Dear PoPville – Dealing with a Delicate Neighbor Situation

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoPville,

I am writing for some sage advise from yourself or an experienced reader. I recently purchased a house in D.C. I am super excited about making this house be all that it can, but sadly I have one neighbor that keeps his property in such a state that it will detract from all of my efforts. Both his front porch and rear yard are so littered with trash that I am considering calling the casting department for A&E’s Hoarders.

I haven’t lived in D.C. long so I don’t know if any systems are in place for such problems. How can I make this guy do what he refuses to do? Is there anything I or a city agency can do, or do I just have to try to hide his house with some shrubs come spring? (there is also a smell over there that I am sure can be little else than death – lets at least hope not human)

Thank you
Desperate D.C. Newbie”

Has anyone dealt with a successfully with a similar situation? If so did you have to involve a government agency like DCRA?

58 Comment

  • the city can come out and issue a citation to try to force the person to clean the property. However, I think contacting Hoarders is a great idea! Love that show… watch it while PMSing and the brooms literally move themselves

  • a citation that will fine them about $500…

  • How about a call to the Humane Society? An anonymous report of animal cruelty and hoarding? He’s probably just a crazy old guy or a junk dealer. These people just can’t see the mess, it’s a mental problem.
    Now if you came over to MY house I could tell you it’s not that I don’t see the mess, it’s that I have a list of priorities and busy life and a job and hauling away XYZ is not at the top of the list. Maybe you could offer to pay for a dumpster or a junk hauler, say, $400-800 or so, to come in and help toss stuff out one weekend.

  • If the situation was so bad ….why did you buy your house next-door to it?

    • we shouldn’t be dictated on where we buy a home by one person.

      i live in mt. pleasant and overgrown yards seems to be the rule that everyone lives by.

      • Srsly, what does it mean to be dictated on? And whatever it means, who is the “one person” in this example who is doing the dictating-on?

        • I agree with “don’t get this”. The “neighborhood” is a critical determinant in where you buy. Would you buy a house adjacent to a firestation, then complain about it after?

          And “we shouldn’t be dictated on where we buy a home by one person”.

          Isn’t this exactly what the poster is doing? A single person “dictating” what his neigbors property should look like?

          • No, the OP is opining. To the extent any dictating happens, it will be by the government pursuant to a law, not by “one person”. That’s what governments are for.

      • Why was that rude and useless? If it’s “in such a state that it will detract from all [his/her] efforts,” that seems like a serious consideration when buying a house. The block/neighborhood/are matters for your property value and quality of life.

        • I think Frankie James was criticizing the potentially snarky sound of “If the situation was so bad, why did you buy your house next door to it?”

          I guess I too have to wonder why the OP bought the house if the neighbor’s yard was littered with trash at the time… but if it was a neighbor further down, not a next-door neighbor, the problem might not have been apparent at the time.

          I think the idea Frankie James was getting at is that the OP already bought the place, so questioning his wisdom in doing so isn’t especially productive — the matter is what to do now.

      • Disagree. Whether or not you’re in the right, moving next to such a mess and expecting the neighbor to change for you is naive. Even worse to move in and immediately sic the DCRA on him.

        If he’s going to clean up his act, it’s gonna be for his own reasons, and not for yours.

        I lived for 4 years attached to an abandoned house. Just fix up your yard/house and it will make you look that much better by comparison.

        • Hey, if someone new moves into the nieghborhood and wants to improve it I applaude it!

          To somehow say the old coot with the trashed house is somehow the victim here when he’s victimized the neighborhood for years is BS. His old neighbors probably poor, and not good at getting the city to help force this guy to clean up his property. Poor people don’t like trash more than anybody else!

          So hats off to someone who has the balls and energy to improve his nieghborhood!

    • I’d love to know what OP’s agent had to say about this…

  • What block of DC are you on?

  • Be very careful. I suggest you give it about six months, take some time to get to know your neighbors, try to get an understanding of the dynamics of the people around you. It is possible your neighbors have already tried to tackle the problem. Get to know the people before you drop a dime on them. Last week I noticed two people living in parked car on my street. I spoke to some of the neighbors, finally one of them told me the guys in the car were related to a man who is the boyfriend of a lady who lives on the street. Not a great situation, but I am glad I didn’t call the police.

    • This is kind of weird advice. Yes, talk to the dirty neighbor and your other neighbors first, but just because they’re your neighbors doesn’t mean you automatically give them carte blanche to keep their house a mess and an eyesore.

      • Well, it is THEIR house.

        (I know, I know. Public health, danger, mental health…this sounds as if it’s crossed a line. But, really, aside from extreme cases you don’t get to dictate how your neighbors live.)

    • I don’t understand this. Are you saying you are more comfortable knowing it is 2 guys related to the boyfriend of a lady on the street living in the car? Or that you would now fear “dropping a dime” on them because of potential retaliation?

      • I am not happy about the situation. I don’t want anyone to live in a car on my street. I am trying to give these people an opportunity to sort out themselves. If it isn’t sorted in what I consider a reasonable time, I will call the police.

    • Agreed.
      Other neighbors may have some background info and may tell you of other failed efforts. One of those learning from history so you can repeat it more effeciently things. Or find out what may be currently is going on that, because you’ve just arrived, you are not aware of.
      Also you may need to establish a friendly neighborly relationship, so you can figure out the best way to broach the topic if what he’s doing is just unsightly but legal.
      I do wonder how ‘trash’ is defined. I consider some folks idea of lawn art trash.

  • What agency would you contact? There is no section of the 311 website that deals with this

  • I think the answer depends on the neighbor. If the neighbor’s elderly or mentally ill, I’d try the DC Office on Aging or Department of Mental Health first, to see if they can do some outreach. If not, and the neighbor’s just lazy, then a call to DCRA will get an inspector out there pretty quick.

    Good luck.

  • i prefer the subtle approach

    “i love the sort of uninhibited approach you take to home maintenance”


    “lets start a neighborhood cleanup. you first”

  • Just to be clear, as long as the individual is operating within the law, there’s nothing that must be done. If it bothers you so much, go talk to him after you get to know your area a bit. But, dont be surprised when you’re told to f-off.

    If he is breaking some law, call the city.

    If someone came and told me they didnt like something about how i kept my yard and demand that I change it and what I was doing was legal, I would be furious.

    Mind your own business.

  • andy

    Ask him if he would like a little help cleaning up.

  • I’d find a graceful way to offer your help as the first step.

    For example, after you’ve introduced yourself and gotten to know them a bit, let them know that you’re doing a big project (invent it if you have to) that means you’re renting a dumpster. If they’d be interested in your help to take advantage of the dumpster (and maybe cover part of the cost – I’d leave that up for discussion in case they don’t have the means) to clean their yard.

    If you offer your labor and the means to get rid of it, and they still don’t budge, then you may need to have a deeper conversation about what factors are contributing to the mess.

  • _If_ what the guy is doing is legal, there’s not a lot you can do about it.

    However, if it’s not legal (and it sounds like at least some aspects of it aren’t), you should try to do something about it.

    I’d recommend trying to get to know other neighbors on the block; they might have a better sense of what’s going on (and it might avoid your being perceived as an interloper who comes in from outside the neighborhood and starts interfering, etc., etc.).

    After that, pursue that matter with your councilmember and maybe your ANC person. District agencies often don’t seem to do a good job of enforcing existing laws and regulations (like the ones about overgrown yards), but they tend to be much more responsive when a councilmember asks them to do something.

  • Do you live on 10’th st? 🙂

  • In order:

    1. Talk to him about it, face-to-face. Your going to be neighbors so passive-aggressive isn’t going to help anything.

    If he consents and cleans up, problem solved. If not, consult step 2.

    2. Talk to neighbors. Encourage them to say something. A little peer pressure might help.

    If this doesn’t work, consult step 3.

    3. Knock on his door and tell him you’re exploring legal means through which to make him clean up his property. Explain that it’s an eye-sore and is rude to his neighbors. Ask one last time for him to clean up before the authorities get involved, which will likely cause him financial and personal inconvenience. At this point, take precautions for retribution to your own property if he’s deranged.

    If this doesn’t work, consult step 4.

    4. Look for any excuse to call the authorities, per all the recommendations above.

  • Here is a link to the DCRA Website:

    And here are building codes that I copied and pasted from that site. You can call DCRA and schedule an inspection, if all these codes are not being adhered to they can be issued a citation. If they don’t clean the property, the city will and bill the homeowner for it….good luck. you will need to follow up with DCRA on a regular basis, to make sure THEY are following up.

    Outside the Apartment

    Cleanliness: All walks must be free of dirt, garbage, litter, rats, mice, and insects. The grass must be cut.
    Foundation: The foundation must have sound joints between the bricks and stones. Holes and cracks are prohibited.
    Porches: Porches must have safe and secure floors and railings.
    Roof: The roof must have gutters, drains, and down spouts that do not leak. Roof leaks are prohibited.
    Stairs and Steps: Stairs and steps must be evenly spaced with railings. Tripping hazards or obstructions are prohibited.
    Trash: Waterproof plastic or metal covered trash cans must be provided. Grounds and walks must be free of junk, trash, and litter
    Walkways: Walkways must be free of obstructions and trash. Holes in the sidewalk are not permitted.
    Walls: Walls must be waterproof and clean. Holes, cracks, and mouse or rat holes are not permitted.
    Water: Flooding in yards, walks, basements as well as damp walls and floors are not permitted.
    Wood Surfaces: Wooden walls, doors, and windows must be painted. Peeling paint is not permitted.

    • Doesn’t apply in this case. These are items that a landlord must provide to their tenents. As it sounds like neither party is renting, this list won’t be of much use.

  • Plant dense shrubs to block your view. Get a regular extermination service to kill all the roaches & mice that will come over to your house from his.

  • First, a little more information would be helpful. One person’s litter is another persons afternoon of sweeping is another persons lawn decoration. You also ask how you can make him “do what he refuses to do.” This suggests you have asked before, but you don’t provide details.

    Second, this person is likely to be your neighbor for a LONG TIME. The last thing you want to do is sour this relationship. That’s way worse than a trashy yard. Think about it from his perspective. You are the ‘newcomer (who presumably saw his house before you bought) barging in and telling him how to live?’ Seriously, you don’t want a bad relationship.

    Three, give it some time and get to know ALL of your neighbors before you do something. You might learn more about the situation, and you might find support. But don’t have this be the reason you approach your neighbors. You are still the newcomer here.

    Four, once you get established, maybe you could organize a block clean up or something? Get everyone involved.

    Punchline: You seem at the brink of creating a really bad situation. Tread carefully.

    • Agree 100% with this. If the person is a hoarder, by definition they have mental problems. Sic’ing the DCRA/police/etc. on them will only make the situation worse in that they will hate you and probably direct their pathology at you.

      • From what I know about hoarders, they aren’t vengeful per se and are spending too much time worrying about their own possessions to “direct their pathology at you.”

        However, getting various government agencies on a hoarder’s case could exacerbate the situation, and the neighbor is likely to get upset with the OP.

  • Call the city and report the mess.

    I called on my neighbor. The city had someone out to inspect the mess within a week. The city contacted the home owner, threatened fines and the owner had the mess cleaned up in another week or two.

    Done and done.

  • Skip horders – the people get mad cry and rarely can resolve the mental issue that is the underlying issue.
    Instead – call “Curb Appeal the Block.” They pay to pretty up the house – $20K in some cases. So perhaps bribery can help.

    Otherwise get to know the neighbor and work with fellow neighbors that there are no direct victims to this problem (dead/dying animials, abused elderly…).

  • My next door neighbors have a lot of clutter in their yard—old car covered with a tarp, three supercans (one of which probably belonged to my house before I bought it), two mattresses, and assorted rusty items. In the front between our porches are the leftovers from a paint job–rusted paint can, rollers, etc. I wish it weren’t there, but frankly, I like my neighbors so much, I mostly don’t let it bother me. Maybe their yard isn’t as bad as the one you describe.

    I don’t know the details of what you’ve done so far, but if you call the city, I think your neighbors will know it was you, and there might be a lost opportunity to forge a decent relationship. FWIW.

  • I think you should talk to the neighbors because I can’t believe if it is THAT much of an eyesore and nuisance they haven’t tried to do something about it already. There may be some backstory there that you need before you go calling authorities and whatnot.

  • is this the house on the west side of 15th by any chance?

  • How long has this guy been living like this? If this is his status quo for the past 20 years then I don’t think you’ll have any luck changing the situation.

  • Contact your Council Member and they will point you in the right direction and hopefully give a push to the proper agencies to investigate. I had a similar situation with a mentally ill man by me and Jim Graham was a great help.

  • We had a house like this in our neighborhood – tons of trash and crap on the porch and yard, tarps on the roof, smells eminating from the property. Neighbors filed complaints with the city and with Muriel Bowsers office. The city went to issue a citation and based on the vermin and the state of the house had it immediately condemned. One day I went to work and when I came home the house was gone – I am not kidding – GONE! They had knocked it down and removed all evidence of it in one day.

  • Have you spoken to the guy yet? It might give you an understanding of why he hasn’t kept up his house and yard. Maybe he would welcome some help from a city agency or something. Maybe not but if you can keep it civil and neighborly why not try.

  • I live on a nice residential block, next door to the president of the housing association. Our house is a group house with major turn-over, and our landlord is a lazy bum so our house looks pretty crappy from the outside. He refuses to provide us with a lawn mower so last summer we had grass that was literally a foot high. So what did our next door neighbor do? He paid for someone to mow for us. He is very tolerant with us and understands that our landlord is a d***.

    • It’s not the landlord’s responsibility to give you a lawnmower. Why couldn’t YOU have paid the lawn-mower? As tenants you’re responsible for keeping the place in order.

    • You sound like the entitled whiny tenants I used to have. Is $10-15 split between four people really that much of a handrship? It wasn’t until we got angry letters from the HOA that they would finally get the neighborhood kid to mow their lawn.

Comments are closed.