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Dear PoP – Legal to live in a House without Electricity?

by Prince Of Petworth July 1, 2010 at 2:30 pm 45 Comments

Photo from PoPville flickr user a.w.miller

“Dear PoP,

Does anyone know the legality of this:
The home next to me is being rented by a group of adults. they have lived in it without electricity for several months. is it legal to rent out or occupy a home without electricity? My concern is about the condition of the house after months of no electricity and that the inhabitants are using candles which could start a fire.”

Mike Ruppert from DCRA replies:

“If the building is owner occupied then they have the right to live “off the grid” if they choose to. If it’s a rental property, then we are charged with getting electricity restored to the property on behalf of the tenants in most cases. Not having electricity is typically an indicator that other serious life safety violations likely exist. We strongly urge the neighbor to contact us and get an inspector there immediately.”

  • anon

    Dude. Sweet. I’m so goin off the grid.

  • Ragged Dog

    Yeah, and find out who their property insurance is and drop a dime. Using candles is a recipe for a block wide inferno.

    • Anonymous

      This is why electricity was invented in the first place. Too many candle fires.

      • Ragged Dog


      • Home electricity was invented to sell lightbulbs and recoup the investment of the Wall Street fat cats behind Edison.

        • Ragged Dog

          That’s stupid.

  • ah

    Kind of need more information here — are these “adults” mental incompetents with no money, or tree-huggin’ hippies who take cold showers and read only when there’s bright moonlight?

    While candles pose a fire hazard, so does crappy wiring, and there’s plenty of that in DC as well.

    I say live and let live and keep your pro-greenhouse-gas-loving attitude to yourself.

    • No, No, No… Not when / if you share a common wall with me. Keep the pressure on, insurance, 311, or whatever.

      Oh and what is a mental incompetent? (Anonymous bloggers on POP?)

    • Anon

      The issue here isn’t the renter’s lifestyle choice, is the law of whether the landlord has to have the electricity hooked up. The answer to the latter is an emphatic “Yes”. If the tenants want to unplug everything, fine, but if they are living in semi-darkness because of a cheap ass slumlord get it fixed. And fine his ass lots of money.

      • ah

        Is the issue that the landlord *won’t* hook up the electricity? Doesn’t seem like it — seems like the adults are content to live that way. Not sure what it gets anyone to have a connection and then have the tenants flip the main breaker to off.

        • WDC

          I think perhaps you haven’t had much experience with slumlords, the kind of tenants they exploit, and the kind of control they might exert over their victims.

          • Jamie

            It is almost certainly a bunch of tenants who failed to pay their electric bill. I mean come on…

          • Ragged Dog

            Perhaps you read too many bedtime stories about evil landlords turning off people’s electricity.

          • WDC

            I lived next door to a real doozy, and I talked to a couple of the tenants. I also talked to the cops who responded to the other neighbors’ calls about the house, and the inspectors who finally responded to my repeated complaints about a three-bedroom house with 15 people living in it. Even the inspectors were impressed.

      • Is it really a yes? What if utilities are the tenants’ responsibility, like when tenants pay their own utilities as a term of their lease? Is it still the landlords fault

  • Ragged Dog

    There’s not that much crappy wiring in DC, as evidenced by the major lack of house fires in DC.

    Most of the fires that do occur seem to be in Georgetown in illegal apartments when stupid college students are running space heaters off of extension cords.

    • TaylorStreetMan

      “There’s not that much crappy wiring in DC, as evidenced by the major lack of house fires in DC.”

      Extraordinary lack of meteorites in the DC area as well. Must mean the District is immune to meteor showers?

      Correlation (or lack thereof) doesn’t proof causation (or lack thereof).

      • Ragged Dog

        Well the causation would be electrical wires with bad insulation leading to short circuit or dielectric breakdown (arcs) which then leads to excess current in the wires causing overheating and eventually fire in any surrounding combustible material.

        How’s that for causation?

      • Jamie

        Your logic is flawed. Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but your “alternate” version of that axiom is not true. In fact it’s the basis of logic.

        Premise: Bad wiring causes fires. I think we can agree on that.

        Observation: There are not that many house fires in DC caused by bad wiring.

        Conclusion: There is not that much bad wiring in DC.

        If A then B.
        If not B then not A.

    • ah

      How many house fires from candles in DC?

    • ARE YOU KIDDING ME? lack of house fires? Just because the post and everyone else doesn’t report them doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Look at DCFD.com and you’ll see that DC has a LARGE number of house fires.

      In fact, DC has one of the highest fire death rates in the nation!

  • If you have a detached single-family home with an adequate buffer zone all around, feel free to use candles, oil lamps, sterno cans, or open fires for light and heat, but with shared walls, this is a tragedy waiting to happen. If I lived next door to this house, I would keep the pressure on, calling 311, DCRA, etc.

    There are far more responsible, safer ways to live a ghreen lifestyle: add solar panels to the roof, take cold showers, buy energy-efficient appliances, put in new insulated windows, lobby for windpower, but having open flame in the house constantly is a bad idea.

    • Ragged Dog

      A good camping lantern comes to mind. You can even buy the windup ones that don’t use batteries.

  • Anonymous

    We had a similar issue on our block with a drug nuisance house. The owner had died and her sons were dealing drugs out of the house. As far as we knew there were no utilities hooked up – electricity or water. The residents were using the bathroom in the alley at night. As annoying as this was, it was the drug dealing that was the huge issue as all crime on the block seemed to stem from this house. We were just hoping to use the lack of utilities as a way to force some action on this property.

    We heard the same from city officials as what Mike Ruppert said above, that you can live in a house without electricity if you own it – thought I would mention were were also told that it is illegal to live in a house with no water service even if you own it.

    In the end, this house ended up being sold (other family members were the executors of the estate), so we never used the lack of water service for leverage. In the end, if the residents won’t let DCRA in for an inspection there isn’t much you can do. I think the only exception to that would be if children were living in the house.

    • Ragged Dog

      Not true. DCRA has the implied right to enter any house in the city to check for violations. They may have to go get a court order and a deputy, but they don’t need the owner’s permission.

      • ah

        citation please?

        This may apply to rentals, but for owned houses the most they can do is enter the land.

        • Ragged Dog

          For example:

          “On application of the owner or occupant, or on the complaint under oath of any reputable citizen, the code official shall inspect or cause to be inspected any house in the District to examine the plumbing, drainage, and ventilation of the plumbing system thereof.”

          That’s from the plumbing code. I assume it’s enforceable in other circumstances as well.

          It does later mention “consent of the owner” for periodic inspections, but an inspector would have the ability to enter if there was deemed an imminent threat.

          So, I could have overstepped. I’d need to look more.

          • ro

            surprisingly we found out last year when dealing with a squatting issue on our block that DCRA and Pepco in this instance had more rights to enter the property than MPD. It’s a strange loophole around the 4th amend that didn’t require anyone’s consent. it was all based on neighbor complaints. In this case it worked to our advantage because we got the squatters out and house boarded up, but it does make you think a little bit about why they should have that kind of power to enter private property.

          • ah

            I’m more worried about DCRA overstepping that you . . .

      • Anonymous

        They don’t need the owner’s permission. They need the permission of the residents. If the case in the original posting is in fact a slumlord situation then I’m sure they may let them in (though they could also fear getting kicked out of the house). In the case I mentioned, the residents definitely did not want DCRA in there and they weren’t allowed in…the situation got resolved in a different way.

  • Ragged Dog

    I’d be skeptical that you have a \cheap ass landlord\ in this case. Almost every DC renter is savvy enough to drop a dime on a landlord when their rights are being violated.

    This is more likely “cheap ass tenants” who can’t be bothered to pay the $10 a month (or whatever it costs) to have electricity running to the house.

    • $10 dollars a month – Did you just step out of a time machine?

      If cost is their issue, surely there are some “entitlements” DC can share.


      • TaylorStreetMan

        $10 a month just have the *privelage* of access to the electrical grid is what Ragged Dog means. That’s on top of what you use (or in this case, NOT use).

        Seems like a racket to me. The wiring is already there, they just have to flip a switch or press a button over at Pepco. Initial account setup fees aside, any amount a month without even using a single kilowatt of power is just a rip off.

  • Emily

    Maybe before you call the authorities you could go talk to your neighbors?

    Can they not afford electricity and so it was shut off? Maybe they can apply for assistance from DDOE. http://ddoe.dc.gov/ddoe/cwp/view,a,1209,q,498802.asp#emergency

    Are they going “off the grid” for environmental reasons? Maybe they can go wind-powered with Clean Currents. http://www.cleancurrents.com/

    Perhaps it’s easier said than done, I don’t know what sort of interaction you’ve had with them before. But maybe if you explain your concern and offer some solutions it will help more than calling inspectors to come inside their home.

    captcha: giving gauchest

    • ah

      Exactly. If this is an issue of a slum landlord or poverty, why not talk to the neighbors first?

      If it’s an issue of vagrancy, why is the electricity the main issue? All it is is evidence that the house isn’t being properly occupied.

      • neener

        If you really knew people who lived in troubled houses then you’d know why you can’t talk to them.

        I went up to talk to a neighbor whose house was out of control but when I got there she was screaming at her neighbor across the street that she was going to “cut her.”

        I love this “talk to the neighbor first” stuff. If you know a really troubled house you’d know why you should not do that.

        • Emily

          I totally understand that there may be reasons for not doing so, which is why I stated that it might be easier said than done. I’m not naive, but I’m also not quick to jump to conclusions that the occupiers are crazy, violent addicts.

  • Ragged Dog

    I’d be amazed if they aren’t running drugs or hookers out of the place. Virtually no one with all their marbles and who’s on the up and up lives this way. So you either found the 1e-12% of people who this is a lifestyle choice, or you found an illegal apartment where people are trying to not have their names associated with the place. Like, for instance, a utility bill.

    My favorite house hunting experience was in a 3 story CH house with everything stripped out of it except for webcams and one room with all new tile, a 3 person jacuzzi tub, red curtains, a shower and a crapper with no doors or curtains. Everything just right out there.

    It had that old hooker smell.

    • mphs

      Sure, that’s just like you: blaming it on the old hookers. Sexist and ageist, at once.

      It’s hard enough out there for an old hooker, without you complaining about smells and what not.

      • Thor

        I think in this case old referred to the smell and not the hooker.

    • ah

      So us less worldly ones know what to look, er, smell for, what does an old hooker smell like?

  • ET

    I would be curious to know if they are squatters since I would think they would be the most likely to live literally off the grid to stay metaphorically off the grid.

  • There was a house that was off the grid on my block and it caught on fire. Not because of candles, nah. Because the generator they were running was sitting in a pile of old dry leaves and overheated. So kids, rule #1 keep your generators clean and clear of debris.


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