Unbelievable. Absolutely Unbelievable. “the construction team had built a cinder-block wall blocking my bedroom window”


Ed. Note: If the reader had not included these photos I would not have believed this.

“Dear PoPville,

I live in a rowhouse in Adams Morgan. (I’m a renter.) The rowhouse next door is currently being gutted, expanded and converted into luxury condos.

One night this week, I came home from work to find that the construction team had built a cinder-block wall blocking my bedroom window.

Of course, I immediately called my landlord (he lives in California). Turns out he had been notified a few days earlier of the developer’s plans to build this wall. He had consulted his attorney, who told him there was nothing we could do to stop it.

I contacted everyone I could think: DC Consumer & Regulatory Affairs, that office’s Illegal Construction Division, my ANC commissioner, and the next-door developer himself.

Turns out, my landlord’s attorney was right: There’s nothing we can do. This window is on the side of the rowhouse, all the way at the back; and since it’s a side-facing window, it’s considered “not protected” by DC permitting. So even though this window has been there for more than 80 years, there’s nothing to stop the neighbors from extending their place back and blocking my view.

A friend of mine told me this is what’s known as a “pop-back,” and he’s been trying to fight them in his neighborhood as well.

Anyway, as I said, I just thought PoP readers might want to be aware of this. I don’t have any other recourse (as far as I know). So now I’m left with this crazy-looking window to nowhere.

Guess I’ll buy a big painting to hang there…”


81 Comment

  • The original construction of that room should not have included a window on the property line. It is not the developers fault.

    • justinbc

      +1, to a degree, as I don’t know when this particular house was built and what the building code stipulated at that time. This question has been answered here repeatedly regarding new construction though when people ask “why didn’t they put windows on the side of that pop-up”. Because you don’t own the rights to the airspace as a landowner in DC, and someone can come along and put something next to it anytime they like.

      • The building code isn’t really relevant when someone has a unlimited right to build up to the property line.

  • Wow. That really sucks. But my understanding is the same as what you’re hearing. One other (unfortunate) thing to consider: It looks like you have bars on the other window. If that’s your only means of emergency egress, the bars might have to be converted to a quick-release type in order to keep your bedroom legal.

  • Holy cow, I have no advise only pity, that seriously stinks.

  • Totally believable. The window probably never should have been there, as it’s clearly on a property line that’s a zero-setback party wall, with the rights and easements that go along with that. This is the state of basically every rowhouse or downtown building anywhere. But hey, at least the bedroom has another window.

  • Well that’s a bummer. It doesn’t seem totally unreasonable though. That’s building code does not allow windows on the property line. Presumably your place was grandfathered in? It wouldn’t really be fair to allow your building to have a window right on the line, then tell the neighbor they couldn’t build on their otherwise buildable land because of the window.
    Seriously sucks for you the renter though. On the bright side, it’s probably even more effective than security bars at preventing break ins?

    • I’ll also add that, despite the near unanimity of comments here is saying this is completely reasonable and the obvious unfairness of any alternative solution, I give the Stop the Pop folks a week before they start posting this picture all over the place to protest developers.

      • I don’t think most of the comments are calling this “reasonable” per se… just saying that it’s legal.

        • I think it’s totally reasonable. Don’t have a window in a place where someone has a right to build over it.

          • Except it precedes the new construction and clearly never received much consideration. Having a landlord in California probably means s/he wouldn’t have attended any meetings where the development was discussed (e.g., ANC).

      • You’be being too generous – its already up on their page.

  • That is why it is called an “At-Risk” window/wall.

  • What a shock to come home to! I’m surprised your landlord didn’t know this. Yes, they can do this because they have the right to build up their property line and the window in your bedroom abutts the property line. Typically, windows on the sides of the house are set back by a foot or more so that if your neighbor decides to expand, you still get light.

    What’s your landlord going to do about the window?

    • Apparently the landlord did know. But my favorite part is that OP called the landlord, and the landlord was like “yeah, heard that was going to happen; forgot to let you know.”

      • +1. Not cool of the landlord not to let the OP know.

      • Ah, I meant, wasn’t aware as the owner of the home that his window was directly on the property line and his neighbor could build over it. I assume this is something that’s disclosed when you purchase a property with an at-risk window.

        • Disclosed by who exactly? Its up to a buyer to do that kind of due diligence.

        • HaileUnlikely

          I wonder how long the owner has owned the place, and where it is. Although the situation sucks regardless, I couldn’t fault somebody who bought their house 15+ years ago in a non-trendy neighborhood for not thinking of the possibility that somebody might pop back.

        • My condo docs clearly outlined which, if any, windows in the building were at-risk. I have no idea how that would be conveyed with a single family home.

      • This. What the hell. Your landlord knew this was happening and didn’t tell you about it?

        • Agreed. The landlord sounds like a jerk. If you’re not too invested in living there, I’d be looking for alternative quarters or a reduction in rent. This isn’t the same place you agreed to rent.

          • Very good point — at the very least the OP ought to be getting a reduction in rent. $25/month, maybe?

          • That’s kind of harsh. OP said the landlord was only notified a few days early and was trying to work through an attorney to see if there was recourse. Yeah, notifying the tenant is a good idea, but I can also see being totally flustered and in a panic trying to deal with the situation (it impacts the landlord more than the tenant, after all), and having that fall through the cracks. Assuming the landlord knew it was happening this imminently. So I guess I’m saying don’t be so judgmental on the internet, lol.

          • I’d definitely negotiate for a reduction in rent. It majorly affects the amount of light in the room, which can be a serious issue for someone with depression/SAD or someone who just appreciates a lot of light. It seriously degrades the quality of life.
            $25/month reduction seems fair.
            Also, make sure the landlord replaces the bars on the window to a quick release system if that window is the only means of egress.

  • “A friend of mine told me this is what’s known as a “pop-back,” and he’s been trying to fight them in his neighborhood as well.”


    When high rents and development are the enemy, you’re in quite a pickle.

  • My guess is that the window in blocked window in question wasn’t permitted, as windows aren’t allowed directly on property lines. Maybe it was built before that regulation came into place?
    Still a pretty crummy situation for the OP, though.

    • The ENORMOUS new pop up on 1st St in Bloomingdale opposite Red Hen has windows on the property line on its top level. So either those aren’t permitted (which seems unlikely given how closely the neighbors are watching this one and calling in every violation) or this information is incorrect.

      • justinbc

        There are plenty of ways to get things permitted which shouldn’t be, especially if it’s a big enough development with money to throw around.

      • If the building is still being built, perhaps the developer hasn’t yet remediated the violation for the windows on the property line?
        I imagine there are people here more familiar with the relevant code/regulations than I am, but my understanding — and that of many others who have commented — is that windows on a property line are a “no can do.”

      • That building is zoned C-2-A – commercial – so there may be some different zoning laws than R-[x] zoned properties.

        • ^ But the building on the north side is also zoned C-2-A, so they would have the same rights to build up and those windows are just as “at risk” as in a R-x zone. Not sure why they were allowed to build them.

          • I saw this and was wondering if they bought the air rights over the neighboring house

          • Because until the neighbor does build up, they have windows to use. I don’t think the issue is that you cannot build them. The issue is that you cannot assume if you do that you’ll forever have a view out of one.

      • There’s a under construction popup on 11th in northern Columbia Heights that had windows on the party wall at one point during its construction. DCRA must’ve swung by because they were removed at some point. I’ve never seen that happen before.

    • My house was built in 1906 and has a side window on the property line overlooking a vacant lot (that I think was originally used for horses). We’re historic so I wonder if we would be able to push back on a potential development against our side wall.

      • OP said that the house is 80 years old, so 1. that reg about windows on a property line probably didn’t exist yet and 2. the historic argument probably wouldn’t work for you.

        • historic district, not just historic. Whoever builds on that lot is going to face a lot of barriers to getting their plans approved, and my side window is a contributor to the historic district (it’s very visible from the street). we’ll see!

          • Actually it’s not that hard to build in a historic district, since a vacant lot is not considered as contributing to the character of the neighborhood. It’s super hard to make changes to existing structures, for the new buildings the requirements are interpreted pretty broadly.

          • The vacant lot is surrounded by a historic brick wall so may be tougher. Regardless, being in the historic district allows for another level of scrutiny so we may be able to influence it to be built in a way that doesn’t block our window. We’ll see!

        • I don’t think it’s a “regulation.” I just think that people need to be prepared for their neighboring lots (vacant or otherwise) to be built to their full legal potential.

          • It is indeed a rule of some kind — either a regulation, part of the building code, or both.

  • palisades

    haha there’s nothing you can do but laugh at this point. That’s hysterical

  • That’s a bummer. Knowing nothing about building codes, etc., I’d like to suggest that this is a great opportunity to paint a mural directly onto the cinder block. You can now enjoy whatever view you’d like out your window.

  • Wow that sucks and I’m so sorry it happened. Instead of getting a picture though you should find an artist to paint you a mini-mural! It would be pretty neat to have your very own.

  • Paint a cool scene on the cinder blocks! Repaint it seasonally!

  • Wow. I’m sure everyone involved was bent out of shape about liability issues, but seriously the developer could have at least made a gesture. I’ve been in the position of the developer but 100 times less dramatic and I always do something. We had an expediter who would deal with tenants. Sorry about your window, here’s a gift card, go get a TV.

  • Maybe you could turn it into some cool art somehow?

  • Not only is there nothing your landlord can do to stop it, but your landlord now has a responsibility to close up that window on his side of the property line. It’s a fire safety issue. Leaving the window undermines the fire separation required between the two buildings.

    From the building code (http://www.ecodes.biz/ecodes_support/free_resources/2013DistrictofColumbia/13Building/PDFs/Chapter%207%20-%20Fire%20and%20Smoke%20Protection%20Features.pdf):

    705.8.7.5 Owner’s responsibility. The owner of the building where openings
    are allowed pursuant to Sections 705.8.7.1 through 705.8.7.4 is responsible for
    making any changes in the exterior wall or its appurtenant protective systems, to
    maintain the building compliance with this code, whenever changes occur in the
    exterior envelope of any building within a distance of 10 feet (3048 mm) or less
    of that wall, when those changes might affect compliance with this code. The
    responsibility of the owner shall include but not be limited to, the following:
    blocking of openings; upgrading of opening protectives; removal or extension of
    parts of the required sprinkler system protecting the openings; or any other
    provisions deemed necessary by the code official to restore the level of safety
    provided by this code at the time the openings were permitted.

    If the owner refuses, the city can do the work themselves and then place a lien on the non-compliant owner (705.8.7.7)

    City doesn’t mess around on this one.

  • I used this company for a nasty office situation:

    Murals Your Way

  • Wow you have a jerk landlord and a jerk developer next door. No one thought to call you or knock on the door? How hard would it have been for the developer to walk next door and say “Hey, so we are building a wall that will block your window. We will probably be doing this from noon to 5pm so I hope you aren’t planning on being in your bedroom sleeping or working.” Just because he had the legal right doesn’t excuse being a bad neighbor.

    • It sounds like the developer gave notice to the party he was supposed to give notice to – the landlord. It was the landlord’s responsibility to clue the tenant in.

    • What else was he supposed to do? Lose out on several feet of precious square footage so that his neighbor could have a nice view?

      • Their is legal and then their is right. How hard was it to just knock on his door and say something to the guy who lives in the house. I never said the developer was in the wrong or shouldn’t have closed his window in. I did however say that the nice and neighborly thing to do was knock on his door and inform him in person. Not hard at all and only wastes about 3 minutes of his time. Even a letter in the mail box would work.

  • This same thing happened to us in the last year, except we knew it was coming and actually sourced for input from Popville in anticipation of the pop-out being constructed (http://www.popville.com/2014/02/dear-popville-our-bump-out-likely-to-be-blocked-by-neighbor-renovation-are-we-screwed/). Our realtor or inspector told us at the time we bought that those windows were at-risk, and we were fine with it – in our mind, no one expects a center rowhouse to have side windows, so they were bonuses to begin with. It ended up impacting 3 of our 5 side windows; one each in the kitchen, bath, and spare bedroom/office. The only one we really were bummed over is losing a legal bedroom, but the room is so ridiculously small to begin with that realistically anyone looking to buy would only ever consider it an office space anyway.

    In our case, we did talk to the developer and he was truly great about it – he had the contractor re-drywall and paint over the space at his expense, and even turned one into a shadow box type thing at my request. It helped that we knew the contractor so it was easy to coordinate – but we found that being reasonable – and realistic about the legality of it all – bought us some goodwill and kindness with the developer who was willing to help minimize the impact on us. A year later, we barely miss the windows.

  • Harsh. Does this then make your bedroom technically a bedroom but a den or junior bedroom? Since the terms of your lease were changed by your landlord (unwillingly but changed nonetheless), can you now bust out of your lease with no penalties? If that is something you even want to do that is. Might want to have your own lawyer look at this issue instead of relying on the landlord’s legal rep.

    • clevelanddave

      Or if you don’t want to move, maybe get a $100 or $200 deduction off your rent for a year.

  • It is weird people in this situation would be angry about a pop back when clearly the property they live in sits farther back than the one being popped back on probably similar lot sizes. Why should your property owner get to have a house go that far back but not the neighbor?

  • Be glad you rent and don’t own the place. I know someone who wasn’t so lucky. That’s why I’d never buy next to an empty lot or underdeveloped lot with a 1-story building on it. For pop backs on row houses, though, that’s just rude.

    • Why is this rude? From the picture the pop back is going as far back as the house in which the OP lives. How is it rude for your neighbor to have a house that goes as far back as your own (assuming the lots are similarly sized)? Just because your house got there first doesn’t foreclose your neighbors from doing the same.

  • In fairness to the OP’s landlord, it’s hard to foresee this as what will actually happen, even if it’s been discussed.
    I know because the same thing happened to us. Yes, we were warned but the developer left us with the impression there would still be some space that would let in light. Came home to the same cinder block view, but ours had some hanging vines stuck between the window and wall.
    The developer did send the workers over to put drywall over the window, but only after I raised hell. Someone above said something about the value of being nice, but I can’t blame anyone who finds it difficult after a big Eff You like this.

  • saf

    This reminds me of the window in my boyfriend’s (now husband) dorm room, his sophomore year. Crawford Hall was RIGHTNEXTTO several other buildings. So he had a window, with a view of a brick wall about 6 feet away. He never knew what the weather was until he came outside in the morning.

  • I say big deal. How many of us already live in row houses with windows only at the front and back?

  • Sorry dude. You’re screwed. That’s just how urban lots work.

    Sucks though.

  • If the bead-board walls in your bedroom are any indication, that room is not original to the house and was added on at a later date. Many of those houses had sun porches that were, later, converted into rooms.

  • clevelanddave

    Yea, near where I live they built a pop back with windows along the property line- 1109 M St. I believe Kass Riegler. Boy they are going to be surprised one day when the building lot next door is developed and they have a brick wall facing their windows. I’m assuming the developer didn’t get an exemption and the owners don’t know that this will someday happen.

  • Well, your room now has more insulation during the cold winter months, no?

  • Oh, and I would rearrange the furniture so that the window is behind the headboard, maybe get a dramatically high headboard or make a curtain wall.

  • Yes, it’s true. If the house you are in is not an “end of row” then, like all the other houses in the row, the person who owns the next lot can legally build right up to his property line–ie right up to your house, including blocking the window.

    Basically, the house has enjoyed a “bonus”, a window for 80+ years that no other house in the row has had, and now it’s time has come. I don’t mean this in a bad way, cause it’s no fun to be on the receiving end, but it is totally legal.

  • I wonder if you could argue for a prescriptive easement? Probably not – you’d have to argue that a window on the property line qualifies as use of your neighbor’s property.

  • How about ripping a new one for the interloping structure?

  • Ugh!! Unbelievable!!
    My thought: paint some fun scenery ON the cinder block @ pop a little light in there–the window is the picture frame for your new scenery
    (Or hang a big beach or mountain photo poster in there?)

  • EXACT SAME THING HAPPENED TO ME last year. Woke up with a new wall for a window – but there’s nothing to do because side-windows arent allowed.

  • So the property line is right at his wall?

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