Petworth house finds itself Occupied

(Daniel C. Britt/ THE WASHINGTON POST ) - Robert Joyner peers out his living room window on Varnum St. NW in Washington, DC. Joyner and other Varnum St. residents have been disturbed by the noise coming from the house at 838 Varnum St. They claim residents of that house are squatter's who siphon electricity from neighbors.

(Daniel C. Britt/ THE WASHINGTON POST ) - Robert Joyner peers out his living room window on Varnum St. NW in Washington, DC. Joyner and other Varnum St. residents have been disturbed by the noise coming from the house at 838 Varnum St. They claim residents of that house are squatter's who siphon electricity from neighbors.

Robert Joyner is 58 and has lived on the same quiet street in Northwest Washington’s Petworth neighborhood nearly all his life.

The retired contractor said he had never heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement until Occupy D.C. protesters thrown out of their camp downtown took over the house next door.

“I don’t even know who these people are. I’ve never seen them before,” Joyner said recently as he stood outside his home on Varnum Street. “They beat bongos. They play guitar. They stay up all night. And they [have sex] on the porch.”

More than three dozen protesters have lived in the fraying yellow “Occuhouse” in recent months, rigging illegal electrical lines and infuriating neighbors. Supporters say the occupiers think they’re engaged in “land liberation” — a growing movement across the country in which activists enter bank-owned properties, fix them up and move homeless families in.

Because the Petworth house is not owned by a bank or in foreclosure, neighbors think the protesters are just squatters, not activists with a grand political purpose.

Neighbors along Varnum — new, younger residents and African American families who have lived there for decades — say they have called police multiple times in the past few months. After inquiries by The Post, police spokesman Gwendolyn Crump said that officers went to the house Wednesday evening to look into the matter but have made no arrests.

“There’s a lot of concern. There’s rats everywhere, trash everywhere,” said Malita Rankin, 45, a home health-care worker sitting on her mother’s front porch recently.

She gestured to a power line strung across the street and said she had watched an occupant of the house climb out a window and attach the line to the utility pole. (Pepco officials this week confirmed that the line was illegal and dispatched a crew to take it down.)

The owner of the semi-detached house, Maryland real estate agent LaJuan Poole, said she grew up there and has been trying to regain possession from an illegal tenant in court since 2008.

“It’s not like I’m some absentee owner,” Poole said. “I care a great deal about this property.”

Anthony Sluder, 47, a stagehand who lived at the Occupy camp in McPherson Square during the winter, said he has lived in the house since 2007 and has a lease. He said that he invited Occupy protesters to stay at the house but was unprepared for the “mayhem” that followed.

“Friends told friends who told friends, and they were in the attic and the basement and the kitchen, anywhere they could lay down,” Sluder said. “They didn’t respect it as somebody’s home.”

Poole said the trouble on Varnum began a few years ago when she let a friend stay at the house. Eventually, Sluder moved in.

Poole went to the city’s landlord and tenant court and tried to reclaim the property twice. The first time a judge ruled in her favor but, she says, the eviction was never carried out. The second case languished in January because Poole was required to procure paperwork proving that none of the residents was serving in the military; an impossible task, she said.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” she said. “I have family still living in the area. It’s upsetting and embarrassing.”

When she tried to confront the occupants, she said, “One of them said, ‘I’ll get out when the marshals come and put me out.’ ”

You may also like:

Six found guilty in November occupation of District’s Franklin School

 
Read what others are saying

    Man killed in Loudoun crash