Monday, November 11, 2013

Help! Illegal dumping is costing my HOA $2k in fines from DPW!

Dear Department of Public Works---

I understand you have a job to do and I appreciate your efforts to keep our DC streets and alleys clean. I even respect the trash enforcement team  and the job they do. Trash breeds rats and lord knows I hate rats. Keep up the good work keeping DC clean!

That being said, your trash enforcement agents are fining the pants off my little homeowner's association for trash violations -- for trash that is being left by illegal dumpers and in one case for trash that wasn't even on our property.

This is where it gets tricky. Our illegal dumpers are our neighbors. They live in the surrounding townhouses and apartment buildings. They seem to think our dumpster (and now dumpsters) are fair game.  We see them dumping illegally every single day despite our verbal and written requests for them to stop and our very noticeable security cameras.  I have personally have gone so far as to go to their door and nicely ask them to stop dumping in and around our dumpsters (and sometimes just leaving their trash at our back door). I think the problem with the townhouses near our building is that they need more (or bigger) city trashcans. I don't know what the story is with the tenants in the apartment buildings. The people who are leaving couches and mattresses are just jerks. ;)

So although our neighbors' trash pickup is free (either through the city or through their landlord) -- our waste management is paid for out of our condo fees we are having to pay for more pickups to accommodate the neighborhood's trash AND our trash.  That is getting expensive and fast.  We have already had to raise our condo fees because of the added expense. We are a small association so these expenses do add up.

That was bad enough, but now DPW trash inspectors are now fining our association --- constantly ---because the illegal dumpers aren't always the most particular about where they leave their trash. The dumpers don't always put their trash inside of our dumpster (not that we want them too but that would be better than the fines). Our neighborly illegal dumpers have left everything from trash bags, to boxes, to couches and mattresses at the rear of our building. One time they even left a motorbike. So far, our association has been fined nearly $2,000 in trash violations -- for trash that is not even ours. On one occasion the photos that were included with the  trash fine weren't even of our property -- it was of a house down the street.

Lisa, our faithful property manager going above the call of duty (again) and cleaning up after another incident
of illegal dumping. God bless her soul! 
The trash  -- and the fines from DPW inspectors -- just don't seem to stop.

This weekend while cleaning up after another case of illegal dumping (less we be fined again) I ran into a resident of the apartment building behind ours -- the major source of our problem -- and I asked him what more could we do to impress upon his fellow tenants to not dump in our dumpster (which is crazy because our dumpster is farther away than their dumpster).  I asked him if it would help if we went to his landlord (the property owner) and explained the situation to him.

His response? "Our landlord is a slum landlord, he doesn't fix anything, and he doesn't care, so the people in here don't care."

After thinking about it for a minute that made perfect since. I have noticed that property over the years and it is run down and tore up. There has been more shenanigans and tomfoolery in and around that building to even count. I'm pretty sure the majority of the tenants (if not all) are receiving Housing Choice Vouchers and my experience in the neighborhood has been those apartment landlords are pretty noninvolved to say the least. They use those voucher payments to pay for their nice big houses in Virginia -- they could care less what happens in our little Congress Heights neighborhood.

I can't say for sure but I doubt that this landlord is concerned about trash violations.  I've wonder if that is why my building is getting fined so hard for trash violations (due to the illegally dumping) because the DPW inspectors know they have a better chance of us (the condominium) paying the fines.

Whatever the case may be my HOA needs some help - NOW -  preferably from someone in the Department of Public Works or DC government. Our association has invested the cost and the time to try and mitigate the situation to no avail. We are fighting a losing trash battle.  I know this situation isn't unique to my neighborhood but there has to be a better solution than fining us for something that is beyond our control.

We have done the following:

  • Increased our trash pickups (because with all the added trash our dumpsters were getting full quickly)
  • Hired people in the neighborhood to check the dumpsters regularly and clean up the mess left by the illegal dumpers (another expense)
  • Hired people to cut up the mattresses and haul off the couches and bulk trash that is left at our dumpster (another expense)
  • Asked the entire association to be vigilant and to pick up trash that is not their own and put it inside the dumpster
  • Threatened to fine our owners if they were caught leaving trash outside the dumpster (because it was full from all the illegal dumping)
  • We added another dumpster, because the extra trash pickups weren't enough. We now pay for two dumpsters when one should suffice if we didn't have all the illegal dumpers
  • Reported the illegal dumpers to the city (no idea if they are getting fined)
  • Sent letters, emails, and tweets to DPW -- so far we are still waiting on a response and it has been MONTHS
  • Had our property management company contact DPW
  • Contacted CM Barry's office for help
  • Challenged the fines
  • Educated the illegal dumpers when caught in the act that they are breaking the law -- and costing us money (FYI - this only works about 50% of the time)
  • Emailed video of the illegal dumping to DPW (still haven't received a response)
I really hate airing our dirty laundry (literally) in public but we have tried just about everything at this point to get some help and nothing is working. Maybe one of my readers can suggest something we have not yet tried, or better still maybe someone at DPW will finally take pity on my little homeowner's association and will try to work with us and not fine us into bankruptcy.

This stinks -- literally and figuratively.

This is one of the more tame dumpings. We have taken the trouble (and expense) of hiring someone
to monitor our dumpsters and clean up the mess  -- but even they can't catch everything all the time.

I hate putting my neighbors on blast but I literally can't afford not to. 

More proof (and public shaming)

So...we've added the extra dumpster (figured it would be cheaper than the fines) and still
the illegal dumpers just discard their trash outside our dumpsters. 

We had signs that said "only our trash" and threatened illegal dumping fines but they were just ignored. 

The lone dumpster for the HUGE apartment building behind us. 

Lisa again cleaning up around our recycling bins.  Upside is that there was no couch or mattress today.
Another problem we had is that illegal dumpers would use
the recycling bins for trash and then our waste company would refuse to pick up the recycling bins. The result?Maggots!
My condo on the left and the big apartment building on the right. For some reason the apartment tenants
(and some of the surrounding homes) prefer our dumpsters.  Maybe its the color????

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happy camper said...

Non-confrontational route: Instead of knocking on the door and asking them to stop, report the address in question for illegal dumping.

Highly confrontational route: Don't knock on their front door, take their trash out and leave it at their front door. They'll get the message.

MiCoBa said...

Fence in the area and lock it plus fight the fines. Something similar to this happened to the church I belong to and the first time we were at least able to get the fines reduced. Then we learned using the 311 app or email and sending pics as soon as someone notices illegal dumping gets a quicker affirmative response. Good luck.

DaReslnt1 said...

This is ridiculous!!! But I am totally for leaving the trash in front of their doors. I have done it before and will do it again if need be.

There was a lady who used smoke in front of the building and then throw her cigarette butts on the ground. Every night when I got home, I would put the butts in front of her door. She got the picture.

Anonymous said...

Prevention is better, and so I agree with MiCoBa - fence the area in and put in a lock that requires a password. Work with DWP to see what others have done in your city. Document when it happens with pictures. You never know when you need that sort of information.
Good luck!