Dear PoP – Question about illegal dumping

“Dear PoP,

I’ve done some extensive landscaping over the last few weeks and have accumulated a lot of waste in the process. A neighborhood guy (lets call him “Alanzo”) who has mowed my lawn and hauled waste for me on several previous occasions offered to haul a recent load away for $100. Turns out, his truck contact fell through this time and rather than approaching me, he decided to illegally dump the waste yet graciously accept payment under the pretenses that the job had been completed. Of course, I didn’t learn of this until a few weeks ago, when a public works inspector dropped off a card with a note on the back instructing me to contact him regarding illegally dumped yard waste in a nearby alley. I immediately went to the dump location and determined that most (but not all) of the waste had originated from my yard. Wanting to rectify the situation immediately, I brokered a deal with a neighbor to dump the waste a his pull-away dumpster. The next day, I called the inspector and left him a voicemail explaining what had transpired. After a few days and no response, I contacted the inspector once more to no avail.

On Saturday, I was greeted with a certified letter from DC Public Works indicating that I had been charged with illegal dumping and fined $1000. I was livid. The inspector neglected to return my calls, yet decided to issue me the infraction despite my explanation and effort to resolve the issue. Clearly, if my intent was to illegally dump my waste less than a block from my property, I would have done so myself and saved the $100.

I’m wondering if either you our the PoP readers have any insight on how to move forward. On the infraction notice, it indicates that I have the option to deny, admit, or admit with written explanation. I’ve got nothing to hide, but at the same time, I don’t want to be screwed by the DC government. Any/all advice would be much appreciated.”

Wow, this sounds especially painful since you went out of your way to do the right thing. Illegal dumping is a frustrating experience for many in our neighborhoods.

Do you think the DC Public Works department is being fair? If not, do you think there is anyway to get the fine rescinded? I’m thinking you should definitely contact your Council Member but I suspect this is going to be very frustrating experience.

50 Comment

  • Don’t admit. Be polite, deny in wirting, request a hearing and it should be dismissed. THey are usually pretty common sensical down there.

  • ah

    Deny and appeal to the office of administrative hearings.

    The whole notice of infraction/violation stuff makes my head hurt, since when I appealed a bogus DCRA violation I was told that I hadn’t even received an actual violation yet.

    Anyway, your situation may be different because illegal dumping I suppose is not something you can correct–you dumped so you pay a fine, whereas I had something that I could “abate”.

    That all said, I would deny, since you didn’t dump the stuff. Yes it’s your stuff, but they have to prove you dumped it or someone dumped it with your instructions. They may want to assume that (and it’s reasonable to do so), but if you go into a hearing and explain that you hired a junk hauler who was previously reputable and paid him to haul it, but he dumped it, and, once alerted to the problem you fixed it anyway, you may get the case dismissed. Be sure to mention also that the inspector never returned your calls. At worst, you probably can get a sympathetic judge who will reduce the fine significantly or to zero.

    My single experience with OAH wasn’t at all bad. The judge was more than willing to listen and seemed highly skeptical of DCRA. I would guess they get a bunch of illegal dumping cases as well, and probably a few like yours where the defendant is pretty innocent, and may well wonder about DPW’s position on this.

    • ah

      BTW, here’s an OAH case involving DPW and illegal dumping that might help you. It notes that illegal dumping is charged to a person, not a property owner, and that the person must have “caused” the dumping. In this case, a third party, an evicted tenant, had not been “caused” by the property owner to conduct the illegal dumping, so the the charge was dismissed.

      • This case is an excellent find. While it’s not completely on point, it will help a lot.

        For example (from page 4):
        The “policy factor” focuses upon the foreseeability of the harm that has occurred, and requires special consideration of the intervening act of a third party. A third party’s intervening act makes the causal connection between a defendant’s action (or failure to act) and the resulting harm “more attenuated,” especially when the third party’s act is intentional and not merely negligent. Carlson, supra, 793 A.2d at 1290-91. There is no proximate cause, and therefore no liability, unless the third party’s action “should have been reasonably anticipated and protected against.” Id. at 1290, quoting Lacy v. District of Columbia, 424 A.2d 317, 323 (D.C. 1980).

        • I agree with everyone about going to OAH. In my experience there, the judges were quite reasonable–and very used to self-represented litigants, so don’t worry about it if you’re not a lawyer.

          While the case may be helpful, OAH decisions aren’t precedential–the administrative law judges don’t have to follow the decisions they or other OAH judges have made in previous cases. So even if the case were perfectly on point, it wouldn’t be binding. It still won’t hurt to point it out, though.

          • ah

            The value is to use the arguments, especially the one about “cause” the dumping. OP can argue that he’s used the junk guy a lot, and he’s been reliable, so he had no reason to believe that he’d simply dump it down the street. It’s the exact opposite of hiring some shady guy for the first time and telling him “just make it disappear”.

  • Yeah I’m sure you can get this overturned. Quick question though. How did they know the dumped waste came from your property in the first place?

    • the dump site was literally in a nearby alley less than a block away. the waste was fairly substantial and my yard had many visible stumps and twigs left over from the haul.

      suffice it to say, forensics were not necessary.

      • ha that isn’t proof. I don’t suggest lying, but they need some evidence.

      • That’s what we did, and drove back to the church, had a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat, went to sleep and didn’t get up until the next morning, when we got a phone call from Officer Obie. He said, “Kid, we found your name on an envelope at the bottom of a half a ton of garbage, and just wanted to know if you had any information about it.” And I said, “Yes, sir, Officer Obie, I cannot tell a lie, I put that envelope under that garbage.”

    • Key question

    • Haven’t you ever heard the Arlo Guthrie song “Alice’s Restaurant”?

      “…we got a phone call from officer Obie. He said, ‘Kid,
      we found your name on an envelope at the bottom of a half a ton of garbage, and just wanted to know if you had any information about it.’ And I said, ‘Yes, sir, Officer Obie, I cannot tell a lie, I put that envelope
      under that garbage.'”

      • D’oh! I need to read entire comment threads before trying to be funny. +1 to you, sir (or madam).

  • Thankfully this is something the city has (finally) started to take seriously, as illegal dumping during the RE boom where every “Joe” with a pickup truck was a contractor and had tons of work, but didn’t want to pay for squat.

    It seems unfair but at the end of the day, your trash was illegally dumped. I know it wasn’t “you” but that doesn’t matter. It was your stuff, arranged to be ferried away by you. The city doesn’t and should care you were stiffed. Thats your problem, not the Districts.

    They found your trash, determined it was yours (I am assuming you had self identifiying stuff in there which they traced back to you. Granted, you say you had it halued away later, but the timing is pretty liberal. By your own admission you didn’t get the fine until 3 weeks after they originally contacted you and you hadn’t gotten it cleaned up until a few days (maybe a week) before that. So the trash sat there for another ~couple weeks after they orgiginally contacted you.

    The guy (rightfully) probably issued you a fine, or put one into the system the same time he left you a note. The problem is yours to rectify, not theirs. Now that you can prove that you cleaned it up, I am sure the City will forget the fine, but the burden of proof in this case is and should always be on the offender

    You should be lucky that your “help” didn’t get caught dumping with your vehicle, as the MPD is legally entitled to immediatly impound a vehicle involved in dumping. I saw it a couple years ago, a couple fly by night contractors from MD were dumping in a busy alley behind a friends apt and the MPD just happened to be driving by. Guys truck was towed away within the hour.

    On a related note, any DC resident can use the DC Dump for free.

    • Incorrect, burden of proof is always on the government. If it was on the “offender” that would… be ridiculous. Of course the officer of the government swears or affirms that they have seen an infraction, but if you can show otherwise or show an error in the infraction/citation, the ticket should be dismissed.

      • ah

        Especially in DC, where everyone from parking officers, to DCRA, to DPW tickets first and asks questions later.

    • I think once you enter into a contract, even a verbal contract, for someone to take away your trash, it becomes his responsibility.

      At the worst, you tell them the name and description of the guy you hired and DCRA goes after that guy.

      Also, welcome to America where the burden of proof is on the prosecutor.

    • no – you misread. i received a card from the inspector a few days after the hauler claimed to have completed the job. i had the waste moved within 24 hours upon receiving his card. i called the inspector (as he requested in the note on his card) and left several voicemails explaining what had transpired and assured him that all waste had been moved from the site. He could have easily called me back or revisited the site for confirmation.

      I’m all for the enforcement of illegal dumping, as I am constantly dealing with garbage left on/in front of my property, but this is an exception. I was screwed by a fraud yet took full responsibility for the waste and acted expeditiously to remove it (at additional cost). It shouldn’t take a judge to determine that i am not part of the problem. The DC government should not get into the habit of punishing the few residents who actually take pride in cleaning up the city. Subjecting a caring citizen to this type of treatment isn’t exactly positive reinforcement.

      also, i am fully aware of the dump and use it on a regular basis. This load was simply too big for me to haul.

      • Hauler?

        A neighborhood guy (lets call him “Alanzo”) who has mowed my lawn and hauled waste for me on several previous occasions offered to haul a recent load away for $100. Turns out, his truck contact fell through this time and rather than approaching me, he decided to illegally dump the waste yet graciously accept payment under the pretenses that the job had been completed.

        I know the fine hurts, but you should have ponied up the funds for a professional. At the end of the day, you have the personal responsibility to your community.

        Your beef is with Alanzo, not the City. Those are the risks you run when you lowball it.

  • It seems like the ticketing policy in DC is always to just write the ticket. Same as parking tickets such as when the meter is broken and you call it in and they write you a ticket anyway. There are probably a big percentage of people who won’t bother with the appeal. They probably have slogans like “when in doubt write the ticket out” or “just issue baby”

    Seriously, it seems like you will be in the clear if you just go through the process, but they might make you give up “Alanzo” to avoid the fine

    • Well that’s correct. It’s not he meter maid’s responsibility to sort it out. It’s the meter maid’s responsibility to determine that they observed an infraction and in DC parking at a broken meter is an infraction.

      • This is kinda off topic and all but i got this from DC dot gov

        •Parking is permitted at a broken meter but only for the time shown on the meter. Before leaving the vehicle, call (202) 541-6030 or 311 to report the broken meter. Please keep the confirmation number.
        •Check the hours of operation on the meter as well as the signs to make sure you are parking legally.
        •Check the signs at the curb to be sure you are parking legally.
        •Park at a meter only for the time shown on the meter. No feeding the meter, please.

    • Yes, I once was in a situation where I was putting money in the meter as the meter maid was starting to write a bogus ticket. I explained why the ticket wasn’t legit and said I would just get it dismissed, but she wrote it up anyway. She was visibly angry by this news, actually slamming the ticket onto my windshield very violently, but I guess she thought there was still a chance I wouldn’t follow through.

  • I sort of sympathize with your plight, but I am, frankly, glad that the city is finally taking this seriously. My block has a big problem with illegal dumping, with gawd-knows-who constantly putting their construction debris in our alley. If the city is finally going to start fining people for this, I’m glad. At the very least, it will make people think twice.

    And, frankly, I doubt you have a case. Just pay the fine, and don’t hire a shady character in the future.

    Or, better yet, use the dump at fort totten. It’s extremely easy. If you don’t have a truck, just hire one for an hour.

    • Um, did you read the story of what happened?

    • Really how is one supposed to know whether a character is shady or not? Should this person have followed him to make sure he was dumping in a legal place?

  • Just deny and write an explanation. You’ll be fine. That’s what the appeals process is for. Don’t sweat it.

    Also, Ft. Totten transfer station accepts almost anything of any size (no concrete) for free so long as you have a DC driver’s license. It’s a fantastic service that costs the city considerable money to maintain, and I think it’s reasonable that they come down so hard on illegal dumpers for that reason. That said, just appeal and get your story heard. You’ll be fine.

  • With budget shortfalls, the name of the game is collect revnue any way you can.

    • this seems to be the name of the game in DC these days, doesn’t it?

      Deny, and be prepared to state your case for the judge. Like others here have stated, you don’t have to prove your innocence, they need to prove your guilt.

  • Never admit to something you have not done. Did you dump the stuff, no, then don’t admit it. You legally paid an independent contractor to haul away your things. Never, never admit to things you didn’t do…never.

  • anonymouse_dianne

    This happened to my mother as well. It was a friend of the family who does blue collar work. He dumped her stuff, which included papers with her name and address, in an alley a block from her house. Fortunately, the person whose yard and alley were effected had the good graces to call her and let her know and they resolved it without a ticket.

  • I have taken concere to Ft Totts.

  • I think DPW is being completely fair. There is no question it was this guy’s waste and it was dumped illegally. The “explanation” he offered to the inspector was also an admission. The fact that the dumping was done by someone who was hired is immaterial from the inspector’s perspective. But it may be material from the judge’s perspective. Ask for a hearing and plead the case. But don’t blame the inspector.

    • I think DPW did the right thing too, but I also think that this is an easily dismissed ticket.

    • ah

      It actually should be material to the inspector, since the inspector is supposedly writing infractions for violations of the law. It’s one thing to write it based on the assumption the owner did the dumping, but having been corrected as to that fact he should have rescinded the infraction, not ignored the calls.

    • So if the contractor committed a hit and run while hauling someones stuff who’s responsible?

  • well, you are lucky that strict liability isnt the case with “household” garbage. In some places, for construction waste, they have strict liabiity (similiar to that with hazardous wastes) and you are liable regardless of whether it was your fault. Basically, its to make sure that you ensure your garbage is correctly disposed.

    • Right, but in that case he could sue the subcontractor for violating their agreement and recoup the fine.

  • People keep saying “don’t admit” but by the authors own admission that ship has sailed. How many messages did you leave on the cities voicemail admitting you were the person?

    And what kind of child would lie “deny and admit nothing” in this case? Grow up, the lot of you. This blog is filled with self obsessed people who love to tell others how to live their own lives, yet apparently fail to maintain that same standard for themselves. You made a mistake either in process or judgement. Start acting like the adults you pretend to be and take responsibility for your actions/inaction.

    Had this trash been dumped in any of your alleys or yards, regardless of reason you would be able to spot the mile wide swath of fury and indignation from space.

    • ah

      He admitted it’s his trash, not that he engaged in illegal dumping.

      Proving it’s his trash isn’t all DC has to prove.

    • Wow, Joker, anger issues lately?

      We are being adults, so don’t be a child and call people on here names. Why admit you illegally dumped trash when you did not? The fact that it was his trash does not mean he illegally dumped it. The illegal action here was the wrongful dumping, not the trash itself. If the trash collectors dumped my trash in your front yard that is their illegal doing, not mine. When an independent contrator is hired to do a job s/he takes on the legal responsibility of the job. Don’t make this guy, or the rest of us on here, to be the bad guys. Perspective here. Be angry at the guy who dumped the stuff.

  • Joker is spot on.

    • + one for Joker.

      I think it is curious how many of the NON Sense boys suggest – just lie.

      Speaks volume of your NON character.

      • I don’t think anyone was recommending lying. Rather, they were saying the person shouldn’t admit to the illegal dumping (which is the truth). And by admission, that also includes paying the fine even if you intend to fight it later.

  • btw, my thanks to everyone who responded, even joker. this has been very helpful and i will be sure to email PoP once this situation is sorted out.

    in regards the the admit/deny argument, i dont think people are suggesting that i lie, rather that i deny having illegally dumped the waste. the violation doesn’t make clear what, exactly im admitting/denying. it’s my waste – i’ll tell a judge that if necessary, but i did not dump it. my fault was that i trusted someone who had legally dumped waste for me on various other occasions.

    anyhow, thanks again.

  • I know it might cost you, but I’d consult with an attorney before going to a hearing because you don’t know if you’ll get steamrolled by an on the ball inspector.

    Also keep in mind that many administrative law hearings in D.C. (at least that I appear in) operate off a standard of “Clear and Convincing Evidence”, not “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” of “Probably Cause to believe”; deny the ticket and don’t, Admit with Explanation” because that’ll just build the inspector’s case. Also be sure to have a written statement ready and have information like the contractor’s full information; saying that “a guy whose name I know whom I don’t know how to contact now dumped it” isn’t going to fly.

  • Send a letter of intent to sue the hauler. File a lawsuit against the hauler and have him pay for the attorney to go down there and fight it. Unless you’ve got lots of free time on your hand to work the system. You should have taken photos.

  • Contact your ANC Commisioner and Councilmember. Turn in the guy you hired because I am sure this isn’t the first time he has done this. I hear of people in similar situations or of “haulers” who illegally dump in private dumpsters all the time.

    You accepted responsibility for his wrong and have a neighbor to prove it.

  • I dont care if your yard had stumps in it, how did they know that stuff came from your yard?! You could have dumped it at the DC Dump how would they know. I would deny/object to the ticket.

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