Dear PoP – Neighbor Question

Just a random shed not the shed in question.

“Dear PoP,

I was wondering if you could help me out with a dilemma though about neighbors. I seem to have met everyone on my block but the people a house down from me, who happen to have the most dilapidated shed ever. It reeks of cat pee, has no door, and the windows are broken out. It creeps me out a little but there’s nothing I can do about creepiness. What is bothering me though is the roof. It’s corrugated metal and the wind has pulled up one of the panels near the breaking point. I’m a little worried it’s going to fly off and hit something, like the cable and telephone lines or my car. I really don’t want to be ‘that’ neighbor, but do you have any suggestions about the legality of keeping a horrible shed in case I can’t convince them to do anything about it?”

It’s a good question because in addition to the issues you raised – broken sheds can be used by crews for drug dealing and bathrooms by drunkards. Unfortunately these sorts of conversations can be very awkward. I would talk to the neighbors you have already met and ask them what they think, assuming they know the specific neighbor. It might be as easy as simply sharing your concerns. If that doesn’t work – and this is the awkward part – you could alert the city. I’m pretty sure the city monitors alleys to make sure trees aren’t overgrown etc. They give out fines when folks don’t comply. I think you could probably call 311. Obviously if you talk to the neighbor first and that doesn’t work, and then you call 311 the neighbor will know it was you who probably called 311. Ah nothing is easy. Hmm, alright, I’m sticking with asking your neighbors that you’ve already met before doing anything – what do you guys think?

22 Comment

  • I don’t see you getting anywhere with this. Particularly because you’ve never met the neighbor.

    Conversations with neighbors will either go “yeah, Mr. Smith, he’s a deadbeat and yeah that building is ugly” or “Ms. Smith is so nice but she had a stroke you know.”. In neither case will your neighbors say, “let’s get together and demand that Smith fix up or tear down his shed.”

    And if you try to call it in as a nuisance it’s probably either not going to be considered a nuisance or get the guy a small citation. In either case your neighbor knows it was you who snitched.

    With private property that isn’t a true nuisance, just try to forget the problem exists because I don’t see a way to fix it.

  • You should meet the neighbor, just go knock on his door a few times. And then address with him the roof issue. If you can not meet him, then send a letter. Just a simple two paragraph letter, do not have it certified, no photos, engineering plans, co-signatures from others on the block, …. Be very diplomatic about introducing the topic and stay on one point, how the roof may damage someone else’s X or Y. Do not stray from the topic to talk about, or even mention in passing, the other conditions.

  • Go knock on the door, introduce yourself and speak to them.

    It may be that he/she does not really have the money to fix it up, in which case you could call upon everyone in the neighborhood to pitch in, and you guys can all meet up on a Saturday and probably patch it up in a few hours.

    See if a neighbor has a truck, if another knows/is a contractor and can get some sheet metal at cose, rent some power tools, etc. The overall time and cost to each individual would be minimal, and you would likely show your neighbor you care enough to make an effort, and they would likely become more friendly.

    Where I grew up, older individuals’ homes would often run into mild disrepair because they could no longer do the repairs themselves and were on limited budgets. My father and I would routinely mow their lawns for them, paint garage doors, paint mailboxes, patch small holes in the roof, etc. It may seem like free labor, but it’s also called being a good neighbor. And 90% of the other able-bodied people on the street would eventually start doing the same thing.

  • If working with the property owner doesn’t pan out, DCRA and DPW could also be resources for you. DCRA will issue a Notice of Infraction, giving the owner a time period to clean up before re-inspection. If the problem doesn’t go away, the city will board up abandoned/nuisance properties and then bill the owner via a lien. But, as the others have suggested, try working with the neighbors, including bringing it to the attention of your ANC commissioner, before exercising the “nuclear” option. It gets messy and creates ill will.

  • You *are* “that neighbor.”

    Instead of just going over and actually meeting the neighbor, you’ve posted to PoP for advice. C’mon…really?

    Beside that, it’s private property that doesn’t seem to pose a threat to life/safety, so it’s really none of your business. Was the shed there before you moved in?

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Yeah how ridiculous to ask for advice! The nerve!!!

      How on earth do you conclude that it doesn’t pose a threat to safety? You have no idea. Furthermore, even if it doesn’t post a threat to safety but people/animals use it as a latrine – then that is a public issue.

      And even if that is not the case, it is quite natural to ask for advice. We are all not so learned/educated/morally grounded/superior as you are.

  • I’ve been itching to buy a brick alley garage for a while… man that would be awesome.

  • I have a question myself, my neighbor definitely smokes pot and it drifts through the seam of my house that connects to theirs, and makes my first floor stink of the stuff. It gets so bad that sometimes my eyes itch and i feel closed-throated. There is no talking to them as (1) they NEVER answer their door, (2) I NEVER see them come out of the house and (3) the gate to the house is so far from the door that no one can hear the knocks (no doorbell either). What to do? 311?

    • Besides any legal or city remedies, you may be able to do some work to help seal up the connection between the houses. We had an issue where the next door neighbor’s house smelled so bad, it made the closets adjoining their house stink as well.

      I went up into the attic with a couple cans of spray insulation, and sprayed all of the openings in the brick wall between the houses. Then I beefed up our attic access hatches by adding rigid insulation and drywall to a thickness of about 3 inches. Once the weather warms up a little more, I’m going to put in an attic vent as well.

      • well thing is, our house is a rental and our landlords are aware of the situation. we are all really chill people, definitely not the ‘cops’ type, but i am not someone who smokes weed (definitely no issues with anyone who does either) – it is more that my nephew who is 4 is over during the warmer months and its to the point now where i cannot bring him over because i dont want him exposed to it. i think these folks just moved in, too.

        • There’s enough information in your post to tell us the following: on the one hand, these folks are likely going to be there at least another 10-11 months (if a 1-year lease and they just moved in), their activity already is causing you enough physical irritation to redden eyes/close throats, they are highly non-responsive, and you are altering your interactions with your 4 year-old nephew because of it. Also, we can take notice that it’s an illegal activity, and you have at least two ready-made enforcers for this situation: your landlord and the cops. On the other hand, you want to preserve your reputation as chill and non-judgmental.

          Weigh them however you want, but the phrase “you made your bed, now lie in it” comes to mind. I’d have called the landlord every day for the first week. If that didn’t work, I’d call the cops every day until I saw them walk out in cuffs.

          • im not sure how this is a “made my bed/lie in it” situation… i didnt do anything and they arent nasty/mean people. i think this is kind of a “nicer” situation in that there has never been a rude altercation and my landlords are aware of the problem (this has only been more recent that it has escalated to me not being able to deal with it) but they have never been able to catch the smell because they arent in the house when it happens. also, my landlords are some of the most attentive landlords you could find in this city and i am not one to take advantage of that and call them non-stop.

            i guess your last statement is what i was really looking for. i am just trying to get some validation that it IS okay in a case like this to just call police until something is done about it. i dont like the idea of taking advantage of police services when there is a greater need in the area, but i guess i have no choice.

    • “What to do? 311?”


  • I hated my neighbors until they moved. Yes, hate is a strong word but it’s appropriate.

    They played music until 5:00 at CLUB levels. You could hear the base coming from that house if you were standing at the corner. And the house was in the middle of the block. It was CRAZY loud.

    And they didn’t give a damn. Good bye and good riddance.

    B@[email protected]!

  • Call DCRA and ask for an inspection. Clearly document your request w/ DCRA and if your concern that there is a true liability (ie it is actually concievable the flying debris could cause harm) rather than just an annoyance, I’m pretty confident DCRA will issue the owner a notice to secure the property/fix an liability issues.

    Eric Rogers is a compliance officer w/ DCRA that is a good contact.

  • Definitely try to talk to them first–just be polite but truthful and say that you’re worried about the potential undesirable consequences of letting the shed further deteriorate. If they acknowledge that it’s a problem, but they haven’t done anything about it because they lack the physical ability, know-how, or money, then you can work with them and your neighbors to find a solution. If they are dismissive of your concerns, call the city–in addition to fines, I believe (based on experience in other cities) DC can have it condemned.

  • My next door neighbor has a shed in disrepair and it is loaded with rats. I can even see their trails in the grass. Sometimes you can get city action when rat infestation is the result of disrepair.

  • oily rags in the corner.

  • Another snowy winter like the last one should take care of the shed for you!
    Maybe just get a ladder, a drill and a screw gun, a handful of long screws & washers, a piece of wood to sister onto the joist or some wood resin spackle, and go after the loose bit yourself. Make it a charity ninja mission during the middle of the day. Wear white and some kind of official looking reflector vest and nobody will bother you.

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