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Dear PoP – Retaining Wall Responsibility?

by Prince Of Petworth November 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm 28 Comments

“Dear PoP,

Are the stone retaining walls bordering so many DC yards owned by the individual property owner or the district? More importantly, who maintains them? Thanks!”

I’m 99% sure they are the responsibility of the property owner. Can anyone confirm that? Anyone have any experience repairing one? How much did it cost? Any recommendations for who to use?

  • TGAA

    On our plat in Col. Heights, the wall is actually owned by the district. Good luck getting them to repair it though.

    • anon.

      It has been my understanding that some retaining walls are on district property, others are private.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        Is it sorta like front lawns for many? While technically they are the property of the city, it is still the responsibility of the property owner to keep them maintained?

        • mappo

          Yup, that’s it exactly.

        • ah

          Not really. The “public parking” laws apply to the natural environment, not to improvements.

          The question is who put the retaining wall there in the first place and why. The answer is almost certainly the original owner/builder of the house, who wanted to create a flatter lawn. If necessary, he obtained a permit to put the retaining wall in public space. As such, it’s the owner’s wall (or people who bought the house from him) and his responsibility to maintain.

          If for some reason the district put the retaining wall there–I can imagine scenarios in which they did–then the district owns the wall and is technically responsible for its upkeep.

  • Having weep holes on the wall helps. I’ve seen many walls in bad shape that don’t have any weep holes on them.

  • pop-up owner

    On that note… I really need a corner stone for one of my granite with toothpaste joint retaining wall in my front yard. Anyone tear one out recently?

  • MK

    It’s the owners responsibility.

  • Rick

    Full replacement work being done for house on 3rd St SE between E and South Carolina, west side.

  • Rick

    Full replacement work being done for house on 3rd Street SE between E and South Carolina, west side. Includes sidewalk and alley.

    • frank

      is that work being done by the city, or workers you hired?

  • Crestwooder Asks…

    Is that pic from Upshur St?

    • Prince Of Petworth

      No, it is from Mt. Pleasant.

      • 14th St Heights

        The wall along Adams Mill Road in Mt. Pleasant (between Kenyon and Lamont) collapsed several years ago after a tree along the sidewalk blew down, destabilizing the wall. I believe the city paid for reconstruction, but it took a lot of effort working through Jim Graham’s office. Go check it out. The new one is pretty nice, but the jersey barriers are still in place (!).

        • The Adams Mill wall was a special case, because it’s very tall (10-12 feet), and hence extremely expensive to have rebuilt. The District eventually agreed to pay part of the cost, but not all.

          That wall in the picture is on “public space”, but routine maintenance of that public space is the responsibility of the abutting property owner.

  • PetworthRes

    You can have new walls built that look exactly like the old ones – this house that was featured as a Garden of the Day had to completely replace their wall after a car ran into it. The wall is totally new (did not use old stones) and cost about $9K I recall… http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2010/08/garden-of-the-day-212/

  • Bloomingdale Boris

    I believe it’s the owner’s responsibility. I would give Chriss at RMS Construction a call. The work that I’ve had done for me is really great and they were VERY reasonably priced.
    RMS Construction- (301) 674-0725
    [email protected]

  • whoa_now

    question: I need someone do do my stairs and platform. It is currently concrete and crumbling..any good recommendations?

    • dchs

      Concreto Plus – they’ve done a walkway for me, but I’ve seen their work on stairs and stone retaining walls, and it was really good.


  • Disgusted in DC

    However, the District rebuilt the retaining walls along Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, in its “Great Streets Reconstruction” between 27th Street and Branch Avenue.

  • Anonymous

    i’m actually fascinated by these walls.
    they aren’t original to most dc house, yet these walls all seem to have gone up all over the city in the 30’s.

  • David Tumblin

    This is VERY important: you must get a permit to replace a retaining wall. The fines can be very large. Go get a permit.

    Although yards and retaining walls are often in the public domain, they are the homeowners’ responsibility, just like shoveling snow off the sidewalks in front of your home.

    • Yes, that’s so. And if you’re in a historic district (like Mount Pleasant) then work on any retaining walls requires a permit, even if the wall is in back and out of sight.

    • saf

      Yeah, and good luck getting that permit.

  • Le poo

    Someone please tell me what these walls are called so I can look them up on wikipedia! No one I know knows the nomenclature!

    • Anonymous

      stone walls.

  • RD

    I hate when people replace these walls with a new one made out of ugly plain cinder blocks. i’m looking at you, 13th and spring.

  • crin

    I like to call them Perna walls after the masons, Frank and Louis Perna, who built alot of projects around the time the city Highway Department adopted the style as its standard retaining wall. On the new Tenleytown Heritage Trail, the Perna story is on sign #10.

    Other people call them “toothpaste” or “grapevine” walls after the unique mortar joint which is struck. The joint is thick, round, and white.


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