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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.
“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.