Dear PoP – DC Property Annexation


“Dear PoP,

My wife and I recently bought a condo in CH. Its in a converted rowhouse on the end of the block. On the side of the building that isn’t shared with the next rowhouse, there is a small alley about half the length of the rowhouse where we keep our trashcans. The alley is non-functional as it doesn’t connect to the street, but only to the bigger alley in the back. Technically this space is owned by DC, so we can’t really do any improvements on it (re-pave, etc). A friend of mine told me that our condo association should petition to annex the property. Is this possible? Do you or some of your readers have any advice on how to proceed? I didn’t really see anything on about property annexation.”

Wow, that would be awesome. Ok, readers is it possible to annex land from the city? Any advice?

14 Comment

  • the alley is considered public space. At minimum, the District owns a “public access” easement, and may own a fee interest in the alley. This means that the adjoining owners do not own it, and may not legally make improvements.

    It is possible to have the District close the street or alley, in which case the ownership by operation of law becomes the property of the adjoining property owners. This requires legislative action by the Council, and there is a process laid out in the DC Code and in the municipal regulations that must be complied with before the Council will consider such an action. This is probably what the reader had in mind when he mentioned “annexation” (which is a term I’m not familiar with in relation to streets and alleys in the District).

    It’s not that uncommon for the Council to close alleys to allow construction of large buildings. It happens all the time.

  • Thes almost look like the steps in The Exorcist.

  • The normal terms for this is either street closing or ‘abandonment’. Annexation is used to describe the process by which a municipality incorporates surrounding land into its boundaries.

    DCRA has an application on their website:

  • “Technically the city owns our property up to the front door yet we can have yards and steps etc.”

    I want to clarify this point. Each property is different, so you should look at your title and any associated drawings of your property to see exactly where the line is. While PoP’s property might begin at his front door, mine begins about two feet in from the sidewalk (which is about eight feet in front of the front door). It doesn’t usually matter until you get stuff like lead pipe replacement.

    I’m surprised that this person was told they couldn’t improve the alley. Can you post any final answers to this, since it’s an interesting issue?

  • I’m posting this anonymously although I am a daily visitor to this site. There is a walkway behind the houses where I live in lieu of an alley and in the past hookers used it to entertain their johns. About 20 years ago the neighbors put up an illegal locked 8 foot gate to the street. We take turns changing the lock and making sure everyone has the new key.

    The city has never noticed (or complained.). It makes for a very safe environment and it is not uncommon for me to leave my back door unlocked and still feel very secure.


  • When we seek alley closing for the development of large commercial sites, it’s a long, arduous process. I have no experience w/ the closing of an alley in a situation like this, but I’m unaware of any expedited way to do it. If there’s no shortcut for a small residential property, I doubt it’s worth the effort.

  • i know that the condo folks might not want to divulge their location to the whole world here, but could we get an address so we can see what this situation looks like?

  • Closing an alley often requires congressional approval. I think folks just went ahead and did it, like they did in the little walkway alley next to my house because it was attracting drunks and hookers.

  • I live in Capitol Hill, and we have an identical situation to PoP Logan Poster’s (so that I’m similarly anonymous). There’s a 4-feet wide alley in back of our house (yes, it’s legally an “alley” even at that width). There’s a locked gate across the street end which was built and is maintained collectively by several neighbors, all of whom have keys and will leave the gate unlocked at the request of any other neighbors — the alley contains a telephone pole serving the whole block.

    I’m not aware of any problems before the gate was put up, but everybody’s more comfortable with this technically illegal arrangement.

  • I don’t understand what the relationship is between the photo and the question. The stairs shown in the photo are located in Mount Pleasant and are a public walking staircase connecting Harvard Street to the alley above (located between Hobart and Harvard). The staircase is located between two single family homes.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    I was just looking for an interesting alley photo – that’s all.

  • I originally submitted the question to PoP, so I can offer a little more info. The “alley” is a thin strip along the edge of our rowhouse/condo, about 8 feet wide and 25-30 feet long. The condo building is wider in the front than in the back, so the alley space only goes up the side of the building about halfway. The front of the rowhouse has a small yard and a path around the side that connects the front to the mini-alley in the back (about 3 feet wide). Currently we park our garbage cans in the back, but we’d like to turn it into a patio area. The area was paved using asphalt at some point, but its lumpy and falling apart. There is a locked chain-link fence around the whole thing. I’m not sure who put it up, but it keeps people from walking from the larger alley in the back to the street in the front.

    According to the documents on the DC Office of the Surveyor’s website, there is an ~1800 filing fee to submit an alley closure request. However, there is a massive amount of paperwork required, and the whole thing has to be approved by at least 6 different DC agencies for approval. Our concern was than 1)if we start making improvements to the area, DC could come in and park a dumpster on our new patio or otherwise reclaim the space and 2)if we file without hiring an attorney and possibly an engineer, we would lose the filing fee if it isn’t perfect. The condo assoc is small, and coming up with tens of thousands of dollars to finance this project just isn’t really feasible.

    We mostly just wanted to see if anybody out there had actually gone through this process for small-ish piece of property not related to a business (it sounds like businesses do this all the time), and if so, how did it go? Also, what do people think about just cleaning up the area and pretending like we own it?

  • Hmmm. I think we’re talking about two different things. I support what others have done, that is to say gating off an alleyway to keep the riff raff away, especially given that the police/city seem unable to do so.

    The original poster however seems to want to take over the public alleyway and turn it into space dedicated to the condo, including building a patio. I am not OK with this. Property comes at a price and is at a true premium here in DC. This is actually a major problem out in the suburbs (there was a great article in the Post about a year ago), where people are encroaching onto public park land, including the building of dog runs, tennis courts and swimming pools.

    Keep in mind too that there are utilities, cable, sewer, water, electric, gas, that run both above and below the ground. If you were to build a patio in the public space, who would be responsible if it had to be broken up to repair a water main, etc.

  • “Keep in mind too that there are utilities, cable, sewer, water, electric, gas, that run both above and below the ground. If you were to build a patio in the public space, who would be responsible if it had to be broken up to repair a water main, etc.”

    This is why there are so many approvals necessary, to check out all these type of things. I would suggest contacting your ward councilmember’s constituent Services person. They can probable be helpful.

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