’d probable be in a bad mood too.

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