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Dear PoPville – Illegal Alley Dumping Persists, Workers Call Alley Vietnam

by Prince Of Petworth October 19, 2011 at 11:30 am 58 Comments

“Dear PoPville,

We live on the block between 14th and 13th streets on Quincy St. NW. Our alley looks like something out of the slums of Calcutta and has been nicknamed by the garbage collecting staff as the ‘vietnam’ alley because of all the trash that is illegally dumped and all the trash from the illegal group houses on this block where occupancy is at 19 for one of these Victorian townhouses. I’m wondering what can be done to expose the lack of attention that has been given to this problem (we have been here for 10 years) after numerous efforts to get the city to fine an ticket the landlords and of course just to clean up. There is now as u can imagine, a serious rat epidemic. Thank u for any suggestions u may have by exposing this awful problem that I feel so defeated by.”

Do you guys have any suggestions besides consistently calling your Council Member and ANC Rep as well as consistently calling 311 for illegal dumping pick up. No doubt this situation is an insult to Vietnam

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure who the councilperson is for this area. I had a similar situation in my alley on the 900 block of Quincy and I sent Muriel Bowser a link to this blog and the pictures and she responded within hours and had it cleaned up in a few days. With all of the complaints about this it seems like I was just a lucky one that hit her at a good time.

    • jcm

      This is also Ward 4. Hopefully CM Bowser will take action here as well. She’s generally very responsive. I’ve gotten good results emailing both her and CM Graham.

  • “all the trash from the illegal group houses on this block where occupancy is at 19 for one of these Victorian townhouses”

    Report them to whoever you can think of, repeatedly, and document with plenty of photos. Find out who theiur landlords are and complain to them, and report them to the city as slumlords. Speak to the residents about properly disposing of the trash. Good luck and hope the situation improves!

  • anonymous

    Would it be possible to involve the media (WaPo, local newspapers, local stations)? As the saying goes, don’t mess with people who buy ink by the barrel. A little shame for the council and/or city might spur action. Who knows…

  • Doug

    My experience is that landlords using private services often have very irregular pick-ups, and trash just piles up. Is there any law that requires that a landlord use city trash services, or are they allowed to use a private service?

    • TEM

      I think the law is that if a landlord has over a certain number of units, the city won’t pick up the trash and they have to have a private company do it. My building only has 3 units in it, and we still have city trash pick up.

      • PostingTooFastSucks

        Once a property has 4 (ormore units) the owner is required to obtain private trash pickup which must pick up trash at a minimum of once per week.

  • JH

    Put up security cameras – catch them on video. Makes for better public shaming.

    Maybe a time lapse video… that could be neat, watching the pile grow.

  • WDC

    Why haven’t you addressed the illegal rooming house issue? It isn’t resolved overnight, but they will address it. Council member, DCRA, rat czar, and health department. Can’t hurt to pull police reports for the address(es), just to have them on hand. Each time you contact someone, copy the others. Keep track of contact dates. Get friendly with the staffer in your council member’s office who is in charge of the complaint and follow up at regular but respectful intervals.

    Took about eight months for me, from the first complaint, to the slumlord owner next door selling the house rather than paying the fines and doing the required renovations.

    You say you’ve been there 10 years. Is the problem new? Or have you been hoping it will resolve itself? It really won’t. “Pro-active” needs to be your middle name for a few months.

    • TG

      We have tried this in our neighborhood to no avail. Apparently DCRA can’t enter a home without permission (what we were told) and the landlord claims that the people living there are all relatives of the landlord (which DCRA says is legal). There are so many of these illegal rooming houses in Columbia Heights and it seems there is little or no interest in enforcing the law. It is a problem because it is a health and safety hazard. In our scenario the trash piles up and rats are all over the house because there are too many people for the residential pick up and the landlord will not pay for private pick up.

      • TG

        I should add that there is no way they are all relatives of the landlord since in our case the people turnover about every 3-6 mos.

        • Allison

          *Rasies hands in mock European “meh”* What can we say, we like-a da big family!

  • Anonymous

    i have no idea.

    • me


      • me

        That was to Anonymous @12:13. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

  • Anonymous

    If it’s in Columbia Heights, almost certainly Guatemala or El Salvador.

    Why do you ask?

  • waitaminute

    have you tried talking to the people in the house? I am being serious, maybe if they are here illegally they might get nervous about you bringing in so many other govt agencies to deal with the issues. Not sure how much of a threat detention or deportation is but it might be another approach. And don’t count on Graham for this kind of help either. he will claim you are trying to push out poor people. Good luck to you.

    • WDC

      That was not my experience with Graham’s office with the same problem. Have you tried this yourself, or are you just making negative noise?

  • waitaminute

    or you and your neighbors should file suit against the owner of the property for diminishing the use and enjoyment of your own property.

  • Emil

    Why is it not ok to Insult Vietnam but it is ok to insult Calcutta?

  • me

    I hate it when people type like how they text, i.e. using “u” for “you”. Nitpicky, I know, but it’s so irritating.

    • what

      Get used to it. A school teacher I was talking to recently told me that they do NOT penalize students’ written assignments when they use text-like speech. Evidently some teachers are of the opinion that it is a sign of our language evolving. I say, good luck getting a job 10 years from now when your resume is nothing but a string of abbreviations.

      • me

        Holy crap. What school was this in??? That makes me kind of sad.

        • Anonymous

          this makes me VERY sad. it’s appalling… it just teaches kids to take short cuts. no matter what. that’s unacceptable.

          • Analnymous

            Yeah.. Next they will start letting kids get away with not using proper capitalization!

      • Golden Silence

        The younger the generations are, the dumber they get! Sad.

    • LisaT

      I can’t even stand it in texting!

    • Golden Silence

      It’s even more appalling when every other word is spelled normally except for that. I don’t get it.

      On topic: That trash is disgusting. I hope action gets taken.

  • trash talk

    Wow! We were successful last month in getting trash from our neighbors’s house removed after PoP kindly posted our story. I hope this works for you too!

    Our ANC rep was helpful in putting us in touch with Patricia Joseph in Mayor Gray’s office. We also have had several sanitation inspectors come out and fine the offending property.

    This is obvioulsy a chronic problem city-wide. Can’t imagine it makes for big news as just 1 story. But when you combine all the experiences of the commentors… that’s a story.

  • Mel

    In my experience, 311 has been pretty responsive about picking it up. However, it’s the dumping in the first place that’s the issue. Maybe signs that threatened fines –and then reinforcement would help?

    From what I see, the rat problem has definitely worsened in past 18 months or so. Ugh.

  • Local PW

    Maybe organize a protest with the neighbors, picket the alley and the group house’s landlord’s home until the city steps up.
    I have sympathy for people in group houses, overcrowded or not, at least they have a roof over their heads and they are not out on the street, as long as they keep their property clean and don’t overwhelm ther sewer system and don’t bother anybody.

    • what

      Occupy the Alley

  • Mindy

    Be careful when you report trash to the city, the first thing that the city inspector do is to give ticket to the other houses in the block. Inspector take the opportunity of a complaint and look to any trash container in the others houses and find a violation and start giving ticket to everyone. That a way for the city to get money.

  • TG

    Now who is going to help us clean Mayor Gray and the cronies out of the City. Did anyone catch the article about how we terminated a grass cutting contract by a company that received good reviews and entered another contract at twice the price? When it walks like a duck …

  • Me


  • Mindy

    DPW = Abuse and inefficiency.

  • andy

    Dude, buy some concertina wire and put it up at either end of the alley for six months. The illegal dumpers will probably decide to move on after that.

  • lord of the flies

    I live near the trash pile. Our most committed neighbors have tried to work with the city agencies, but it just goes on and on with isolated responses. It is complex, disgusting–and exhausting.

    So now, everyone is getting fined who has a trash can in the alley. Result, everyone pulls in their trash cans for a while, leaving the households without trash cans–at least 25%–to leave their trash out in the open (rather than overfilling other people’s cans). Does anyone know if you are required by law to prove you have a trash can for your house?

  • Anonymous

    First, document dumping in pictures, dates, times, etc.

    Second, call 311 Illegal Dumping to have it cleaned up immediately. Get support from you council member if possible.

    Third, If there is any drug activity associated with the offending house try Operation Crackdown: http://www.badc.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3321


  • dbv

    We live on Spring and this is our alley which, believe it or not, had improved quite a bit prior to this round of dumping. A bunch of neighbors got together and worked through the city to bring out various health inspectors, trash folks and the like and we went around house to house with flyers on the proper disposal of trash. The big issue was rats and the city devoted a lot of attention to it. I no longer see scenes out of “Willard” when I park my car behind my house at night, but with the stuff you see in the photo, it won’t be long before they’re back. Good news is that the city came today and cleaned the whole mess up, I spoke to Councilwoman Bowser’s constituent services person who was quite helpful. I wish they would have acted faster (it took two weeks), but I just put my trash out tonight and it looks quite clean out there. Illegal rooming houses are the main problem and we keep at it.

  • Poster

    Thanks for all the response to this persistent problem of one; illegal boarding houses, too much trash coming out of them and then illegal dumping to add onto it and then DPW not wanting to pick up the trash — and then once calling 311, the rest of the people who are actually doing the clean up are the ones who get fined. I honestly like the idea of ‘live wire’ or cameras, ….I kid, but honestly, this is an alley that is much narrower than most where it is so easy to just simply dump and defecate at will (yes, lots of that too). I will get our neighbors to put up signs of no illegal dumping and hopefully get the city to add more lighting to this alley. Hopefully the illegal boarding houses on this block WILL be addressed as well as they are a huge source of all the horrible trash that piles up — how many mattresses can be put out by one household? There’s a new mattress or couch that is put out DAILY.
    Yes, it HAS been cleaned up, but it shouldn’t have to take going to the press or calling 5 times 311 and saying it’s urgent. This dump has been there for two whole weeks. I appreciate our neighborhood efforts for rat abatement and alley cleanup yet we need to do more preventative measures from here on out. Landlords need to be contacted and those tenants need to get involved with the clean up and keeping their trash to a minimum.
    I hope we can meet with Murial Bowser soon as a neighborhood effort to put in signs, lighting and creating a system of reporting and documenting both the illegal dumping and efforts of people calling in.
    Thanks all.

  • JEff

    So am I the only one who thinks that calling this Vietnam is a little bit offensive? I’ve been to Vietnam, and unless things have changed dramatically in the last four years, the country is nothing like this trash-strewn alley.

    • Anonymous

      it’s like calling a place beirut, or bagdad, or dresden.

      • Anonymous

        or baltimore

  • I live a few doors down from the pictured mess, and though we’ve had our ups and downs over the past year-and-a-half (since we first moved in), this is the worst that it has been. A group of several concerned neighbors have tried just about everything we can think of, including speaking multiple times with the tenants, repeatedly calling 311 and logging service requests for bulk pickups of dumped furniture, working with the MOCRS/ONE, and rolling up our sleeves and cleaning things up ourselves.

    The city has been helpful when engaged, but their ability to respond is greatly limited by law, regulation, and lack of resources. And I have nothing but respect and thanks for the DPW workers who go the extra mile on trash day, picking up bags not in cans, emptying non-standard cans, and even taking small furniture and mattresses that they probably aren’t supposed to be. Without them we would be drowning.

    Our most tangible results came when DPW finally wrote citations on several of the houses for not having enough trash cans – a week later they had purchased a five new cans. In a testament to the vast quantity of trash produced by these homes, though, those cans are still overflowing come trash day.

    Sadly, it has all had little long-term effect.

  • PetworthRes

    For what it’s worth…I live on this same block, and had called into 311 about two weeks ago to ask the city to pick up two mattresses and a TV that had been dumped in the alley by some anonymous jack wad. The same day this story broke on PoP…the city (or someone) came a picked it up. Coincidence? Probably. Just happy to see the city respond. Hope they clean up this bigger mess soon…

  • TomF

    As people have consistently been saying throughout the thread, the problem is the boarding houses. The one missing piece from this puzzle is DCRA. This is also the agency that has been the least responsive. DOH has come to bait for rats, we’ve had neighborhood alley clean-ups, DPW diligently picks up the garbage in – and lying outside of the cans, and bulk items left by residents or dumped by people passing through the alley. It’s time for DCRA to act and/or Ward 4 Councilmember Bowser to compel them to do their job. DCRA is aware of the “problem houses” and has been contacted by multiple neighbors as well as the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations (MOCR) with very specific details. They have chosen not to act. The visible result is the mess in the alley and the infestation of rats. The less visible result is the dangerous conditions in which the families in these houses live. It is a problem for everyone.

    It was good to see all of the suggestions and examples of what others have done. I think the comments generally on target. The rats are the product of a larger problem – too much garbage/insufficient cans because of too many overcrowded houses – illegal boarding houses. In our 16-house section of the alley, there are a few single-family houses with 2-5 people in them, several multi-family houses with 5-7 people in them, and at least 6 houses, boarding houses with 13-15 people in them. When my neighbor moved his family to Maryland 3 years ago, he converted his house to a boarding house. When we first moved to the neighborhood over 5 years ago, I lived next to a very sweet family who I could talk to if I had any problems. Now I live next to some 15 people who I do not know, who until after recently buying their own can, dumped their garbage in my can or the alley. There are also rat tunnels coming from their yard to mine.

    I’ve worked with my neighbors and the city the past 3 years to little result. I initially contacted DOH and they are always pretty good about baiting, but it’s a temporary fix. I eventually found a great ally in the Mayor’s Office of Community Relations, but she eventually moved on. I’ve worked with 4 “MOCR’s” over the past several years, but they can only do so much. I’ve contacted representatives from my ANC and Ward (4), but have gotten little assistance beside DPW coming to pick up the bulk items. I’m very much hoping this coverage will hope elevate the issue.

    By the way, to address the “Vietnam” issue. I’ve spoken to the trash haulers before. It’s a nickname they’ve coined. The reason they told me is that this is where they get attacked by rats the most – like a war zone. For what it’s worth. . . .

  • TomF

    Sorry to hear Matt (and Mindy from previous post). I had the same thing happen to me. One of the times DPW came to check out the illegal dumping in the our alley, they fined everyone based on whatever trash happened to be behind their house. The problem with illegal dumping is that it’s someone else doing the dumping. I’ve had several tickets to dispute and the illegal dumping continues. . .

  • Anonymous

    Happened to us too, and had to take a day off work to fight it in court, though the judge dismissed it as soon as she saw it.

    Anyway, it makes me think that if our house were to catch on fire, and we called 911 for a firemen response, DC would fine us for having an open flame on our property.

  • trxckster

    What are the laws regarding putting up video cameras on part of the alley? My problems don’t compare to those in the picture but I do have fantasies of catching the culprits who like leaving presents.

    Technically, we are the 3rd house from the corner & the 2nd with a full back yard BUT the 1st that has a garage that obscures all. Neighbors (!!) and passersby routinely leave (and do) strange stuff back there.


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