- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 14, 2002

In an old garage on Bryant Street in Northeast, a group of kittens cuddles on a pile of trash and debris. Strewn around the back yard of a nearby home are an old crib, empty milk containers and dresser drawers.
The owners of such properties as these are in for an expensive surprise when Roland Carroll, a neighborhood stabilization officer with the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, catches up with them. It's his job to make sure property owners keep their homes tidy.
Each stabilization officer scours District neighborhoods by ward and issues violation notices for such infractions as overgrown grass and weeds, rodent infestation and cracked steps and porches.
Mr. Carroll said he issues about a dozen violation citations each day, with fines ranging from $50 to $500. The department has not yet compiled a total amount of fines or violations for this year. Property owners have seven days after being alerted of a violation by certified mail to correct the problem. If not, the city will do it and charge them for it.
"At some point, we all go home, and if you live next to one of these problem properties, it's a concern," said Gina Douglas, a department spokeswoman.
Under emergency regulations instituted this summer, any time the owner fails to comply with D.C. Municipal Regulations, the violation will be enforced without warning.
"We just want people to comply with the law," Miss Douglas said
Mr. Carroll said owners react variously to violation notices. Sometimes they get hostile; sometimes they are cooperative. Establishing relationships and treating owners respectfully usually makes the process smoother.
"People react to you the way you talk to them," Mr. Carroll said. "I've never really had a problem with that."
At a house on Franklin Street, neighbors have complained of an abandoned 1909 home. Grass and weeds grow freely, empty beer bottles litter the yard and an old car sits unused in the back yard. Linwood Chatman, 67, a part-owner of the property, said drug addicts, vandals and dumping have ruined the former home for the mentally ill.
"It doesn't take long with people, the raccoons and the possums that come along to run it down," Mr. Chatman said, but the neighborhood cleanup program forces owners who normally wouldn't care for their property to maintain it properly.
"I love it. They've been very effective," he said. "People aren't going to do it on their own."
Mr. Carroll said it was difficult not to be affected by the condition of some of the homes he has inspected.
"You're human; you see stuff that bothers you," he said.
But in the year he's been an officer, he's learned not to make enemies of sloppy homeowners if he can avoid it. If the owner works with the officers, sometimes fines can be avoided and the problem can be talked out.
"When we can talk with people and work things out, we do," Mr. Carroll said. "Sometimes people just need someone to talk to. They need to vent."
He often receives help from the community and his neighborhood advisory commissioner, Mercile Banks. Area residents usually log complaints with Miss Banks, who in turn relays them to Mr. Carroll.
She said untidy properties anger and frustrate local residents.
"These people are tired of it. They are really tired of it," Miss Banks said. "The place needs to be clean."
Working as an officer for the past year has made Mr. Carroll more conscientious about his own property, but he also said he is reluctant to inspect any property in his neighborhood. It's hard, he said, to "go to your neighbor's door that you grew up with and say, 'Hey, you got a $150 fine.'"
To report an untidy yard, visit https://www.dcra.dc.gov or call 202/442-4610.


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