Dear PoP – Neighbor’s House Overcrowded – Moral Dilemma

Photo by PoPville flickr user ianseanlivingston

“Dear PoP,

I live in a row house and its come to my attention that the owner of the house on one side of me is renting out his 3 br 2 bath home out to 12 people. I know this because several of the residents have been open about the living arraignment and I have been inside the house several times and seen the beds placed throughout the home. Those renters that I have gotten to know are truly kind, considerate people just trying to get by, but the problem is that 1) the owner is negligent and treats them like dirt (refusing to fix AC in the summer, etc), and 2) the the overcrowding has had negative consequences which affect myself and our other neighbors.

Recently myself and the neighbor on the other side of this house noticed an infestation of roaches. We remedied this (at least temporarily) by convincing the owner to spay his home, but its clear that a crowded situation w/ one kitchen for 12 people is going to lead to other pest issues. I let the owner know the rental regulations, that he should have be approved/permitted for renting and that the maximum for a single family home is 6 residents, but he refused to listen to me.

I am concerned that if I call DCRA and report the overcrowded, non-permitted rental, these people would be put out in the cold this winter. However, I know there are other risks (to the residents and to myself) such as increased odds of a fire, to having a so many people in a poorly maintained, non-approved rental home. Can anyone think of a good solution? Do you think DCRA would be willing to assist the people find housing or give them time to do so on their own?”

Wow, this is very sad. I don’t think DCRA is tasked with assisting people to find proper housing, rather that probably goes to some sorta social services agency. Anyone know who to call/contact in this situation to be sure that the situation is remedied but folks aren’t simply thrown on the streets?

70 Comment

  • and in the summertime it will be too hot, spring/fall too hard to find a new place, etc.

    Do none of these people understand that with the very reduced rent (I assume) in an illegal apartment they run the risk of being evicted at a moments notice?

  • 12 people? Do they pay $60 apiece? So 3rd world.

  • I had this problem last summer. The house next to us has about 20 people living in it, and they had an untreated roach problem that eventually spilled into our house. We were able to keep the problem at bay by having an exterminator come every 2 weeks, but it was annoying because we had to completely clear out the kitchen drawers/cabinets every time he sprayed. By mid-fall the problem had gone away for the most part. We did file a complaint with the health department but they said there’s nothing they can do.

    I think it helps to keep the house on the colder side– since roaches like warmth they will run over to your house if it’s warmer. In fact, the roaches didn’t really become a huge problem until our AC was out of service for a couple weeks last June. Prior to then we’d only see one or two a month.

    • Oh, and since the roaches also like darkness it helps to keep the lights on– this will not keep them out of drawers, but at least you won’t see as many scurrying across the counters and the floor.

      • I should note that the house in my scenario seems decently maintained and does not appear to have any other issues like those described by the OP. The owner lives there with his wife and kid so I guess they have an incentive to keep it somewhat safe.

  • I did call DCRA on my slumlord neighbor and his 15 little friends, but I wasn’t much worried about the tenants, because they were a blight on the block– trash, noise, barfing, etc. I was sure a house fire was in the cards.

    Maybe you should talk to your council member about your concerns. A conversation with him/her won’t necessarily generate DCRA action (especially if you don’t identify the house), and they might be able to advise on possibilities for the tenants.

  • Are you kidding? Call DCRA for gods sakes.

    The risk is all yours, the benefit all someone elses.

    And if these folks truely have no place to go, the City will find temp arrangements for them.

    There is no “moral” hazard here and if you are really bothered by it, give me the address of the place and I will call DCRA.

    • The problem here is the landlord: I imagine that were he a true white knight bending the regs to help out people who are willing to live in close quarters in exchange for affordable housing, he’d do things like maintain the heat/AC, exterminate regularly, etc.. But based on what you said, he doesn’t. File under “slumlord.”

      But you sort of gloss over a secondary problem: the tenants. Perhaps you should take a harsher view of them rather than seeing them merely as potential collateral damage. If they wanted to make this situation work, it’s not that hard for 12 people in cramped quarters to keep a clean and maintained space on their own. It happens all the time in, say, the United States Navy or large families.

      So as I see it, you have two options:

      (1) Treat it as a landlord problem and call DCRA without delay. You have no standing to do anything else (i.e., sue) against him. It’s not that I dismiss your concerns about the collateral damage to the tenants, but what you describe is a violation of the regs that is affecting you negatively. You identify two concerns. The first of them — how he treats the tenants — is frankly not your concern at all. The second of them — the spillover effect on you and your neighbors — is.

      (2) Treat it as a tenant problem. Tell them that you’re having problems in your space based on their home, make perfectly clear that you have a problem with the unit and will take steps to solve it, then put it to them: they can either solve the issue on their own by keeping a cleaner, pest-free place, or you’ll report it to DCRA and they’ll all likely be out of the apartment at that point.

  • Snitches would have helped the 11 people that died in that house fire last summer. They will find new if not better living arrangements but you have a responsibility to report this.

  • Dude, call DCRA. If we don’t face issues like this, the front lines are broken, which makes it harder to regulate or even have issues like this noticed. How can DC address problems it doesn’t know about?!

  • I think we have a winner.



  • You could also try contacting the Office of the Tenant Advocate, which is an independent agency within the District government.

    They might have some more targeted suggestions for you other than just calling the DCRA general number.

  • Call DCRA, however, be prepared for them to do nothing about it. I have lived next to a problem house (overcrowding, porch about to collapse, rats, roaches, etc…) for years. I’ve called DCRA and the health department numerous times over the years and NOTHING has ever been done. I’ve even complained to Jim Graham, but nothing has ever happened.

    Apparently if you’re Latino in DC, it gives you blank protection to violate housing laws. Hell when I complained to Graham’s office, one of his staffers told me “that’s how some people live.”

    • Hate to say it but I agree — I have a similar problem neighbor (rats, roaches, structural neglect, overcrowding), and have been confronted with total apathy from Graham’s office and incompetence from DCRA. Apparantly its acceptable to use your backyard as garbage dump for such random items as an old toilet and an oxygen tank (?!). No one even seemed to care that they were running a car repair service out of their dilapitated garage, which involved the use of a blow torch in close proximity to gasoline, for christ’s sake.

  • Pop asked me to chime in. These are difficult situations for neighbors – especially if the tenants are polite and good neighbors – but as several people have pointed out there is a lot of negative consequences for the adjacent homeowners and a lot of risk for the tenants in the house. We tried to be as open as possible about some of these issues on and get the tenants to realize the dangers and make a better choice before getting the city involved.

    You can talk to the tenants and let them know the issues and give them a heads up and a sort of deadline to find another place. We are legally obligated to take action once we have an address and a situation like this. If we don’t, we could get sued if something did happen.

    The landlord would be fined in these situations and forced to get license. But 12 people in 3 bedroom and 2 bath would legally only allow 5-6 people in one-family rental.

    Feel free to call 202-442-9557 and hit 6 to request inspection.

    • Mike, sorry to see you leaving DCRA. Thanks for being so responsive and doing your job so well.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Thanks Mike. You will def. be missed when you leave DCRA. Thanks again for all your help and advice.

    • Mike, apparently my apartment is unregistered … and I think it has been for a while before I got here. If a resident reports someone, can they be evicted? Or could I feasibly report anonymously when my lease is up for the sake of future tenants?

  • Nine people died in a basement fire in 1986 at 1627 Irving Street, NW – I think all were Salvadorian immigrants in low-wage jobs.

    That’s your immediate concern here. If you have good relations with the residents, invite yourself over TODAY – (with Christmas cookies perhaps) explain your concerns. If there are space heaters and extension cords, candles or lanterns around – call DCRA immediately.

    The roach issue is an annoyance – but the fire threat is acute. But I agree, having grown up with 5 people in a tiny 1 bedroom apt. Crowded conditions do not automatically mean vermin.

    • Space heaters are a reason to call DCRA? I used to use one because it was cheaper than heating the whole house.

      • Sorry – to be more clear – space heaters PLUGGED INTO extension cords are the problem. The extension cords overheat and cause fires.

  • I bet half of them are illegal mexicans.

    When I was house hunting, I visited a couple of houses that were being used as multifamily homes. A three level rowhouse was being used as 3 separate apartments, but same entrance, makeshift kitchenettes and beds everywhere.

    Another one had a showerstall in the middle of the livingroom..

    The occupants all seemed to be of hispanic origin, as not many of them spoke english. But you had to see their kids, doing all their homework and studying and speaking clear english and translating what we had to say to their parents and vice versa.. these kids are gonna kick everyones butts and take all our jobs!

    • love how intelligent your comment is “half of them are illegal mexicans”

      please take yourself and your profiling out of this website and don’t come back.

    • They’re half-Mexican/half-Cyborgs. And they don’t need no stinkin’ badges, neither.

      Except, probably they’re from El Salvador. What, there are different countries down thar? Whuh?

      • “Except, probably they’re from El Salvador. What, there are different countries down thar? Whuh?”

        Haven’t you heard, mphs? We’re all either Mexican or “Spanish.” 😉

  • the effects of the rent being too damn high in the city…..

    it all comes down to a crammed house or apartment in a safer part of the city like nw or a dangerous, open drug market, poverty stricken neighborhood like congress park or woodland terrace. Smh…..

    i hope they find better living arrangements soon.

    • The problem is really much worse in the suburbs, since the public schools are better, it’s safer, and the houses are slightly bigger so you can cram more people in. I live in Fairfax County (used to live in CoHi and SW DC) and overcrowded houses are a much more common occurrance here.

      • The suburbs are not nearly as public transit friendly as D.C., and the major of families who fit this bill are going to the cheapest and highest crime areas of PG county.

        • i disagree. roughly 46 metro stations in the suburbs.
          roughly 40 in DC, many are redundant since they are within a few blocks of one another.

          plus the suburbs have marc trains and vre.

          metrobus covers the suburbs too. also The Bus, Cue, Art, Fairfax Connector, Ride-on, Dash, Loundon County Transit.

          • Right, but the space covered by those 46 stations is vast. If you’re livin’ in DC, you’re most likely within a mile of metro. If you live in the suburbs, there’s a 95% chance you can’t walk to metro at all. Some of DC’s metro station might be redundant? That makes the case that DC is more well served by metro.

          • tres,
            the point was that more land is covered by transit in the suburbs than in dc.

            the more important issue in that would be this:
            how many people live within 1 mile of a train station in dc?
            how many people live within 1 mile of a train station in the dc metro area?

            dc has 600,000 people.
            the metro area has 5.5 million.

  • “Apparently if you’re Latino in DC, it gives you blank protection to violate housing laws.”

    I’m Latina. Right now, I would very much like to slug you, you insensitive jerk.

    • Yeah, race doesn’t matter. I have an overcrowded house of Afghanis next to me and no one seems to care either.

    • Actually, I’m also a Latino. Except my family are not newcomers, though we maintain our history and language. I’m not being insensitive, just truthful. I have seen plenty of Salvadoreans living in deplorable conditions in DC that are just overlooked. Jim Graham in particular is notorious for this.

      • Do you have any idea how many twentysomethings in New York stuff umpteen roommates in cramped apartments?

        Also, Georgetown kids do this all the time. Having lived in Glover Park, I can attest to it. One guy told me when he was a student, he lived in a 2-bedroom place with TEN other guys.

        So unfortunate this immediately a racially charged issue when really, it’s an economic one. Plus there are a lot of crappy, manipulative slum lords out there.

      • Self-loathing much?

        • Your comment makes no sense. All I’m saying is that the overcrowding of apartments isn’t a problem restricted to Latinos, rather it’s an economic one when living in cities with really high rents. You’re the jackhole with self-loathing issues, pal. Not me.

          • I’m not self-loathing.It’s not a Latino problem, I never said that. All I said is that Jim Graham and other local officials ignore Latino families that live in these conditions. You need to get off your self righteous high horse.

        • Original CH here. I did not post this.

      • Could it be that Jim Graham is not turning a blind eye to the Latinos but the slum lords?
        The landlords make out like bandits. The rent that those folks pay for that house is probably above market – but because the landlord allows multiple people and perhaps no credit check the tenants pay more. Its like with check cashing and neighborhoods with out grocery stores. Yes its convinient and fills a need but it is still EXPLOITATION!

        I would report because the landlord should adhere to the law – or pay fines. With the current fiscal situation DC could use some more fines. Next people need to be paid a living wage so they don’t have to be put into this situation.

        Sadly the rules that govern the height of buildings in DC contributes to the high rents we all pay.

        Oh I am Irish-American and also want to punch you in the face!

        • Jim turns a blind eye to both the slum lords and the tenants. He needs the slum lord cash in his campaign coffers and he needs the support of Latino community at the polls. He has decided to not rock the boat, regardless of the suffering it causes.

          What’s with all the violence, you need to chill out. FYI, I support a living wage and cleaning out slum lord housing. You guys are almost as bad as the idiot tea bag morons.

        • I’m not the one who wrote, “Apparently if you’re Latino in DC, it gives you blank protection to violate housing laws.”

          Nowhere do you say in your first post that council members are ignoring Latino families. Had you said that, I wouldn’t have gotten on my “high horse,” as you put it.

          Second what Andy’s saying about the landlords being held responsible.

      • Come to Mt. Pleasant, corner house on 17th and Kilbourne. Prime example of hispanics overcrowding a rowhouse.. oh wait, there is another onr right across it. They sit outside on the porch drinking beer and then just throw the cans and bottles on the street like its some 3rd world country.

        I am an immigrant, but I am not like them. And I am sure you are not like them either. But how many non hispanic families do you usually see living in an overcrowded house?

        It is the truth, thats how some of them live. Just because you are hispanic, dont think of this as a personal attack. No one is attacking you or the hispanic people in general.

        Not all muslims are terrorist, but most terrorists are muslims. I know it is the truth, I dont get offended by it. Some of the people who share the same religion as me are effed up, doesnt mean I will start out denying.

        And everytime I read an article about a bomb scare or an attack or anything, first thing coems to my mind is another stupid muslim idiot… I dont get offended by CNN speculating the hand of a islamic terrorists, because I know, its very likely its gonna be them.

        Sometimes, its just better to agree with the truth, you cannot keep living in denial all your life.

  • Wait, ’till it warms up. Then, rat them out.

  • let the people be…

    if you are so concerned why dont you rat out every group house in dc!

    you people need to mind your own business as life is not as jolly for all as it is for you.

    I am sure that these people would live in a better situation if they could but this is probably the only suitable solution for their income.

    all you are going to do is make these poor peoples lives hell…so my advice to you nosy people who never had to struggle is to mind your own business.

    • I agree, except it’s not fair that the neighbors have to deal with roaches that aren’t theirs and live with the threat of fire.

  • realistically what are is the risk delta that the fire will occur as a result of 10 people living in a house vs 4?

    in response to the vermin, is there a possibility that you are the cause of the infestation? for gods sake the city is full of rats, roaches, mice and bedbugs. i guess all households with 4 people or more should be blamed!

    • I’m the person who commented above, and in my exterminator said the roaches were definitely coming from next door and that he sees it all the time. I don’t know if that is the case here. Overcrowded houses tend to have roach problems because 1) There are lots of tenants coming in and out, so there are more places for them to be brought in from, 2) The tenants usually can’t afford to treat the problem so it grows and spreads, and 3) Even if they could afford to hire an exterminator it’s hard to coordinate with so many people and so much stuff in there. You basically have to take eveything out of the room and put it somewhere else when it gets sprayed.

  • When we bought our house in Mount Pleasant, it was a rooming house with 13 residents. That was the norm back then, and for a long time we had people showing up at the door asking if we had rooms to let. Times have changed, and now what was ordinary has become a cause for calling in the authorities. I’m not happy with that. Sure, crowding has its problems, but I’ve seen single-family households that are much worse problems for their suffering neighbors. Smoke, dogs, drugs, noise, vermin, water penetration, you name it.

    Re the roaches, we get them from our neighbors too, not because our neighbors aren’t clean, but because roaches easily cross between row houses, and most everybody’s got them. Bedbugs are a much worse problem, and something to worry about seriously in this situation. Yes, I have a resident with a bedbugs-from-the-neighbor problem. Not a Latino neighbor. Just poor, and unable to cope with her own bedbug problem.

  • I’ve been shopping around for a house. One of the places I checked out was 66 T St NORTHWEST.

    It is the same setup. Every bit of space is made into a room. Basement is divided up into several rooms as well, of course not meeting ceiling height regulation. Even the low ceiling attic is made into a room. It’s a filthy and the – mostly or entirely – Salvadorans there are trouble. Some are not paying rent and the rest is drinking and trashing in the front yard.

    Amusingly enough, the nice old lady next to me complained to me and was really hopeful I would buy the place, but at this price point the place needs a ton of work.

    There is another house on that street with the same setup and same slumlord but not sure which one.

    I didn’t complain to DCRA because it’s none of my business. If I lived on that street, I might complain. Not sure.

Comments are closed.