Dear PoPville – Dumpster Fine

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

Today I received an email from my landlord with a forwarded message from an apartment complex that shares the alley. Last week I threw away an oddly shaped box in the apartment’s dumpster after trying to fit it in my trashcan. Apparently, the building manager took my name and address off of the box and filed a complaint with the city. The building manager sent an email to my landlord that basically said I should expect a $500 fine. Have any other readers had experiences like this? Is disputing the fine an option? Any advice? I understand paying a fine for using a dumpster that isn’t mine, but $500 seems pretty steep for one box! Thank you.”

90 Comment

  • Have you actually been fined? It sounds like the building manager is just saying (via your landlord) you will be fined. I would wait until you actually get a fine before worrying about what to do when you get a fine.

    In the meantime, you might offer a simple explanation and apology to the building manager (via your landlord) saying you didn’t realize it was such a big deal and that it was the first and last time it will ever happen.

    • I’d just wait this out. The neighboring apartment can’t fine you and I seriously doubt the city will do anything to make you pay.

      Sending them an apology might help. Or if the neighboring manager is a real jerk it might just make them remember to follow up on that fine 🙁

  • How do you normally dispose of trash in your building? I’m not following this. If the dumpster belongs to the building and you’re a resident I don’t see how it could be a problem.

    (although, if it’s a cardboard box it should have gone in the recycling!)

    • IT sounds like the poster shares an alley with an apartment building, but does not reside in said building.

    • I think the OP meant that s/he threw away a box in another building’s dumpster. I assume s/he lives in a rowhouse and only has a can (that would not hold the box in question).

      In the future, I would recommend breaking down the box in its entirety, using a box cutter if necessary. Steep fines like this are for deterrent effect.

    • Seems like he doesn’t live in the building, but just shares an alley. I am sure the building paying for trash service gets annoyed with other people dumping so just apologize. It was probably an empty threat.

      • I don’t know… for them to go so far as to take the box out of the trash and find the person’s name, I feel like they would follow through with the fine. $500 seems a bit ridiculous to me!

      • Trash service, depending on the building may cost $500 – $2000 / month. So, if non-residents are using it without permission, it costs money, especially if done repeatedly.

        Chalk this up to a life lesson to not use other people’s (paid) trash service.

    • also, if it’s a cardboard box, it can be broken down or cut up to fit in most standard trash/recycling bins.

  • If you can’t pay the fine, don’t do the crime.

  • Unlike booting or towing your car which would result from non-payment of tickets, what could the city do if you didn’t pay the fine? F ’em.

  • First, always peel off the address labels, or the hippies will track you down. UPS uses 2: one large, one small. Get them both and dispose of them separately from the box.

    Sounds like the dumpster was not the OP’s building, but belonged to the one who shares the alley.

    We got a fine because the neighbors moved out and took over the entire sidewalk with old furniture & trash. In the process of disputing it, but the trash was definitely not ours, so it’s a different situation. Our fine was only $150, not $500. Wait & see if one shows up.

    • ah

      Yeah, and you can appeal it and I’m guessing that if you plead ignorance and promise not to do it again they may reduce the fine significantly.

    • We had to go to court to get rid of that $150, and we were the ones who reported that the neighbors had illegally dumped on our property!

  • I understand why you did it, you probably should have been more careful. Its odd that the building manager went through the trash. Im not sure what you can do, if you dont pay it, your landlord will be on the hook and will probably make you pay it.

    I think at this point the best option is to hope the guy is reasonable, go to him, admit your mistake, maybe volunteer to pick up trash around his building one saturday morning, or shovel snow or something, and hope he moves on.

    It IS ridiculous that he got so angry about it, but what you did was wrong (though I understand how tempting it is to do when faced with that situation).

    • Yeah…It is so strange that someone having to pay the costs of additional trash removal is “so angry”.

      Having lived in a condo building, our association was having to eat thousands of dollars a year worth of additional trash services because people would simply dump whatever, furniture, boxes, construction debris etc in or next to our dumpster. It was pretty infuriating to have to pay for everyone elses laziness. We found that eventually it was cheaper to install 24/7 surveillance cams on the trash to catch the people, then pay the cost of having to dispose of their trash.

      I doubt your dumping was the first time its happened to that building. You just made the mistake of leaving your name/address on it so he could track it back to you.

      • I totally agree. I don’t think the building has any particular malice toward OP himself if it’s just one box. At the same time, we live in a condo building where the trash is constantly overflowing with garbage that the neighbors dump when their bins are full, or items (like furniture) are too large to fit(there is fencing/locks around the trash, but people will throw stuff over, or put it next to the bins and block access). It is indeed frustrating to have to pay the extra fines and/or disposal fees for the whole neighborhood.

        I think this sounds like a pretty small-scale thing, but my guess is that the landlord is frustrated with large-scale dumping and just making an example out of you. While I don’t think you had malicious intent it is important to bear in mind for the future that buildings have to pay for your over-sized trash just like you do. So better to take care of it yourself and stay on good terms with the neighbors.

        • +1000. Seems like no big deal to you, but to the owners of the dumpster, it is a HUGE problem because of people with your mindset who feel entitled to use it. As pointed out, it is not just your one box, it is all of the fines and extra costs that the building has to incur because of people (including you)using the dumpster who are not paying for it. And these costs really add up.

          • The other issue is if the apartment company is being fined by the city for people throwing out things that can be recycled. My apartment building has both issues – neighborhood people using the dumpster as their own (a neighbor filled it with cut branches once, that was lovely) and throwing out things that can be recycled. The city shows up, goes to the trash and then fines the association with some pretty heavy fines (and posts them on the door of the building).

            So while $500 is steep, the OP deserves the fine.

      • That’s exactly what it is…laziness!

    • Is it possible to ever say something in the comments of this blog without some clown coming in and taking 1 clause out of context from several hundred words and completely blowing it up? Just wondering.

  • I bet you won’t do it again : )

    That’s why they call it a fine, it is meant to not only punish a crime (a crime is breaking any official law) and persuade you not to do it again.

    Boo Ya!!!

  • Tell them you just freecycled your old boxes to someone who was moving into that building.

  • I believe the max fine for illegal dumping in DC is $150 (not totally sure). The building would have to file with the city and the city would have to fine you. Sounds like he’s just bluffing. Wait to see if you actually get something official before freaking out, but it probably won’t hurt to apologize etc.

    • The dumpster I illegaly dump my trash in says $2000 fine….I wonder if thats a hoax. Note: I validate my usage becuase my buildings’ cans are always overfull – which contributes to rats. No one has ever cared.

      • Think about it – who’s going to “fine” you? That’s not a city fine – so is a private company just going to bill you? They can, but they’d be hard pressed to actually get you to pay the money – assuming they could even prove it was you to begin with (obviously, in the OP’s case here that’s not an issue). But private entities can’t go around fining each other for things. I can’t personally fine someone if their dog takes a crap on my front porch. It’s basically the same thing.

        But, you shouldn’t dump your crap in other people’s trash cans and apologizing is the right thing to do – I’m just calling BS on their ability to fine you, unless the city has gotten involved.

        • I wouldn’t be surprised that illegal dumping laws come into play, giving the District the ability to fine the dumper, who is identifiable via the address tags.

          • Which is fine – but that’s not $500 and it’s not up to the building manager. All the bldg manager can do is report it to the city, it’s up to the city IF they decide to fine the OP and if they do, it’s unlikely to be more than $150.

            My neighbors were dumping crap in my treeboxes repeatedly and I would watch them do it and take pics and call DPW directly, 311 and my ANC commissioner. I had their names, their addresses and pictures – and the city never once came out. I could post a sign out there that says, “NO DUMPING $500 FINE” but that wouldn’t make it so. I’d still have to go through the city, and they determine the amts of fines and whether or not the person gets fined at all.

          • Yep, Nichole is right. 4:1 the fine never shows up.

        • “I can’t personally fine someone if their dog takes a crap on my front porch”.

          No, you can’t ‘fine’ them, but you can file a civil lawsuit for trespass, if the offense is grievous enough.

          If the same person repeatedly allows their dog to crap on your front porch, you may even be able to obtain a restraining order against them.

          Of course, filing lawsuits is always a last resort.

      • Bandit, that’s not cool. Ask your building management to supply additional trash cans. (Maybe add that the inadequate amount of space for trash is encouraging people to dump illegally.)

        • Thanks for the suggestion! I have been doing that for a year….you know landlords around here! Mine think people just put the extra trash on top out of laziness!

    • Exactly. My condo building got plenty of dumpster fines due to its location in a well-traveled area and the fact that we had bars and restaurants sharing our dumpsters. In order for the OP to have a problem, the apartment first would have had to be fined and for it to be $500, it would have to be the third offense. The city does not fine for odd-shaped boxes. The dumpster would be privately owned so what the city fines for is trash in the alley. Your box may have caused some residents to throw trash in the alley, but that’s not your fault. If the apartment got fined, they’d have to somehow come after you and then prove your box was responsible for the fine. I’m no lawyer but that seems like a horrible stretch.

      My advice is to wait it out, give a weak apology that DOES NOT ACKNOWLEDGE GUILT, and if it happens, fight it.

      And stop dumping your trash in other people’s dumpsters. Not cool at all.

    • Isn’t the $150 max fine a civil affair, handled by the city?

      It sounds as though the situation here is that a private, third-party company handles waste disposal at the apartment complex in question, which is typical.

      In such cases, the waste disposal company – not the property management company or the city – actually owns the dumpster. Throwing unlawful waste into the dumpster constitutes trespassing. In theory, the dumpster owner could sue illegal dumpers, but I doubt they’d bother over a single box.

  • Alice’s Restaurant people. By Arlo Guthrie. That’s exactly how you get caught…moral of the story – get your name off of stuff you dispose of illegally!

  • That a box with your address on it is in a dumpster isn’t proof that you put it there. How does the city know that a hobo didn’t sleep in it for a few nights and then put it in there?

    I wouldn’t worry about the fine. If you get it, write a letter objecting. You probably shouldn’t have written to PoP admitting your infraction, frankly. Even so, what DCRA doesn’t know won’t kill them. I’d avoid lying, but I also wouldn’t admit liability.

  • in college my friends used to throw their endless bags of beer cans from their 2nd story window across an alley and into another building’s dumpster. it was a lot quicker. then they got a bunch of $1000 fines from the grand city of boston. don’t think they ever paid, but I also don’t think they got their security deposit back.

  • Agree with GDopplerXT – wait until you have documentation of the fine in front of you; there should be language outlining what appeal options are available to you. You will probably succeed.

    I will say, however, that my building has an alley dumpster which all of our neighbors seem to feel entitled to use. Awkwardly sized boxes, inflatable mattresses, television sets, old patio furniture: we get it all. Even if it’s just that their cans are full, they have no problem walking up the alley to dump into ours.

    My neighbors and I have to pay for trash collection while the city picks up my neighbors garbage. It’s a drag when you go to dispose of your garbage and find the bin filled with old furniture you recently saw hanging around your neighbors back yard.

    If your box is too big for your trash can, spend three minutes of your life breaking it down. If your supercan is inadequate for your household garbage, contact the city or go to Target and buy an bin for use between pick-ups. Deal with your own business.

    You may think you are just one person who dumped one box, but if the property manager put in the time and effort to file a complaint, it is probably because a lot of your neighbors are doing the same thing, and the cumulative effect must be pissing off the people who pay for this service.

  • What others have said — the OP shouldn’t have done it, and should apologize to the property manager of the neighboring building and earnestly hope that he/she doesn’t get hit with a fine (since apparently the property manager has already filed a complaint with the city).

    If it were me, I would apologize either in person or by phone AND also send a card. It might seem like overkill, but if it works, it’s worth the effort

    The OP should also apologize to the landlord for creating a bad situation between him/her and the property manager.

    In the future, the OP should cut up his/her boxes using box cutters.

    Dumping something in someone else’s Dumpster might not seem like a big deal… but it _is_ freeloading (albeit small-scale freeloading), and therefore frustrating to the people who are paying for the use of that Dumpster.

  • what kind of “odd shapes” are they making boxes these days? back in my day we only had 90-degree angles on our boxes.

  • em

    Perhaps this isn’t a trash issue but a recycling issue. DC is now enforcing requirements that buildings separate their trash and issuing hefty fines when that doesn’t happen (PoP even had a Dear PoPville back in May: If the building has already been put on notice and received fines, they are probably cracking down on anyone who violates the comingling of trash and recycling law – especially people who don’t live in the building.

  • HA! Are you my neighbor? Even if not, let me give you the background on why the apartment building manager tracked it back to you and why he’s pissed off.

    When we bought our house ~5 years ago, EVERYONE at our end of the street and the one perpendicular to us was using the apartment building’s dumpster instead of their own trash cans. Partially in their defense, DPW would pick up the trash very erratically; usually once every two, maybe three, weeks. But the dumpster got emptied twice a week, so that seemed like a better solution. Except it wasn’t, because it was constantly overflowing because the collection schedule didn’t reflect the actual use. Also, people who lived on the second floor of the apartment building would drop trash bags off their balcony and into the dumpster, but sometimes they’d miss. The bag would either catch on the fence and split open or would break on impact. Nobody every bothered to clean those up.

    We had rats the size of footballs. Lots of them. LOTS. At least a half-dozen every time we went out the back door. And that dumpster was essentially in my backyard and it was foul.

    We wrote several times to the owner of the building, to no avail (his address was available on the DC tax service center). We called DPW and Jim Graham and sent photos of juts how bad it was. He got fined $1000. Then he got fined $2500, and then again. And then he moved the dumpster behind a fence and increased the collection schedule. Then, most of our problems went away and we were all happy and would like to stay that way.

    This is also why I’m the one who will poke my head out the back door and ask you to please use your own trashcans, not mine, and to please put your trash in actual bags or else it won’t get picked up. We spent a lot of time and effort getting our alley cleaned up and would like it to stay that way.

  • Did you have Thanksgiving dinner at Alice’s Restaurant before this happened?

    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.”

  • andy

    I have always taken anything identifying off of trash that I leave in others’ trash containers. Sometimes you just have something that won’t fit in your garbage can or recycle bin but will fit in a neighbor’s. Just try to dump it just before trash pickup.

    • Get yourself a bigger trash can. Or does your Mommy and Daddy usually take care of your problems for you? Take care of your own shit.

    • So Andy, when it”s time for your neighbor to put their trash out what can should they use?

      • andy

        I have a neighbor who basically doesn’t live in the house next to mine and the trash can is empty every week. I’m not going to overdo it. And again, I’m not putting trash in there until the morning of trash pickup day. Everybody chill.

  • Do not make a dump unless you’re prepared to deal with the stink it causes! ಠ_ಠ

  • I always love the letters in which someone admits doing something wrong but then complains that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime.

    For every person who illegally uses a private dumpster, there probably are dozens of people who also have used it illegally. Detection of violations is very low, and the idea is to over-deter the ones you catch so that the next time anybody thinks about it, he has to ask himself “if caught, is this worth the $500 it will cost me?” If you just paid a few bucks this time, there’s going to be a very permissive calculus with your next oddly-shaped box that says “Well, I’ll just remember to take the identifying labels off.” The point is to make it hurt so you never do it again because lots of other people already do it, and it costs the apartment next door a lot of extra money.

    OP should do the right thing: Wait for the fine, and if you get it, pay it.

    • austindc

      I have to agree with Anonny here. I know $500 is a lot, but that’s the deal. I wouldn’t tie up the city’s time with appealing it unless you have a good reason. I’d say it’s just the cost of doing life.

      But no matter what, a nice apology to the building manager is definitely called for. I bet he would appreciate it a lot, and it will make you look like a stand up guy or gal!

      • Uh. No. Excessive fines are not called for. You could rent a 40yd dumpster for a few days at $500 bucks. Its completely disproportionate. As for “part of doing life”, appealing penalties is part of life too.

        Also, apologizing to someone who dropped the dime on you? He could have contacted the landlord personally and confronted the situation in a far more reasonable way. I understand how annoying it is, it happens to me often, but you have to pick your battles. If dumping is a huge issue for you, especially financially, I get it – but picking on the renter across the street isnt going to make an effective example nor is it going to do much to stem the tide.

        • a fine is not supposed to be “proportionate” it’s supposed to act as a disincentive. fines should be bigger where the likelihood of getting caught is lower.

        • Yeah, as Eric in Ledroit points out a fine is not supposed to be proportionate.

          It’s supposed to be disproportionate because it’s a) punitive and/or b) a disincentive. (Maybe you’re confusing it with a “fee”?)

          “Also, apologizing to someone who dropped the dime on you?” That’s a pretty weird way of looking at it. How about “apologizing to someone who’s in the right and who can make the issue go away?” Talk about picking your battles – a simple apology would be a great way for the letter writer to *not* pick this battle.

  • I would have taken the box and sit it on his/her porch. I have this problem at times with some of my neighbors. It’s my can with my address on it! Use your own can, it would’ve have taken this person a minute or two to break the box down.

  • Just a point of reference. If you do illegally dump your stuff in other peoples property/dumpters or on public space, don’t do it from a vehicle.

    The MPD impounds the vehicles of trash dumpers and sets a ridiculous fine, and or sells it at auction.

    Our apt building in chinatown has cameras on the dumpters and caught the lic plate of some random guy that pulled up and dumped a couch and bed. The building manager turned the tape into the MPD.

    3 weeks later the building got a letter from the owner of the truck apologizing and asking for forgiveness, asking for the building manager to please ask the MPD to release his truck because he couldn’t afford the $1,800 the MPD wanted to release it and it was going to be auctioned off. I have no idea how the MPD assigned the fine amount.

    The building manager laminated it and posted it in the alley. It was pretty hilarious.

  • As gentrification spreads, trash collection costs rise, forcing people who want to dispose of the trash they have accumulated in their own neighborhoods to use other areas for trash disposal. It’s blatantly unfair to long-term residents whose trash is being priced out of areas they have called dumpster for generations.

    Also: gun control in bicycle lanes for the dog parks. Condos!

    • i agree, especially with the kids in bars part.

    • Alright William.

      I love the gentrification comments. As if we should work to make it harder for people to move into and develop blighted neighborhoods in DC. Long-term residents and property owners, who it should be noted have ahuge stke in the neighborhood, benefit tremendously from gentrification.

  • Buildings pay large “overage” fees on dumpsters if they get full faster than they have contracted for with the hauling company. Odds are that there are a bunch of a-holes in the alley using that dumpster to deposit personal trash — or shady landlords not paying for their own dumpsters for 4 unit rowhouse buildings.

    So, the manager probably routinely goes through the trash to try to stop the freeloading (literally) on his dumpster. You just got caught up in what is probably an on-going dispute.

  • austindc

    When I first saw this post, I thought “dumpster fine” was like “shabby chic”

  • having just paid thousands of dollars for a dumpster at my house, I would have pulled the box out of the dumpster. then taken a crap in it and returned the box to the address on the label.

  • if a neighbors trash cash is left in front of my back gate two days after trash day, i just use there can. even if i fill it up. whoops.

  • Actually, I have been fairly impressed with the level and appropriateness of the responses here. A bunch of different opinions, but the level of snark and bile is not what one might expect from a blog. Neighborhoodliness…perhaps…

  • Recycle next time!

  • For the use of this said dumpster?

    If not, you’re not allowed to throw stuff in it. You got caught, yeah the fine sucks, but there’s a reason we have fines in society. They are meant to deter people from doing things they’re not supposed to.

    Now you know.

  • My neighbors (life-long residents of Park View) are too lazy to put their trash in their cans and take the cans out. (They just throw bags over the fence into the alley where the rats tear into them.) I put their garbage in my own cans when I have room. I am so disgusted by what a few residents on the alley won’t do to keep the neighborhood sanitary.

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