D.C. has no shortage of abandoned houses, but a family on Kansas Avenue NW says they’ve had enough with the empty house next door. For years, they’ve reported the problem to the city agencies, but nothing’s been done. Now, they’re resorting to drastic measures.
“The D.C. government has known for 7 years this is structure that poses risks to the human life. These parties are guilty of negligence and not enforcing building codes including that of children living next door,” Adrian Merceron reads the sign he placed outside his home. He lists the people he says are to blame for the lack of action in fixing the eyesore next door. “DCRA, Mayor Muriel Bowser and Ward 4 Council member Brandon Todd are all aware of the issue,” says Merceron.
The sign is Merceron’s last resort, after years of reporting the problem to The Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs his council members and the Mayor, he says he’s had enough. “Money talks in this city and they would not ignore this situation in wealthier neighborhoods like Georgetown, Cleveland Park or right next to Muriel’s new home in Colonial Village,” says Merceron.
He’s sick of the dilapidated home his 2-year-old daughter shares a wall with, the crumbling front porch, the pieces of metal flying off the roof and the rats invading their home. “There’s old insulation hanging down and it’s a risk for fires, it’s a magnet for squatters and for drug dealing. There was actual fornication on the porch in the middle of the day,” says Merceron.
That’s right: he had to call the police when he caught two people having sex on the front porch of the abandoned house.
The windows are boarded up now, but that still doesn’t keep people from going inside. In fact, I was able to walk right up to the back door and open it.
“What’s the point of boarding up the house if they’re going to leave the door open,” questions Merceron. He put a “no trespassing” sign out front, and started to do some clean-up work himself. “Most of the inside of this porch has collapsed, you have insulation hanging off. So I actually put on gloves and a mask and removed it,” says Merceron.
Merceron says the person who lived in the house moved out years ago and stopped paying the mortgage, so now the bank owns it. “They will only do what DCRA enforces and DCRA only requires them to cut the grass while the property continues to deteriorate.”
Merceron and his family moved in 7 years ago and started contacting DCRA then, alerting them to the problem. Now, he has 7 years’ worth of emails and phone call logs, with no real results.
“I’ve had to comb through city records, I’ve had to contact the management company just to find out who the bank is that actually holds the mortgage,” says Merceron. “There’s currently an owner listed on the city records, however this has been in default for 6 years on the mortgage. The bank refuses to foreclose, I believe, due to the rising property values because the bank is waiting to just time it right so they can maximize their sale.”
Merceron has done his research; he says the Office of Tax and Revenue is receiving property taxes on the house. “But the city receives this money and doesn’t sink a single dime into repairing this house.”
Merceron says the solution is simple: “We need DCRA to hire a contractor to perform emergency repairs on the whole structure of this house and to hand these families a report to say it is safe to live next to it.”
Merceron isn’t the only upset neighbor, families on either side and even further down want something to be done.
The sign is working: Merceron says in the last week the sign has been up, they’ve gotten more attention than they have in 7 years of contacting DCRA.
Eventually, Merceron says he hopes the house will go on the market, but until those repairs are made, the sign will stay up. “Meanwhile two families with four children are held hostage,” he says.
DCRA says they first received a complaint on March 29th. Since then, DCRA has responded by issuing citations for property maintenance violations against the homeowner of the vacant house.
DCRA provided a “correction period” to the property owner, for them to make the required fixes. After the correction period expired and they found the property owner did not make the required fixes, DCRA sent crews out to repair the roof, as well as remove a piece that was hanging off that was at risk of falling into nearby homes.
DCRA says they understand the frustrations of the Merceron family, but they have responded to requests as they were received.