Housing Complex

Nuisance Neighbor? Sometimes the City Can’t Help

Bricks are falling off the side of Howard Wilson's house. (Lydia DePillis)

Bricks are falling off the side of Howard Wilson's house. (Lydia DePillis)

As someone who writes about housing, I often hear from people who are upset about something that their neighbors, or the city, or both, are doing that affects their quality of life. Howard Wilson is a good example.

In December 2008, the unoccupied three-story rowhouse next to Wilson’s house in the 1400 block of Belmont Street NW started to collapse. It had been in bad enough condition before that the local ANC had complained to the city, but the owner, Paul Lutov, did little to remedy the situation (Lutov did not reply to Housing Complex’s calls for comment). After the collapse, DCRA issued an emergency permit to raze the building.

During demolition, however, the flashing that sealed the top of the wall was removed, allowing water to seep into the wide of Wilson’s building. It froze and expanded, further damaging the brickwork—chunks of masonry were falling off the side of the house, and Wilson feared his wall was unsound. Meanwhile, the neighbors on the other side of the razed house also appealed to the city about another nearby property of Lutov’s that was in a state of egregious disrepair.

Wilson asked the fire department to come investigate, and the inspectors confirmed the complaint. But in February, an inspector from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, who viewed the exposed wall from neighboring properties—not from Wilson’s house—concluded the damage was not severe enough to merit action on the part of the city. Chief Inspector Dan Masoero declared it to be a legal matter between Wilson and his neighbor, case closed.

Since then, Wilson—who has a beautiful view from the back of his house towards the Washington monument—has braced his back porches on two levels with wooden beams, and won’t let his seven-year-old daughter play back there for fear that more bricks might fall. After finding the city unwilling to help, Wilson is frustrated.

“So it’s like, what’s the point of the inspection process?” he asked. “What is the role of the city? We pay taxes…Do I just go next door and bash him on the head? Is that what we do now?”

DCRA spokesman Mike Rupert explains that damage between two houses isn’t necessarily the city’s concern.

Can't bolt a railing to a crumbling wall. (Lydia DePillis)

Can't bolt a railing to a crumbling wall. (Lydia DePillis)

“The city doesn’t get involved unless it affects whether something’s safe or not,” Rupert told Housing Complex. “If they’re doing unpermitted work, or say they were building a deck on the back on their house and it’s bigger than it should be, those sort of things, we would handle it. In terms of damage to the property, that’s between the homeowners.”

Rupert did recommend DCRA’s Multi-Door Dispute Resolution Service, which mediates neighbor conflicts before they get to small claims court.

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    It's called take matters in your own hands!

  • Sally

    Here's some free advice for Wilson: Stop waiting for the city to solve your problems and simply sue your neighbor for being a nuisance, adversely affecting your property values, and whatever else you can think of.

    Why on earth do people think the government can solve all of their problems?

  • Whitney

    So basically the city only gets involved when they can make money on permits or fining someone for an oversized deck? Smh.

  • J2D2

    I don't get how falling brick isn't a safety concern.

    Sally, you are what's wrong with America. Suing should not be the answer. Not only that, but when you sue someone you're using government resources, no?

  • http://rickmangus@aol.com Rick Mangus

    'Sally', I believe in talk first, but there are alot of stupid people that you can't reason with until that court paper is served on them!

  • Sally

    @J2D2 - YOu're right. The guy shouldn't sue. He should sit and wait until the city government comes in and solves all his problem. Even though the city has said it's a legal issue between 2 private parties. So he'll keep sitting and waiting, all the while his house value keeps sinking because of the mess.

    With the crappy economy, you think there'd be a few dozen lawyers chomping at the bit to take on a case like this.