Dear PoPville – Neighbor Won’t Fix Their Gutter

Photo by PoPville flickr user Nikoo’s Photos

“Dear PoPville,

I live next door to a not-amazingly-maintained group house. The owner is completely absent and the home is slowly deteriorating. One new issue is their broken gutter which causes rain water to run down the side of their house and mine. No one living in the house cares to fix it and over time this will cause structural damage to both our homes.

Calling the DC government has so far been useless. Any suggestions?”

43 Comment

  • Call your ANC rep.

  • get a ladder and fix their gutter in the cheapest way you can. it will save you time and money in the long run

    • + a zillion

      Don’t bring on the unnecessary headache of lawyers or city officials. Clearly, you’ve identified the problem and see a solution, why can’t you just do it yourself?

      • Because it’s not his/her responsibility. Because why should this person spend the time and money to fix someone else’s house? Because there is a principle involved beyond the cost of the actual repair and people need to be held accountable. Because why should a negligent landlord get off the hook and have his/her house repaired for free and be protected against further damage when he/she has chosen to do nothing?

        • maybe offer to do it yourself and estimate the cost and see if the property owner would be willing to reimburse for the cost? if you bring him a problem, then offer to fix it reasonably, i’m sure he/she would jump at the chance to have someone else do it for them.

          • I would never in a million years let my uninsured (as a gutter-guy), unlicensed, unbonded neighbor who I don’t know climb up on my roof and do work on my house.

            SO much can go wrong in that situation, not the least of which is getting that house sued out from under you when he slides his a$$ right off that ladder from two floors up!

            [Note: Details invented for emphasis. Please don’t waste our time with “how do you know he has a 2-stort house?” or any somesuch. Thanks.]

          • Or he may just fix it — if OP asks.

        • Some of us are practical and some of us are idealists. I happen to prefer saving time and headache, but enjoy your principles

          • If choosing not spend your own time and money to complete home improvements on another person’s house is “idealist,” we are in grimmer shape than I realized.

          • Re anon much preferable to spend 20 mins attaching some plastic tubing to a couple hours in court. To each his own!

      • Also, it’s trespassing. The OP presumably wants to obey the law.

    • Because the neighboring landlord could suddenly get interested. It’s not OP’s property and could open up huge problems, including liability.

      So, minus a zillion.

  • I would get in touch with the owner and ask him to fix it. If I was a person living there I would not fix it either. Have you tried to get in touch with the owner and ask him to fix it?

  • Stop waiting for the DC government to solve your problems. If it’s causing damage to your property, then file a lawsuit against the property owner in DC Small Claims Court.

    • +1

      If the landlord doesn’t care enough about maintaining the house to fix a simple broken gutter, try to contact them first, then if to no avail, take it to small claims.

      Have you tried talking to the inhabitants of the group house? I know they must seem terrifying, but they probably have the owner’s contact info, etc. It’s one thing to have a nagging tenant, but a nagging neighbor is another story.

      • There’s something really un-neighborly that often comes up in these comment threads. The OP said the other homeowner is completely absent — that implies some attempt at outreach. Even without that — really, do people who have specific questions need to outline every single freaking step they’ve taken?

        • This would suffice: “I tried to contact the owner (by letter/by phone/by email XX times to no avail” (assuming that’s the case).

          That way we (including you here) wouldn’t have to guess. How can we offer advice with incomplete info? You can *infer* from his *implication*, but it’s still just a guess.

        • I agree, I had a problem house next door, same issue with water as well as a host of other issues. The owner didnt care, he had like 10 other crappy houses around town. The only solution is to sue to just fix it yourself.

          Another thing, if the owner isnt “legally” renting the house, bring it to DCRA’s attention. They will have to do an inspection and he would need to bring it upto code.

  • I had the exact same problem before Hurricane Irene, and ended up fixing the neighbor’s gutter for them. If you want to get the DC Government involved more quickly, report an “unsafe rental unit” to DCRA, and request a housing inspection:

    Let your ANC member know you’ve done this, and follow up until you get a response. if the gutter is falling off there are likely a half dozen other violations.

  • Or, just, you know…go over there and have a conversation with the tenants about the matter? That would certainly be a good starting point…has the OP done this yet?

    • me

      I’ve seen an increase in people asking this site for advice when simple interaction with the actual people they have a problem with will suffice.

      • This is a huge pet peeve of mine.
        Although in this case, it seems like the OP has talked to the tenants (it’s implied, at least), most often question-posters haven’t even taken this small, simple step.

        Talk to your neighbors, people! They’re not that terrifying.

        In this case, the owner is who you really need to be speaking to. He/she may not even be aware of the problem. Or, he/she may be a slum lord. Let’s find out.

        • Agreed. And if the tenants won’t give you contact info for the owner, you can find the owner’s information by going into the DC Taxpayer Service Center database and searching for the address. It might give you the owner’s alternate mailing address;; if not, then Google is your friend.

    • There were only 5 lines, JDC. Not too hard to read, and yet somehow you missed that he/she has already been in touch with the neighbors, who don’t care to take action on the matter.

  • andy

    place blockage mid-gutter so it only pours water onto their property.

    • andy

      sorry, that was just a momentary fantasy. tell the neighbor and the tenants you’re going to fix their gutter and then just do it. curse out neighbor under breath.

  • “No one living in the house cares to fix it”

    1. do they know they need to address it? have you asked?
    2. does the owner know there is a problem? has he been told?
    3. if #1 and #2 fail, ask the tenets if you can fix it yourself and send the owner a bill with a strongly worded-letter and consider legal action.

  • There needs to be a checklist to filter our these “Dear Popville: “How do I deal with life?” editions.

    Have you:

    Talked to the people involved with said problem?
    Called 911?
    Called 311?
    Talked to the agency that deals with said problem?
    Talked with your ANC/Council person?

    Ask yourselves these questions, folks, before submitting. They make up the majority of un-snarky responses you are going to get on here anyway. If you’ve done all these, only then should it be appropriate to turn to the unwashed anonymous masses!

    /way too much time on my hands today

  • You don’t have a lot of good options. Suing in small claims court will kill a lot of your time. Fixing it yourself will require you to trespass and leave you open to liability if you screw it up. I would work with the city and/or ANC rep. as some have suggested.

  • Echoing a few other posters – I do enjoy many of these “what should I do in this situation?” questions but perhaps PoP and future posters could do a better job of making it clear as to what they have actually tried to do to remedy the situation before they decided to bring the question to strangers on a listserv. It’s not clear from this post whether the OP has had any communication with the owner or the tenants.

    With respect to this situation – I am not an expert in property law, but I believe that you will not have any claim for any “repair or improvement” you make to your neighbor’s property. There may be an exception for some action that is necessary to prevent damage to your property, but it’s likely the damage would have to be imminent. I doubt this type of slow boiling damage would qualify. So if you fix it yourself, you’re probably not going to get the money back. If you don’t want to shell out the cash, talk to the owner. If you don’t know his or her name, go to the DC Real Property database. You can find the name and address there. When comntacting the owner, I’d make it clear that I just want the problem fixed as soon as possible and that if it’s not, I’ll take it to whatever DC government department I have to. If he or she is not responsive, talk to your ANC Rep and/or Councilmember.

  • You have two options if your neighbor won’t fix it him/herself: (1) Pay someone to fix the problem, or (2) Pay someone to prove in court that the gutter was the cause of whatever cost you incur to fix your house. Up to you on who you want to pay money to. I’d personally choose to fix the issue before it becomes a problem, but many people prefer to take the matter to court (after what is likely to be years of knowing that *someday* a problem might occur, at which point something does occur, they’ve got years of vitriol built up that no one but them can readily understand). By the way, welcome to Popville if you are new here.

    • Seriously – I would choose to just fix the issue as well – and I’m a lawyer. Besides – if the landlord is absent, and doesn’t maintain his home well, what are the chances he would even care or notice that you fixed the gutter?

      • Agreed. There is a property that is somewhere between foreclosure because the tax bill is crazy high (vacant rate) and I guess the bank doesn’t want that can o worms yet near me. I have taken action and only gave a heads up to nearby neighbors.
        I’m trying to deal with another thing where previous owners stated it wasn’t there problem (yes it is!) and the current owners are an unresponsive no name LLC and the prime renter, hard to get a hold of. So just talking to people can be harder than you think, if they are 1- a P.O. Box, 2- never the one who bothers opening the door.

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