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Dear PoP – Abandoned House Problems

by Prince Of Petworth February 2, 2011 at 2:30 pm 22 Comments

“Dear PoP,

I live in a row house in the Bloomingdale neighborhood. Last fall the house behind ours (across the alley) burned and has been vacant ever since. Aside from some people coming and tearing out what remained of the inside and boarding up the windows there has been no other activity on the property. Recently people have started dumping other garbage and unwanted items on top of the pile of crap that was already in the back yard. Is there anything I can do, any agency I should report this to other than the police who can put a stop to this activity and clean up all the garbage?

You can see the boarded up house, some black trash bags starting to spill out into the alley, along with a table top, and a couch or something. Is there anything I can do about this to prevent it from getting any worse?”

You should def. also report this to DCRA. You can contact them here and they are also available on twitter @DCRA.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? Who did you contact? Is it worthwhile to contact your Council Member’s office?

  • ah

    Start with DCRA. If you’re lucky they’ll send an inspector to tell the owner to clean up the stuff. Then they’ll put it in vacant status with a higher tax rate. I think, though, that a fire creates an exemption for some period on the tax rate, but the exemption doesn’t mean they don’t have to keep things clean.

  • Eckington Resident

    I live very near this property and I’ve noticed on my walks to Rustik that NOTHING has happened.

    Any idea whats going on? I just assumed that insurance was holding things up.

  • Anonymous

    The mayor’s online service request center has an option for reporting illegal dumping, try that too.

    captcha = “LSD U” My kind of university!

    • Cait B

      We had a similar (although somewhat more modest) problem with a house next door. The absentee owner came in one weekend, ripped out some things, and left them in a pile on public property behind the house to rot.

      He’s never showed up since and we had no idea how to contact him to ask him to clean up the junk he left behind, so we used the online system to report illegal dumping. It took a few weeks, but they came out and hauled it away.

      I looked up property records and he actually has a homestead credit. Would our local assessor have a means of contacting him?

      • Tres

        Yes. If I were you, I’d be calling your/his assessor once a week until he’s paying the vacant rate.

  • WDC

    Speaking of fires and abandoned properties and associated issues…

    A house on my block burned a little over a year ago (http://www.princeofpetworth.com/2009/12/huge-fire-on-1300-block-of-oak-street-sat-night/).

    The one in the middle is a total loss, just some partial walls remain. I’d love to know what the status of the property is, to try to suss out its future, but I don’t know how to find out. Ideas? What usually happens to burned-out shells in the middle of a row?

    And, the two houses on either side have been under repair at glacial pace ever since it happened. Which means the residents of the block have had to make do with about four fewer parking spaces for the past year, because of the contruction trash dumpsters that seem to be permanently installed out front. Is there a limit to how long you can have a dumpster on public property? I feel for the owners, (definitely not going to turn them in to the authorities over it) but what with the number of folks we get parking on our street and walking to the metro or restaurants, it would be nice to have those spots back someday…

    • WDC

      Ok, scratch the second question: some time in the last few days, the dumpsters were removed. I’m an observant one…

      Would still be curious about the fate of the burned shell, though. There’s really no “house” left there.

  • Philippe Lecheval

    It never ceases to amaze me how trashy some people are around here.

  • Wobber

    I had the same problem in Columbia Heights. I called the city filed a complaint, the city sent an inspector the next week, and the owner had everything cleaned up two weeks after my original call.

  • TCres

    The outreach specialist for ward 5 in under Fenty, Alice Thompson, then Richard Norwood was pretty good about coordinating and fining these types of properties. I’m not sure who the ward 5 rep under Gray is

    There are several agencies involves, dpw removes the trash, and dcra will issue citations.

  • pop-up owner

    I had a similar issue, councilman Wells office was very helpful and DCRA sent out inspectors. What was helpful for me was documenting that kids from the local housing project were utilizing the area for a place to hang out amid construction debris etc, it was a hazard to them as well as an eyesore. Eventually the owner did nothing, so DCRA hired a team that came in for about three days to secure the house, remove the trash, fix the drainage issues and then passed the cost to the owner… who in turn lost the house to the bank, the bank sold it to a wonderful development team and the house is now the nicest on the block.

    True fairy tale, that shows sometimes good things can happen if your council member has good staff and DCRA follows through.

  • Keepin’ in real

    I bet there are dead bodies in there, like on The Wire.

  • In situations like this, residents can contact us and we can issue an order and fines to the property owner to clean up trash/debris on the property.

    Even if the property is vacant or bank-owned, the property owner is still required under the DC Property Maintenance Code to maintain it in safe, clean, sanitary condition.

    For garbage/debris that is being illegally dumped in the alleyway, you can notify the DC Service Request Center: http://311.dc.gov/.

    The OP can contact me via Twitter (@dcra) or by email: helder [dot] gil @ dc [dot] gov and I can schedule an inspection for the property.


  • Sbrown, ANC7C04

    Thanks for responding, Helder. Question though about the proceess for burned houses? At what point does “waiting for insurance” get old and the city goes in and razes the burned shell?

    • Matt

      I’m not entirely sure what the situation is with this house at the moment; however, immediately after the fire I had heard speculation about an arson investigation. It’s total hearsay, but that could be part of what is holding up the process.

      I know someone over on Seaton has also been commenting about the vacant properties on North Capitol next to Seaton Market. Although they weren’t burned out, it’s a similar situation so that person might have more insight (especially for our neighborhood). I’d suggest contacting Scott Roberts and putting out a call on the listserv to see if you can’t get in touch with the individual on Seaton.

  • Commissioner Brown:

    Generally, DCRA can raze a building if it is an imminent danger. This usually means it is structurally unsound and threatens the safety of passersby or the structural stability of surrounding buildings.

    For buildings that are not an imminent danger, the building can be referred by a DCRA inspector to the Board for the Condemnation of Insanitary Buildings (Information on the BCIB is here: http://dcra.dc.gov/DC/DCRA/Inspections/Housing+Code+Inspections/Board+of+Condemnation)

    The BCIB can issue a condemnation order for a building (which is filed with the Recorder of Deeds and clouds title to the property), can order the building owner to repair/raze the building, or can order the property razed and lien the owner for the cost.

    Additionally, the building could be subject to the vacant or blighted property tax rate, as well as citations for Building Code violations.

    The first step is contacting DCRA so that we can schedule an inspection of the building to determine whether it is an imminent danger or not.


  • Marco

    Great responsiveness from city officials! We appreciate it.

  • Anonymous

    DCRA: I know you guys take a heap of abuse, and some of it you earn, but I’ve never had anything but positive interactions with the permitting center (with the possible exception of DDOT’s rep). Good Job.


    What are DCRA’s plans for the coming budget crunch? (where are you going to cut)

    Are there any plans for getting higher homeowner compliance for permits and/or forgiveness for past non-permitted work (like for parking tickets) as a revenue generator?

    Given that a homeowner can obtain a permit for a limited amount of electrical work on his/her own house, why is there no exception for homeowner plumbing permits?
    (I’ll cite SF as a city where owners of Single Family residences can pull their own plumbing permits in certain situations)

    Does DCRA have any sort of internship program for DC high school students? Traditionally home renovation is a fairly tried-and-true route to the middle class for those with common learning disabilities (but who are otherwise rather intelligent).

  • dbv

    dumping/excessive trash a constant problem in the alley behind my row house in columbia heights. i call, it gets better than the cycle starts again. you have to stay on top of it –sadly. huge part of the problem the illegal boarding houses, not enough trash cans supplied by these cheap landlords, and people who live there who either don’t know any better or worst just don’t give a damn.

  • Steve

    To get the DCRA inspector you need to file a blighted property report. You can find that on thier webpage. They will send an inspector. Should they find the property blighted the owner of record will be leveed a steep tax. I did this for a foreclosre on my street. It was sold very quickly to an investor who is now giving it a complete renovation.

    After you file the blighted property report. Follow up with DCRA to find out when the inpector visted and what the findings were.

  • A quick update:

    The OP contacted me this morning to give me some more info on the property which was very helpful.

    We sent a vacant property inspector this afternoon to verify that the property was vacant. We should be sending a vacant property registration packed to the property owner by early next week.

    We’ve also scheduled a building codes inspector to visit the property tomorrow. The inspector can issue citations for any trash/debris on the property, as well as for any other building code violations.


  • CJ

    I have had a similar problem with a house in Bloomingdale. This house has been abandoned for 8 years. The sad thing is that it is the only abandoned house on the street and I actually have a flipper/realtor friend who expressed interest to the owner in trying to buy it and flip it to a green standard. The owner last pulled permits to flip it in 2007 (the permits are only good for a year), but claimed that they were still flipping it, although we had seen no action for a year.

    After calling DCRA, I discovered that they had the *wrong house* on record (they had photos of lights on and people inside, but the wrong color of brick…they were looking at the house next door!). The house in question is used as a junk heap as well as illegal off-street parking off of the alley. To make matters worse, the house had a squatter with a history of violent behavior (I personally saw him arrested twice for starting fights).

    I repeatedly called DCRA but got no results. I finally worked with 3 different ANC commissioners and Mayor Fenty’s outreach coordinator to Ward 5. After more than a year of complaining about this property to DCRA both via phone, their webpage, and Twitter as well as to the city (not to mention repeated calls to the police when the squatter was in there), DCRA finally condemned the property and deemed it both abandoned and blighted. Recently, there has been some construction activity there. Allegedly, the owner is working on finishing the flip and claims that it will be on the market some time in March. We will see.

    My point is that if you have to deal with DCRA, plan on having to make many repeated phone calls and getting some bigger guns like ANC commissioners to act on your behalf. Maybe other offices at DCRA such as permitting actually are functional, but my attempts with the Office of Vacant Property would suggest otherwise.


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