Dear PoPville – How Do I Get My Neighbors to Maintain their Sidewalks?

Photo by PoPville flickr user ekelly80

“Dear PoPville,

I have a question regarding leaf removal from sidewalks. I live on a residential street in Kalorama, some of the houses are single family-owned, some have been subdivided into condos/apartments. This November I’ll be completing my first year on this street and I’ve noticed there are about three houses in a row that never clear the sidewalks of leaves or snow. I thought I heard once it’s the property owners who are responsible for cleaning the sidewalks but I wanted to make sure. Is this something I can go to 311 about or am I just stuck with the mess? Please note, it’s not the unsightliness of trampled leaves or the muddy snow (although it does look bad) that’s getting my goat, it’s the fact that I also have neighbors who don’t clean up after their dog’s waste resulting in hidden landmines.

I know at least one of these houses has been converted to condos/apartments but there’s nothing indicating who owns/manages the property. If this is something I can go to 311 about, will they be able to figure out who to contact or will they simply leave a note on the front door (a note that will most likely go ignored and end up on the sidewalk)?”

40 Comment

  • On Biltmore? You may be referencing my place and my neighbors. I rent and when I showed up a few years back it looked like the yard had not been raked in years. So in the spring I filled 10 yard waste bags and spend 2 days doing it. All with tools I had to purchase. No one else in the house has the time or cares. So I was going to do a fall clean up last weekend but with the wind I figured it would make more sense to wait.

    As for what you need to do, well that is simple. In words borrowed from the classic flick “SayAnything” YOU MUST CHILL.

    I mean we are talking about leaves here? Not the countless pizza boxes left on a sat night. Leaves. Chill. Enjoy them and if they are too mushy, then step around them. Seriously, you wrote that much on leaves on a sidewalk!

    • That’s kind of how I feel about it. Usually when the leaf collectors come around to get the leaves from the treeboxes they collect the ones remaining on the sidewalk while they’re at it.
      Snow’s a bit worse because it’s actually hazardous and he city doesn’t remove it.

      • Wet leaves aren’t as hazardous as ice, but they can be pretty tough to walk on, especially if walking is already a challenge for you (think elderly, disabled, knee injuries).

    • Leaves hiding dog crap on a sidewalk. I certainly agree leaves are less important than snow (which you didn’t touch on here), but I gather they’d go to the dog walker if they could do so…as poo is the ultimate problem here. Snow turns to ice very quickly. If it’s condos, the association (made up of people who own or likely live in the bldg) should take care of it/pay someone to take care of it. Apartments could be the owner or tenants’ responsibility. I’d recommend talking with the neighbors first and offering tools could help too, but prepare yourself for inaction and sass.

    • Hire a service to clean your yard. Be a good landlord.

      • I think Anonymous 1:43 p.m. is a renter, not a landlord… but that issue is for the renters and landlord to hash out among themselves. (See whether your lease spells out whether you’re responsible for maintaining the yard, etc.) It shouldn’t get to the point where both the renters and landlord are letting the maintenance slide.

    • O.P. rake all your leaves into this guys yard since he doesn’t care

  • Try talking to them. Knock on the door. You’re asking about neighbors here, not just strangers that happen to share your geographic territory. Make that choice. Being a good neighbor doesn’t just mean keeping your sidewalk clean, that can be outsourced, it means doing the hard work of introducing yourself to others and building a relationship.

    • Was just about to post something like this too. At the very least, leave a note on the door – maybe offer to let them borrow your rake/shovel.

      • Don’t leave a note.

        Please introduce yourself to your neighbor before leaving notes asking them to do things. Although they may be morally/legally obligated to keep their sidewalk clear, if they get a note from a neighbor asking them to do something, what do you think the chances are that they’ll read it and say, “doggone it, this note is right on the button!” Avoid appearing like a douche. I mean that in the best way. You may have noticed in your 20/30 years that people (in DC or anywhere) don’t respond well to anonymous notes asking them to do things.

        Dan again.

        • I wasn’t meaning a passive-aggressive anonymous note, and I agree talking is best, which is why I said “at the very least” leave a note AND make a kind gesture of offering to lend your rake/shovel. I get it. However, sometimes peoples’ schedules don’t line up, so talking in person is not practical.

    • yeah, i’m just going to be the other side here. you all say “talk to your neighbor” like it’s “obvious” (people always act like it is) but the whole ‘go talk to your neighbors” thing is not an effective solution when it’s you telling them they are doing something wrong, rather than a discussion of a mutual problem.

      in fact, it’s likelier to backfire on the poster and become worse. people don’t like to be told they are wrong, or lazy. the person will most likely just be like “eff you, i don’t care” and from that point on the poster gets anonymous ‘presents’ from their dog. now they have crappy sidewalks AND a hostile, lazy neighbor who knows exactly where to direct their hostility.

      • I was worried about this when I first moved in to my place and had some concerns about my own neighbors,. Ultimately I decided to just talk to and be friendly to my neighbors for its own sake, rather than to call them out on the specific issue. I’m so glad I did. Partially because I genuinely like my neighbors, and partially because I can now raise my concerns without it sounding confrontational (most of the time). It’s much easier to talk about concerns or questions if the rapport is already there.

      • I agree. People in DC are a touchy bunch. My neighbor got reamed out, after asking another neighbor to pick up the trash cans after trash day, a similarly minor civil inconvenience. The defensive wackjob started screaming profanities and her teen daughter was so scared she called the cops.

        Leave an unsigned note, and hope it embarrasses them. You’re not likely to be friends with them anyway.

    • I thought we were talking about condo/apartment buildings. Is there a door the OP could knock on that someone would answer?

      • I was wondering the same thing.

      • They paid all that money for the converted condo so they didn’t have to maintain a yard, talk to neighbors, or generally deal with maintenance issues. Unfortunately, the pop-ups and condos will eventually lead to lots of bad manners and an “let someone else deal with it” attitudes.

        • I thought people generally bought condos because they can’t afford an entire house.

          • That is sometimes the reason (or one of the reasons.) But sometimes people don’t want to personally deal with repairs, maintenance, upkeep, yardwork, etc. so they go for a condo.

          • tonyr

            Not always – I sold my house and downsized to a condo for two reasons: location and not having to deal with yardwork and such.

  • Please talk to them. Even if they’re a different age/race/language/religion/gender, they most certainly do not bite.

    Don’t call 311 on your neighbor before attempting to talk to them. This is PRECISELY what gives us “new arrivals” (I’m among them and I’ve been here 15 years) such a bad reputation.

    Again, please talk to your neighbors.


  • This is a legitimate issue. Leaves are slippery and hide things underneath them that can trip people. This isn’t a big deal for a healthy 20-something but, as you get older, falls are a big issue.

    Definitely go up and knock on the door. Be nice of course. Tell them you’re a neighbor, use the street often and outline your concerns briefly. And then offer to help. It’s possible that they don’t maintain the sidewalk in front of their house because they don’t know how, don’t have the tools or can’t because of a physical limitation. If they give you permission (not that you need it) to do the work for them, just do it. Suck it up and be done with it.

  • I wonder if our new mayor would consider hiring leaf sweepers in the fall. It might be a good way to employ the homeless on our streets, at least seasonally.

  • Ally

    Leaves … Seriously? I get upset when my neighbors don’t clean the snow/ice, but leaves? I’m not saying a home owner shouldn’t do it. I’m just saying… itty bitty potatoes.

    • Ally

      To wreckfish: That is a legitimate thing, so I appreciate you making the point. Maybe, to the original poster, let the person know you’re elderly or have trouble walking or know people who do? I’d be much more receptive if i understood why it was important or need. I was in the ignorant group thinking, “Pretty leaves!”

  • I’m not so sure that talking directly to the neighbors is the best course of action here. This isn’t a bunch of group houses in Petworth where maybe the neighbors are 20-somethings who don’t know any better; this is Kalorama, where people presumably know better but just can’t be bothered. And as someone else noted, if you talk to them first but nothing happens and you report them to 311 later, then they’ll just know it was you.
    To answer the OP’s questions: Yes, property owners are responsible for keeping the sidewalks clean of litter, etc. If I remember correctly, residential property owners are responsible for the space all the way up to the curb, and commercial property owners are responsible for another 12″ or 18″ (can’t remember which) beyond the curb.
    I don’t see a clear indication on the DPW site as to whether homeowners are specifically required to rake leaves off sidewalks, but their website notes: “Collecting leaves reduces potential accidents and injuries caused by slipping on wet leaves.”
    If you decide to report the issue via 311, you could try the category “Sanitation Enforcement.”

  • No easy solutions here. But for what it’s worth, someone on my block organizes spring & fall clean up days for the sidewalks & curbside tree boxes. There’s also coffee, donuts & socializing. I mention this so you can move to the 1400 block of Q St NW, the finest block in the city.

    • I love this idea. If my block doesn’t do this already, I might try to organize this myself!

    • With a sales pitch like that you’re as likely to attract slackers who don’t like yardwork. (Your neighbors will do it for you!) But seriously, that sounds like good old fashioned slightly corny but very neighborly fun.

  • Hear me out, but maybe do it for them? I sometimes shovel my neighbors sidewalks in the winter, so why not this? Life is short – find bigger fish to fry.

    • Agreed. You never know – they might return the favor some day. If not, then you can at least do it conspicuously and you will have made your point.

  • Three house must be 60-75 feet of sidewalk. Whether clearing snow or sweeping the leaves it’s about 5 minutes of work, so set to doing it yourself. I’ve helped clear the sidewalks up and down my street when I have time for years. Keeps me healthy and the sidewalks clear.

    But wait, this post is actually about dog poop. Leaving the leaves lets lazy dog owners hide the poop and walk away? Those folks likely don’t need leaves to shirk their dogly duties, so perhaps its best to watch your step.

    • Clearing snow off 60-75 feet of sidewalk takes you 5 minutes?? Under ideal circumstances (maybe one inch of just-right, fluffy snow?)… maybe. The last couple of times I’ve shoveled my sidewalk, there’s been ice. With one particularly bad snow/ice storm, it probably took me 5 minutes to clear a square foot or two.

  • Wouldn’t a condo have a maintenance company/contractor or engineer? There’s one across the street from me and the company they hired to shovel the snow shows up at 4:00 a.m. every time it snows.

  • My inclination would be to first just sweep up the leaves. Having done that, I’d introduce myself to the neighbors, tell them what I’d done, and ask if they would be open to discussing options for the future — including having all/most neighbors on the block to chip in for getting a service for leaf sweeping. I’d look to their response to get a sense of whether they thought a landlord or tenant’s association would handle it; they thought the city would handle it; they are elderly or infirm and/or overwhelmed; to plan a future course of intervention. Many people have never had to be responsible for maintaining anything beyond their own doorsills, so I’d start with that as a working assumption and go on from there.
    A bigger problem IMO, is the pet owners who don’t clean up after their pets — but it’s hard to know how to address that since the OP doesn’t know who the culprits are.

  • As someone with neighbors, please, do not go talk to your neighbors. I do not want to hear from you. I rent. I don’t have any obligation in my lease to clean the public sidewalk. Call the city. Have them deal with it/contact my building management. I am not interested. Seriously. I don’t live in a city to deal with busybodies.

Comments are closed.