“my immediate neighbors have been doing unpermitted, illegal DIY construction for the last few years”

by Prince Of Petworth July 20, 2016 at 2:10 pm 24 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

I’m hoping you may have a few ideas for how to address this problem. I own a typical Petworth row house, and my immediate neighbors have been doing unpermitted, illegal DIY construction for the last few years. Most notably they were digging out an expansion of their basement under their front porch by hand (yes, with a shovel and buckets and zero structural reinforcements).


They received a stop work order from DCRA for that project last summer and since then a giant, muddy hole has been growing in their yard and onto my property. The hole has gotten so large and deep that the gutter drain spout leading from my house that was previously buried is now exposed. We have asked them several times about the hole and asked them to repair it.


They put up some very makeshift 2×4 reinforcements under their porch but have done nothing to address the ground erosion. I’m very concerned about any possible structural damage that this could be causing my home, not to mention the possible impact on the value of my home (I am considering selling in the next year). Further, depending on how extensive the construction has been inside the basement, I wonder if the house is even safe to be inhabited, and there are several children living there.”

  • L.H.O.O.Q.

    Keep taking pictures, log all correspondences, and contact a lawyer.

  • KellyKapowski

    Oh my god that is scary. I have no advice but this looks like a tragedy waiting to happen…

  • quincycyclist

    If DCRA issued a stop work and they actually stopped work, then good. Get DCRA on them again for deteriorating property. And call a lawyer.

    • Who cares

      Agreed. Hopefully your neighbor has insurance that will cover the damages to your property. If not, a lien on the home might be an option, depending if it is covered by a homestead exemption, but first you will need to obtain a judgment. You should be able to find an attorney who offers either a no-cost or low-fee consultation. Best of luck to you!

  • AnonV2

    Did you also know that they tied their downspout into your drain? That PVC wye junction ties into your downspout extension, you can see their abandoned cast iron one right next to it. They probably did that because theirs is either rotted out or they had to cut away their extension to make room for whatever unpermitted digging they are doing. Regardless, if they didn’t ask your permission to do that even temporarily it’s quite illegal and against building AND environmental/run off code (during a storm like last night the combined output could exceed the capacity of that pipe, putting your property at risk). I really hate to say this, but get a lawyer involved, NOW, starting with that clear violation of your property, especially if you are looking to sell in the short term. And spam every council person, major, DCRA higher up and ombudsman organization you can. I would ABSOLUTELY walk away from that house as a buyer if I saw that next door.

    • Bloomy

      Yesss…. I’d be pissed if someone tied into my pipe like that.

    • wobber

      The wye junction is a big red flag for me. With the rain we have had the last few days you’re lucky you don’t have a basement full of water.

  • Rainman

    While contacting lawyers, etc, etc, maybe contact a structural engineer or construction professional to see if there is any realistic basis for anxiety.

  • neighborp

    Do everything you can to get this remediated now. If it causes damage it shouldn’t be too hard to get a judgement, but you can’t get water from a stone. The type of neighbor who digs out their basement with a shovel and a bucket is not necessarily the type that has assets to fulfill a judgement for emergency structural reinforcement.
    Get DCRA, the the ANC, your council member, and the mayor’s office on this yesterday. You need to get it fixed or it will be a huge problem.

  • Anony

    …and where you can’t walk anywhere, drive a long way to work, and don’t interact with your neighbors

    • Anon

      Not interacting with neighbors is one of the big advantages of city living

      • V

        LOL, WORD!

    • Anonymous

      Not sure that the neighborly interactions described by the OP go in the “Yeah for city living!” column.

    • anonymous

      I’m sure that is all truthful

    • anon

      that’s atypical of the suburbs, but congratulations on being the exception to the rule. if everyone in the suburbs could do that, you’d be back in a city!

  • smh

    you may want to contact your homeowner’s insurance company to see if they can send someone out and check for damage. they may also pay to sue your neighbor on your behalf. but you’d want to read your policy carefully and make sure that you didn’t wait too long to report it and somehow waive your opportunity to collect if there is any damage.

    I definitely agree with the suggestion to contact a lawyer and hire a structural engineer and/or a property inspector to take photos and make recommendations.

    And on the list of people in DC you should be calling ASAP, add the Office of the Attorney General.

  • smrtcar

    Is it possible to get the repairs done and then put a lien on their property to recoup the expenses?

  • textdoc

    OP, you might want to check out (if you haven’t already) yesterday’s thread on DCRA inaction with regard to next-door rowhouses creating unsafe situations. It’s not exactly the same as your situation, but might provide some ideas.

  • Kevin

    I’m glad you moved to the burbs, too.

  • ah

    Next time you see one of those “free fill” signs near a constructon site, ask them to dump a load under your neighbor’s porch.

  • Nancy Freeman

    Get this resolved yesterday! Call Mayors Office on Community Relations, Jasmin Benab at 202.340.7059. Very responsive and sensitive to residents needs. Please let us know how this turns out. Good luck!

  • reality

    This is the type of discrimination LGBT people feel every single day. Is it safe to even hold your partner’s hand, lie next to them on a blanket, or shop together without getting harassed? It’s awful.

    • reality

      YIKES! Wrong article!!!

      • textdoc

        I was mighty confused there for a moment. ;)


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